Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Methods of Media Research


Methods of Media Research
Methods of Media Research
Communication covers a broad range of topics. Also it draws heavily from other fields like sociology, psychology, anthropology, economics, etc. Thus most of the methods applicable to social research are used for communication research. In fact, while fields like history, literature, etc ’use only specific methods, communication research uses all kinds of methods. Also individual studies in the field of communication research use multiple methods. All methods of media research can be classified as quantitative and qualitative.
Methods of Media Research


Many research studies concentrate on numbers. In such studies, observations are expressed in numerical terms. Quantitative research is basically explanatory in nature and sometimes even involves, experiments. Such studies attempt to use precise statistical tools and models to achieve comprehensive understanding of communication behaviours and phenomena.
The best examples of these are surveys and opinion polls. Such methods often try to predict present or future behaviour in various communication situations. In such studies statistical methods are used as a means to an end. These are not ends in themselves. Here numerical data are analyzed and presented numerically.
Quantitative methods help in providing precise explanations about process and help measure communication behavior.


Here the emphasis is not on numerical data. Rather these methods depend on description and interpretation of meanings of communication messages by Way of subjective treatment. Instead of going for large number of examples qualitative research concentrates on individual examples. Qualitative research does not try to find patterns. It makes intensive inquiries about single events, individuals and social or communication units.
Case studies, focus group studies are some examples of qualitative methods.
As we have already discussed, there are a lot of methods used in media or communication research. These include Census, Survey, Observation, Case Studies, and interviews, etc.


This method involves studying the entire population or universe of research. This is a quantitative method. Every single element of the universe is covered in this method. Thus the results are always good. Also there is no danger of biases or prejudices being introduced. The major drawbacks of the census method are, it is highly expensive, and involves large manpower and a lot of efforts. For these reasons, the census method is rarely used for media research.


The term survey comes from two words ‘sur’ and ‘vor’, which mean to see a particular thing from a high place. But this term is used differently in different sciences. In natural sciences, survey means measuring things. In social into sciences, survey means an investigation of social problems by collecting data through interviews, questionnaire, etc.
In communication research it means looking at something in its entirety. In surveys, we cover events, processes, behaviour, etc. In quantitative communication research, a survey is an empirical study that uses questionnaires or interviews to discover descriptive characteristics of communication phenomena.
Often people think that surveys are means of studying large number of people. However, relatively smaller groups like the employees of an office can also be surveyed. Surveys can be used for all kinds of communication studies. There are the two basic forms of surveys - questionnaire surveys and interview based surveys. We shall discuss about the questionnaire survey here and shall discuss interviews later.


A questionnaire survey involves the following steps:
·         Selecting and framing questions,
·         Formatting,
·         Determining validity and reliability of questions,
·         Sampling subjects (respondents),
·         Administering the questionnaire, and
·         Analyzing and interpreting results.

Selecting and Framing Questions: Developing or framing questions is often a difficult task. It requires extensive reading on the subject, composing a rough draft, putting them into a proper format. Questions can be direct or indirect, specific or general. Also there could be pure questions or statements to which reactions are sought. Again questions can be closed or open-ended.
The researcher is free to adopt one type of questions or a variety of question types. Open-ended questions often result in a broad variety of responses.

Formatting: The basic format of questionnaires includes a brief statement about the study at the beginning, request for participation, assurance of confidentiality (if required). Then come the demographic questions (about gender, age, academics, income, etc.) Next come the questions on the topic. Usually questions of same response modes (like the yes and no questions) are grouped together. Some researchers put questions on the same issue together. Researchers usually try to have less number of questions. However, some studies require long questionnaires of 30 to 40 questions. Putting large number of questions in a proper format is a big problem.  

Determining Reliability and Validity: After framing questions and formatting the questions, researchers must test the validity (relevance) and reliability (consistency) of the questions. For this, researchers often put check questions in the questionnaire. This involves putting the same question in different ways at different places.
Many methods of testing validity and reliability are available. These include test scales, polarity rotation etc.

Sampling Subjects (Respondents): One cannot always study the entire population or the universe. A representative sample is thus selected. Many methods are used for this purpose. Whatever the method is, the researcher should justify the size and method of sampling.

Administering the Questionnaire: Questionnaires can be delivered by mail, through tax or personally. However, it is always good to get the questionnaire filled up personally.

Analyzing and interpreting Results: Mostly researchers use statistical means for analyzing data collected through the questionnaires. They try to Show averages or the Spread of data. Whatever means used, this tom of research tries to reveal answers to the problems posed in the study.


Generally, observation is the process of acquiring knowledge through the use of the sense organs. Observation involves three components sensation or experiencing through the sense organs, attention or the ability to concentrate on the subject matter, and perception or the ability to recognize facts and putting them in proper perspective. In simple terms, observation means seeing things with a purpose.
In research terms, observation is perception with a purpose. The observation methods usually look into an occurrence, event or phenomenon as it is taking place. It is basically a qualitative method.
The two basic types of observation are participatory and non participatory. ln participatory observation, the researcher observes from within the group under observation while being part of the group. This provides first hand information. in case of non-participatory observation, the researcher observes from a distance. This is a kind of a detached observation. it does not provide any firsthand experience.

