It may be questioned why we feel the need to state what might seem obvious. There are basically two reasons. The first is that discourse analysis still can be misunderstood by those who have been schooled in quantitative analysis. It might appear to quantitative researchers that 'anything goes' in qualitative work in general, and discourse analysis in particular. However, that certainly is not the case, though we believe that the quality of discourse work has been variable - as variable, of course, as any other kind of work. It is not surprising that this is so. Although an increasing number of researchers are producing discursive theses, reports and articles, they sometimes have to do this through self-education, possibly in institutional settings characterised by incomprehension of, or even direct hostility to, discourse analysis.
The second reason is that work continues to be produced, submitted to journals and sometimes published that embodies basic problems. When we compared notes from our experience of refereeing journal submissions across a wide range of discourse and social psychology journals we noticed that a particular range of shortcomings appeared with great regularity.
Under these circumstances, it is important to make a statement that reiterates and emphasises the analytic basis to discursive studies. Such a statement might have value for those who are learning the trade. In addition, it might help prevent researchers from producing work that might lend credence to the quantitative researcher's dismissal that, in discourse analysis, 'anything goes'.
This basic position is not out of line with those who comment on the study of discourse in other disciplines. David Silverman, for example, makes similar critical points in the conclusion to his recent book on analysing qualitative data in social sciences in general (Silverman, 2001). In the domain of journal publishing, Teun van Dijk, in the first editorial of Discourse and Society, the journal founded to study discourse and its relations to social processes, goes out of his way to emphasise the need for 'explicit and systematic analysis' based on 'serious methods and theories' (van Dijk, 1990, p.14). In this editorial van Dijk made it clear that the journal would only accept papers that were engaged in some form of discursive or textual analysis. Over the years, van Dijk has repeated this requirement in various editorials. He has done so because many papers submitted to the journal have in fact engaged in minimal analysis of discourse, although the authors might claim to be doing some form of 'discourse analysis' (van Dijk, personal communication). One of us is, in fact, a 'co-editor' of Discourse and Society and is aware of such issues. We mention this now in order to emphasise that the problems, which we are discussing in this current paper, are by no means confined to social psychology nor to a particular form of discourse analysis.
What we shall do in this paper, then, is to identify things that might superficially give the appearance of conducting those kinds of discourse analyses that are the province of the social sciences, and that are increasingly seen in social psychology. We have collected together six such non-analyses: (1) under-analysis through summary; (2) under-analysis through taking sides; (3) under-analysis through over-quotation or through isolated quotation; (4) the circular identification of discourses and mental constructs; (5) false survey; and (6) analysis that consists in simply spotting features. It would be invidious to single out one or even a small number of studies as representing these problems (although it is not hard to find such studies). Instead we will sketch out the problems in a more general way, and illustrate them in relation to a single piece of data.