Synopsis Two: quantitative and qualitative methods

Researchers rely on data to answer questions they ask about things, so they need to ask questions that can be answered by data. "Want to go out for a beer?" would probably not be a good research question. "Do students who sit in the front row get better grades than students who sit in the back row?" is a question data could perhaps help to answer.

Work tends to fall into two categories, basic research and applied research, although the two may overlap. Basic research, without immediate commercial or practical use, is sometimes ridiculed by politicians or uninformed public, but often it is quite important to people who understand the discipline.

While communication is an incredibly broad topic, and may encompass all kinds of research methods, generally it refers to "the process by which participants transmit and assign meanings to messages." (J.C. Reinhard) Communication researchers specialize. Among the data-collection methods they use are those grouped under the qualitative umbrella (historical and critical studies, case studies, participation-observation and ethnographic studies, discourse/conversational analysis, and creative studies) and quantitative umbrella (surveys and experiments). Qualitative research is non-numerical (symbolic) work designed to describe or interpret. Quantitative research is numerical work designed to explain or predict. Under the quantitative/survey area are observational/descriptive surveys, content analysis, and opinion surveys.

Researchers first choose questions they wish to answer, and then choose a research method best suited to answer them. Sometimes they use more than one method to better answer a question, called "triangulation." Qualities of good research:

* systematic;

* data-driven;

* a sound argument;

* repeatable by others;

* an addition to the dialogue on the subject.


This means that while good comm researchers don't need to be geniuses, they do need:

* the ability to think in an orderly way, critical thinking skills;

* the ability to write clearly;

* the ability to set aside prejudices;

* the ability to stay organized and follow instructions;

* understanding of research methods in communication.