Participatory Observation: This is also called naturalistic study as such studies are conducted in natural environments or settings. These are non experimental studies or inquiries conducted as the subjects (people) are engaged in the natural course of their lives. Participatory observation is an important form of fieldwork. Here researchers study groups by becoming a part of the group.
Researchers try to establish close relationships with the group members and observe and record their behaviour. Such studies produce both qualitative and quantitative data. Researchers try to use non-intrusive methods to gather information regardless of the fact that whether it is qualitative or quantitative. Researchers try to get close and personal with the group members. They do not ask questions as in case of surveys. They join the group and 'observe'.

Outside Observation (Non Participatory Observation): Sometimes researchers do not become part of the group they are studying. They observe the group’s behaviour from the outside and not as a part of the group. Here the chances of getting personal details of behaviours are less.
In case of participatory observation, the interpretations become more subjective. But in case‘of outside observation, which involves no close relationship between the group and the researcher, the interpretations are more or less objective. In participative observations, the researcher’s sympathy and concerns are reflected in the interpretations.

The steps involved in observation method include:
·      Selecting the group and the place or setting,
·      Getting familiar with the place and the group,
·      Building rapport,
·      Sampling within the group for selecting the types of behaviours to study,
·      Asking questions if required
·      Keeping records of observations, and finally
·      Interpretation of the data.

The accuracy of observations depends on the precise and clear formulation of the problem, studying items and issues individually, objectivity of inquiry, and. the five W’s and one H (what, where, who, when, why and how). The reliability of the observation depends on the techniques and tools used, the situation, setting or environment being observed and of course the quality of the observer. it also depends on the quality of sampling. A lot of cross checking is required to make sure that relevant and valid information is being collected.
Along with objectivity, the observer should have relevant experience, knowledge, maturity, unbiasedness, and alertness. Observations should be noted down immediately and all observations should be properly categorized. Categorization helps in proper understanding and analysis.
Observation is distorted by prejudice, bias, haste, inexperience and lack of relevant knowledge. Observation also has two major problems or fallacies: non observation and mal-observation. Non-observation involves overlooking or neglecting relevant facts. Mal-observation involves misinterpretation or misperception. This means perceiving things differently from what they actually are.


These are intensive inquiries about single events, individuals, social units, or institutions. Case studies throw light on individual events or processes. The results are not generalizable in the statistical sense.
Case studies help the researcher know precisely the factors and. causes of a particular phenomenon. It is a kind of qualitative analysis.
Whether an individual, an institution, a social unit or an entire community is studied, the subject is considered as a whole or a unit. The case study method covers every aspect of the unit very intensively. In the case study method, information is collected through personal interviews, interviews with people close to the subject (or unit being studied), documents (personal and official as in case of individuals and institutions respectively), etc.
Unlike most other methods where only general aspects are covered, the case study method covers emotional and psychological aspects also. Unlike in other statistical methods where the emphasis is on numbers, the case-study method involves subjective treatment.
While case studies generate adequate and comprehensive" information, which help solve many problems, this method has some disadvantages also. These include a false sense of confidence. Researchers often become ever confident as they cover all the aspects. However, some aspects are overlooked some times. Collecting all kinds of information about great many aspects of the subject becomes difficult. It is also time consuming and expensive. Also it could lead to false generalizations. Being qualitative and subjective in nature, case studies are not quantifiable. Often case studies are unorganized and unsystematic as no standardized methodology is developed as yet. However, case studies are used as a highly effective method of research both in the social sciences and communication fields.


Like in the participative observation method, the researcher collects information in the interview method personally. Many people use questionnaire to collect information. But using questionnaires is an impersonal method as these are often distributed through mail. Also many people ignore the questionnaire and do not respond. But interviews are not generally ignored. Also the researchers can observe and record such information about the manner, behaviour and nonverbal actions of the respondents. These things are usually lost if questionnaires are being sent through mail. The interview method involves the following steps:

Selecting Questions: The first and foremost thing for an interview is to select questions. The key here is relevance. Sometimes interviewers use specially prepared formats as in case of questionnaires. Here the questions are selected, framed and organized in a particular format. These are called structured interviews. In some other cases, the interviewer does not have a set of pre-framed questions. This method is called unstructured interviewing. Unstructured interviews offer a lot of flexibility. Here the respondents are free to give their reactions on the topic and related issues. This method also allows extended explorations and follow ups.

Types of Question Strategies: Researchers use a variety of strategies to organize their questions. Some put the demographic questions at the end, unlike in case of questionnaires. For initial questioning two strategies are used: funnel questioning and inverted funnel questioning.
Funnel questioning starts with general and open-ended questions. These are followed by narrow or specific questions. Inverted funnel questioning begins with a very specific question, which is then followed by general questions.

Example of tunnel questioning:
·   How do you feel about the news programmes on Citi Cable?
·   How would you rate the coverage of local events on Citi Cable?
·   How would you rate the coverage of local problems on Citi Cable?
·   How do you rate the coverage of the sewerage problems in the city on Citi Cable?

Example of inverted funnel questioning:
·   What is your favorite TV Serial?
·   Do you like other serials of the same type?
·   What type of TV programmes do you watch?

After initial questioning is over, then the researcher uses two other strategies mirror questioning and probing questions. Mirror questioning involves repeating previous questions in a different way to gain additional information and to cross check previous answers. And probing questions are asked to get elaboration or explanation.

The Gallup Organization, which runs the famous Gallup Polls, has devised the following principles for conducting interviews.
·   The questions should be short and to the point.
·   The words and phrases should be simple.
·   The questions should avoid all possible bias against or in favour of a particular point of view.
·   The questions should include all the important alternatives.