Research Methods in Communication
North Dakota State University, Fargo.
Instructor: Ross Collins, Ph.D.
Office: 321A Minard Hall, tel 231-7295.
web page www.ndsu.edu/communication/collins. Choose Class Resources. Check the class web site for announcements, an on-line syllabus, and on-line handouts. Also available is a class bulletin board for students who wish to ask questions or establish discussion threads related to communication study.
Office hours: 9:30-11 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, or by appointment. Students are highly encouraged to meet with the instructor at least once during the semester outside of class to discuss work and concerns.
Text and Readings
Frey, L.R., Botan, C.H., Friedman, P.G., and Kreps, G..L. (1991). Investigating Communication: An Introduction to Research Methods (2nd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. Required text.
Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association
(1984). Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association. Required Text.
Guidelines for the Preparation of Disquisitions (1990). Fargo, ND: North Dakota State University. Required text. (Also available on the graduate school’s web site.)
Creswell, J.W., Research Design. Qualitative & Quantitative Approaches. (1994). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications. (Strongly) recommended text.
Additional readings will be assigned as noted in the tentative schedule.
Graduate work differs from undergraduate programs in its approach to knowledge acquisition. At the undergraduate level students are asked to learn about themselves and their specialized field from textbooks, teachers, and practice. At the graduate level, they begin to contribute to that knowledge by learning how to do scientific research.
“Science” in this context merely means a rational
and systematic approach to finding answers to a question. This work may be
exciting and important. For most people, however, the language of scientific
research is unfamiliar and sometimes daunting. This class aims to introduce
students to this new world. At class end, students will better understand
the traditions of communication research, why communication researchers approach
their work in a scientific way, how they go about doing it, how they interpret
what they’ve done, and how they present it to others. Popular communication
research methods will be presented, to help students assess alternatives available
to then in their studies.
While statistical research is described, in this introductory class students are not expected to learn specific formulas or procedures used by researchers. Students normally choose specific courses covering methods most interesting to them following this general introduction. Students will have the opportunity to leave this course with their own prospectus, which they may decide to adapt for further use as a thesis or paper plan.
On principle the instructor does not take attendance or grade on attendance. However, part of the graduate student’s responsibility as a researcher is presentation and discussion of her or his findings. Therefore the ability to participate in groups, class discussions and other presentations is essential to learning research methods in communication Students will be expected to prepare for class by reading and completing assignments, and to be ready with reports and comments on material during class discussions. Students will also be asked to think of ways research concepts discussed could be applied to “real world” situations. Participation grades will be assessed each week, and constitute 10 percent of a student’s final grade, as indicated below.
Making up missed work
You can’t make up missed class participation days. Late assignments will be accepted, but may be graded down according to how late they arrive. If you must miss a class or assignment deadline, however, you may somewhat offset the grade penalty through extra credit work. In addition to extra credit opportunities the instructor may offer throughout the semester, you may gather extra credit points by submitting vocabulary cards: when you encounter a term specific to research methods, write it down on separate note cards, along with a definition. In your own words, explain how that term might apply to your own research ideas, or give an example. Ten vocabulary cards submitted by the end of the semester will offset a missed class period or late assignment.
Grading will be based on a standard point-count. Tentative highest possible point totals for this course:
Midterm: 125 pts.
Class participation: 50 pts.
Weekly assignments: 125 pts.
Mock prospectus presentation: 50 pts.
Final project: 150 pts.
Total: 500 pts.
The total number of points may change slightly, depending on the eventual number of assignments completed during the semester.
Standard grade percentages:
Letter grades will not be given during the semester, but you can calculate your grade anytime by finding the percentage as related to the total possible points. For instance, you have collected 220 points by midterm, out of a possible 250 so far. Divide 220 by 250, and the result is .88, that is, 88 percent. Your grade so far is in the B range. (A downloadable form to make this easy is available from the instructor’s Class Resources web page.)
Official Notices from the University
If you need special accommodations for learning or have special needs, please let the instructor know as soon as possible.
Work in this course must adhere to the NDSU Code of Academic Responsibility and Conduct. This addresses cheating, plagiarism, fabrication, or facilitating dishonesty. Instructors have the right to respond to a student’s dishonesty by failing the student for the particular assignment or test, or even the entire course, or recommend the student drop the course.
Synopses of lectures, handouts, and other material is available on the class web site, URL above.
(Note: some of the activities below will be assigned to groups.)
Lecture: Introduction to graduate research. Research vs. everyday ways of knowing.
Discussion and activities: Topic ideas for research.
Reading: Frey et al., 1-26. Optional reading: Creswell, 1-19.
Assignment: Identify three topic areas for research.
Lecture: Qualitative and quantitative research.
Discussion and activities: Library tour, discuss research strategies.
Reading: Frey et al., 27-47, Gilovich, 1-6, 75-111, and IFIC Review newsletter (both on library reserve). Optional reading: Creswell, 20-40.
Assignment: Gather a list of communication-related journals available in Tri-College libraries. Find three sources related to one or more of your interest areas. Prepare a written summary (three pages maximum) of the three.
