Unit of Analysis: Definition, Types & Examples

The unit of analysis is the people or things whose qualities will be measured. The unit of analysis is an essential part of a research project. It’s the main thing that a researcher looks at in his research.

A unit of analysis is the object about which you hope to have something to say at the end of your analysis, perhaps the major subject of your research.

In this blog, we will define:

  • Definition of “unit of analysis”
  • Types of “unit of analysis”
  • Conclusion

What is a unit of analysis?

A unit of analysis is the thing you want to discuss after your research, probably what you would regard to be the primary emphasis of your research.

The researcher plans to comment on the primary topic or object in the research as a unit of analysis. The research question plays a significant role in determining it. The “who” or “what” that the researcher is interested in investigating is, to put it simply, the unit of analysis.

In his book “Man, the State, and War” from 2001, author Waltz divides the world into three distinct spheres of study: the individual, the state, and war.

Understanding the reasoning behind the unit of analysis is vital. The likelihood of fruitful research increases if the rationale is understood. An individual, group, organization, nation, social phenomenon, etc., are a few examples.

Types of “unit of analysis”

In business research, there are almost unlimited types of possible analytical units. Even though the most typical unit of analysis is the individual, many research questions can be more precisely answered by looking at other types of units. Let’s find out, 

  • Individual Level

The most prevalent unit of analysis in business research is the individual. These are the primary analytical units. The researcher may be interested in looking into:

  • Employee actions
  • Perceptions
  • Attitudes, or opinions.

Employees may come from wealthy or low-income families, as well as from rural or metropolitan areas.

A researcher might investigate if personnel from rural areas are more likely to arrive on time than those from urban areas. Additionally, he can check whether workers from rural areas who come from poorer families arrive on time compared to those from rural areas who come from wealthy families.

Each time, the individual (employee) serving as the analytical unit is discussed and explained. Employee analysis as a unit of analysis can shed light on issues in business, including customer and human resource behavior.

For example, employee work satisfaction and consumer purchasing patterns impact business, making research into these topics vital.

Psychologists typically concentrate on the research of individuals. The research of individuals may significantly aid the success of a firm. Their knowledge and experiences reveal vital information. Individuals are so heavily utilized in business research.

  • Aggregates Level

People are not usually the focus of social science research. By combining the reactions of individuals, social scientists frequently describe and explain social interactions, communities, and groupings. Additionally, they research the collective of individuals, including communities, groups, and countries.

Aggregate levels can be divided into two types: Groups (groups with an ad hoc structure) and Organizations (groups with a formal organization).

  • Groups

Groups of people make up the following levels of the unit of analysis. A group is defined as two or more individuals interacting, having common traits, and feeling connected to one another. 

Many definitions also emphasize interdependence or objective resemblance (Turner, 1982; Platow, Grace, & Smithson, 2011) and those who identify as group members (Reicher, 1982).

As a result, society and gangs serve as examples of groups. According to Webster’s Online Dictionary (2012), they can resemble some clubs but be far less formal.

Siblings, identical twins, family, and small group functioning are examples of studies with many units of analysis.

In such circumstances, a whole group might be compared to another. Families, gender-specific groups, pals, Facebook groups, and work departments can all be groups.

By analyzing groups, researchers can learn how they form and how age, experience, class, and gender affect them. When aggregated, an individual’s data describes the group to which they belong.

Sociologists study groups like economists. Businesspeople form teams to complete projects. They’re continually researching groups and group behavior.

  • Organizations

The next level of the unit of analysis is organizations, which are groups of people. Organizations are groups set up formally. It could include businesses, religious groups, parts of the military, colleges, academic departments, supermarkets, business groups, and so on.

The social organization includes things like sexual composition, styles of leadership, organizational structure, systems of communication, and so on. (Susan & Wheelan, 2005; Chapais & Berman, 2004). (Lim, Putnam, and Robert, 2010) say that well-known social organizations and religious institutions are among them.

Moody, White, and Douglas (2003) say that social organizations are hierarchical. Hasmath, Hildebrandt, and Hsu (2016) say that social organizations can take different forms. For example, they can be made by institutions like schools or governments.

Sociology, economics, political science, psychology, management, and organizational communication (Douma & Schreuder, 2013) are some social science fields that study organizations.

Organizations are different from groups in that they are more formal and have better organization. A researcher might want to study a company to generalize its results to the whole population of companies.

One way to look at an organization is by the number of employees, the net annual revenue, the net assets, the number of projects, and so on. He might want to know if big companies hire more or fewer women than small companies.

Organization researchers might be interested in how companies like Reliance, Amazon, and HCL affect our social and economic lives. People who work in business often study business organizations.

  • Social Level

The social level has 2 types,

  • Social Artifacts Level

Things are studied alongside humans. Social artifacts are human-made objects from diverse communities. Social artifacts are items, representations, assemblages, institutions, knowledge, and conceptual frameworks used to convey, interpret, or achieve a goal (IGI Global, 2017).

Cultural artifacts are anything humans generate that reveals their culture (Watts, 1981).

Social artifacts include books, newspapers, advertising, websites, technical devices, films, photographs, paintings, clothes, poems, jokes, students’ late excuses, scientific breakthroughs, furniture, machines, structures, etc. Infinite.

Humans build social objects for social behavior. As people or groups suggest a population in business research, each social object implies a class of items.

Same-class goods include business books, magazines, articles, and case studies. A business magazine’s quantity of articles, frequency, price, content, and editor in a research study may be characterized.

Then, a linked magazine’s population might be evaluated for description and explanation. Marx W. Wartofsky (1979) defined artifacts as primary artifacts utilized in production (like a camera), secondary artifacts connected to primary artifacts (like a camera user manual), and tertiary objects related to representations of secondary artifacts (like a camera user-manual sculpture).

An artifact’s scientific study reveals its creators and users. The artifacts researcher may be interested in advertising, marketing, distribution, buying, etc.

  • Social Interaction Level

Social artifacts include social interaction. Such as:

  • Eye contact with a coworker
  • Buying something in a store
  • Friendship decisions
  • Road accidents
  • Airline hijackings
  • Race riots
  • Professional counseling
  • Whatsapp messaging
  • etc.

A researcher might study youthful employees’ smartphone addictions. Some addictions may involve social media, while others involve online games and movies that inhibit connection.

Smartphone addictions are examined as a societal phenomenon. Observation units are probably individuals (employees).

Anthropologists typically study social artifacts. They may be interested in the social order. A researcher who examines social interactions may be interested in how broader societal structures and factors impact daily behavior, festivals, and weddings.

Conclusion

Even though there is no perfect way to do research, it is generally agreed that researchers should try to find a unit of analysis that keeps the context needed to make sense of the data.

Researchers should consider the details of their research when deciding on the unit of analysis. 

They should keep in mind that consistent use of these units throughout the analysis process (from coding to developing categories and themes to interpreting the data) is essential to gaining insight from qualitative data and protecting the reliability of the results.

QuestionPro does much more than merely serve as survey software. For every sector of the economy and every kind of issue, we have a solution. We also have systems for managing data, such as our research repository Insights Hub.