Example Research: Critical Discourse Analysis

In this section of the website, we will look in depth at one particular aspect of discourse analysis: the field of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA).

What is CDA?

Critical Discourse Analysis is a form of discourse analysis that studies the relationship between discourse and ideology (a set of beliefs, attitudes and behaviours that constitute a perspective on the world).[1] It focuses on critiquing social injustice, and has strong links to the study of language and power.[1] Most critical discourse analysts approach a text with a political goal or agenda of some kind, and are often advocates for social justice and social change, seeking to show how a text could be biased towards a particular ideology.[1]
Here are a few words from Sam Kirkham, Lecturer in Linguistics at the University of Sheffield, about CDA:

What is Critical Discourse Analysis?


A critical research perspective

Critical Discourse Analysis can be used to analyse texts covering a wide range of topics, for example: racism, sexism, homophobia, politics, immigration, crime and many more. The reasons why critical discourse analysts study these topics is usually political motivated. Almost any text (although, usually articles) written about these topics can be analysed using CDA, as journalists constructing these texts have to make a number of decisions in how an ideology will be represented. For example, choices of who to take quotes from, terms used to name someone, what perspective the text is written from, what statistics are used, etc. can all have an impact on the ideology that the text portrays overall.[2]

The importance of context

CDA emphasises the importance of studying texts in their full social and historical context[1]. Critical discourse analysts generally agree that there are three levels of discourse context: Macro, Meso and Micro. At the macro level, the analysis of context asseses the relationship between the text and broader social processes and ideologies; for example, what social issues are of particular importance at the time the text was created. At the meso level, analysis focuses on the context of production and reception of the text; where was the text made? Who was it written by? What perspective might this person want to promote? What kind of person might read this text? etc. Finally, the micro level of discourse context simply looks at what is actually being said in the text, and what linguistic features and devices are being used to depict an idea.

Linguistic analysis in CDA

A lot can be inferred from the lexical and grammatical choices made by the author of a text. These linguistic choices are not ideologically random, and have purposefully been used to portray a particular idea. Here are some common linguistic devices studied by critical discourse analysts.
  • Active or Passive voice[1]
    • The use of an active verb gives a clear picture of who performed a particular action, and to whom, for example: "Police attack protestors".
    • The use of a passive verb states what has been done, and to whom, but does not blame anyone in particular for the action, for example: "Protestors attacked".
    • Alternatively, nominalisation can be used, where the noun form of the verb is used to create even more ambiguity, for example: "Attack on protestors".
  • Naming[1]
    • The ways in which people are named can also perpetuate ideologies. For example, the newspaper headline "five Asian youths involved in armed robbery" creates a very different picture than "five young men involved in armed robbery".
    • Similarly, the way people are described in texts, or after giving quotes can present two different pictures, for example: "Dr Sarah Jones" creates a different picture than "Single mother of two, Sarah Jones".
  • Pre-modifiers
    • Pre-modified nouns can present varying views of a topic. For example, "gay marriage" or "same-sex marriage" implies that this is essentially different from hetero-sexual marriage.
  • Indirect quotes
    • This is particularly common, when the results of a poll are being used, for example "poll shows 70% oppose gay marriage", however there may be no evidence of reported speech saying this.


Here is an example of an article we have analysed using Critical Discourse Analysis:

Article reproduced by kind permission of The Guardian. The original article can be found here: www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/may/21/clashes-beirut-army-anti-assad?INTCMP=SRCH
Summary of Analysis
  • Micro analysis
    • Regular use of indirect quotations from vague sources such as 'a witness' or 'a security source'.
    • Tend to use collective nouns, rather than naming the individuals responsible.
    • Two instances of active verbs 'kills' and 'shoot', rather than the sentences being put in the passive. This could be to emphasise who was responsible.
    • Evidence of pre and post modification, for example 'shot dead' and 'Lebanese soldiers' for emphasis.
  • Meso analysis
    • The article is taken from the guardian which has a centre-left political alignment.
  • Macro analysis
    • Conflict in the Middle East is a prominant topic in world news at the moment, and a report where two nations are uniting against Assad, rather than fighting each other , would be of social relevance at this time.

Why study CDA?

There are a number of reasons for studying Critical Discourse Analysis. One is taking an interest in social and cultural issues, and how these issues affect society as a whole, looking at how social injustice is portrayed, and how certain social groups may be misrepresented in discourse. Another reason, is that CDA allows you to look at topics that interest you specifically. Finally, looking at CDA in more depth will give you new tools with which to study language, not just academically, but in everyday life too, for example, when reading newspapers or magazines, or watching the news.


[1] Johnstone, B., (2008). Discourse Analysis, 2nd edition, Oxford: Blackwell.
[2] Richardson, J., (2007). Analysing Newspapers: An approach from critical discourse analysis, Hampshire: Palgrave macmillan.
[3] Caldas-Coulthard, C. and Coulthard, M., (1996). Texts and practices: readings in critical discourse analysis, London: Routledge.