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Content Analysis of Secondary Data: A Study of Courage in Managerial Decision Making


Empirical studies in business ethics often rely on self-reported data, but this reliance is open to criticism. Responses to questionnaires and interviews may be influenced by the subject's view of what the researcher might want to hear, by a reluctance to talk about sensitive ethical issues, and by imperfect recall. This paper reviews the extent to which published research in business ethics relies on interviews and questionnaires, and then explores the possibilities of using secondary data, such as company documents and newspaper reports, as a source for empirical studies in applied ethics. A specific example is then discussed, describing the source material, the method, the development of the research questions, and the way in which reliability and validity were established. In the example, content analysis was used to examine the extent to which the executive virtue of courage was observed or called for in items published in four international daily newspapers, and to explore the meaning which was attributed to "courage" in the papers.

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Harris, H. Content Analysis of Secondary Data: A Study of Courage in Managerial Decision Making. Journal of Business Ethics 34, 191–208 (2001).

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  • content analysis
  • courage
  • newspapers
  • research mothods
  • validity