Conducting Research in Communication Science
Communication texts are often filled with information, sometimes even things termed as fact about the communication process: how it operates, who does what, channels used, contexts, and outcomes. It is crucial to keep in mind as we read these facts that facts in the social sciences are derived from research; research utilizes a given methodology; methodologies can be used, misused, or mishandled. Ultimately, the quality and validity of any piece of information is based in large part on the strength of the method used to obtain that information. Thus, it is important to understand methods and, critically, to understand the research process, how it works, and ultimately, what constitutes best practice studies. In this chapter, we will first briefly review an overall approach to method in communication as it relates to the philosophical underpinnings of communication science as discussed in Chapter 4 and also issues of causality and explanation discussed in Chapter 5. Second, we will discuss how communication scientists determine a method for answering research questions and for testing hypotheses. In the final section, we will address three of the main methods utilized in communication research: survey research, experimental designs, and content analysis. We will then discuss how a given method is selected, and we will conclude with a brief discussion of new and emerging research in what is sometimes called “big data.” This chapter is not intended to offer an in-depth look at research methods. Indeed, entire volumes have been written on the topic and have covered it more thoroughly. Instead, the intention is to offer a snapshot of some of the most common communication science methods and present them in the framework of communication research.