Contrasting syntactic and semantic units in the analysis of online discussions

Elizabeth Murphy, Justyna Ciszewska-Carr


This paper reports on a study which contrasts results obtained using semantic and syntactic units of analysis in a context of content analysis of an online asynchronous discussion. The paper presents a review of literature on both types of units. The data set consisted of 80 messages posted by ten participants in an online learning module. Data were coded twice by two coders working independently. In the first instance, each coder divided all messages into semantic units and then coded those units. The second coding was conducted on the basis of a syntactic unit of a paragraph. Analysis at the level of the whole group showed little difference in results between the two types of coding. At the level of individual participants, those differences were greater. Results are discussed within a framework of reliability, capability of the unit to discriminate between behaviors, feasibility of different units, and their identifiability. Implications for research are discussed.

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