Lecture: Research questions and hypotheses. Topic ideas and source analysis.
Discussion and activities: Present summaries. Film: “Research Methods for the Social Sciences.”
Reading: (No reading assigned in Frey et al.) Optional reading: Creswell, 41-80.
Assignment: Select a topic from your three possibilities. Write a research question or questions related to your selected topic.
Lecture: Continue research questions and hypotheses. Writing the research proposal; constructing arguments.
Discussion and activities: Present research questions.
Reading: Frey et al., 79-107. APA 1-22. Optional reading: Creswell, 105-115.
Assignment: Establish a working bibliography of at least 20 sources related to your research question; review and summarize 10 of these sources in writing.
Lecture: Theories and definitions; evaluating academic research.
Discussion and activities: Present your review of sources. Consider research questions in groups.
Reading: Frey et al., 48-74. APA, 23-60. Optional reading: Creswell, 69-80.
Assignment: Review a recent communication department thesis, noting the steps taken by the author. Prepare a presentation for class describing these steps.
Lecture: Reliability, validity, operationalization.
Discussion and activities:
Reading: Frey et al., 109-139.
Assignment: Write a short explanation of how you intend to maintain reliability and validity regarding your research question. Write operational definitions for key terms in your study.
Lecture: Continue reliability and validity. Constructing arguments and prospectuses. Review for midterm.
Discussion and activities: Present analyses of departmental theses.
Assignment: study for midterm.
Lecture: Methods of research; textual analysis.
Discussion and activities: midterm exam.
Reading: Frey et al., 225-236. Optional reading: Creswell, 143-172.
Assignment: Search communication-related journals for an article using textual analysis. Abstract the article, and compose a research question related to your topic that textual analysis could be used to answer.
Note: abstracts should be no longer than one double-spaced typewritten page, about 350 words. Style must be standard APA format; refer to APA guide. Include complete APA-style citation, description of research question/hypothesis, key references and definitions, methods and results, conclusions, and your discussion of strenghs/weaknesses of the work.)
Lecture: Methods of research; participation/observation, ethnography.
Discussion and activities: review exam; present abstracts based on textual analysis.
Reading: Frey et al., 257-285.
Assignment: Search communication-related journals for an article using ethnography. Abstract the article, and compose a research question related to your topic that a survey could be used to answer.
Lecture: ways of research; experiments.
Discussion and activities: present article based on ethnography.
Reading: Frey et al., 169-197. Optional reading: Creswell, 116-142.
Assignment: Search communication-related journals for an article using an experiment. Abstract the article, and compose a research question related to your topic that experimental research could be used to answer. Begin reading for prospectus literature review. Write introduction to prospectus.
Lecture: Methods of research; historical. Ethics of research, preparing prospectus presentations.
Discussion and activities: Present abstracts based on experimental research. Present prospectus assignment introduction and research question.
Reading: (No reading assigned in Frey et al.) Startt & Sloan, 1-18, 41-63 (on library reserve).
Assignment: Search communication-related journals for an article using historical research. Abstract the article, and compose a research question related to your topic that a survey could be used to answer. Work on prospectus literature review.
Lecture: Methods of research; surveys and sampling.
Reading: Frey et al., 198-223. Optional reading: Creswell, 173-192.
Discussion and activities: Present abstracts based on historical research.
Assignment: Search communication-related journals for an article using a survey. Abstract the article, and compose a research question related to your topic that historical research could be used to answer. Continue work on prospectus literature review.
Lecture: Using statistics in communication research.
Discussion and activities: Prospectus presentations. Discuss presentation of ethical questions in research.
Reading: Frey et al., 289-314; Gilovich 185-193 and Ryan article (both on library reserve). Optional reading: Creswell, 193-208.
Assignment: Rough draft of model prospectus DUE for review.
Lecture: The academic presentation/publication process. Discuss rough drafts.
Reading: Frey et al., 315-334; 381-395
Assignment: Prepare for final prospectus presentations.
Prospectus presentations, critiques. Reading: Frey et al., 336-354.
Prospectus presentations, critiques. Final version of prospectus DUE on this date. Reading: Frey et al., 356-376.
For More Information
S.K. Foss, Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration & Practice. Prospect Heights, NJ: Waveland Press, Inc., 1989. Resource for communication students interested in this popular research method.
Thomas Gilovich, How We Know What Isn’t So. The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life. New York: The Free Press, 1991. A popular and entertaining examination of how people learn things, and how they misunderstand scientific research.
Diana Hacker, A Pocket Style Manual. Boston: Bedford Books, 1993. A quick reference for researchers, the booklet succinctly covers on all citation styles, including Chicago and MLA, as well as APA. It also includes a nice discussion of clarity and good writing.
John Reinard, Introduction to Communication Research. Second Edition, Boston: McGraw Hill, 1998. An alternative to Frey, et al.
James D. Startt and William David Sloan, Historical Methods in Mass Communication. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1989. Excellent resource for history-loving researchers.