45 Communication Research Overview


After reading this chapter you should be able to:

  • Understand what we consider as Communication research.
  • Explain how Communication research is done.
  • Identify motivational factors that influence Communication research.
  • Explain the three broad approaches to Communication research as well as specific research methodologies.

One stereotype about college students is that they do not have a lot of extra money to spend. As a result, we have witnessed our students conduct communication research in order to increase their cashflow, and most of them didn’t even know they were doing it. What do we mean by this? Many of our students are allotted a certain amount of money by their parents, financial aid, and jobs to pay for school, housing, and extracurricular activities. When money starts to become scarce, many of our students go to their parents to see if they will provide more money. What does this have to do with communication research? Because when these same students have asked for money from their parents in the past, they theorize what communication messages might work in order to get more. For example, if a student asked for money from their parents last semester because they said they were running out of food, and it worked, they might do that again in order to get more money. What is happening is that these students are developing hypotheses regarding what communication behaviors will work to influence their parents. If the behaviors work, it validates they hypothesis. If the behaviors don’t work, students can learn from this and adjust their behaviors in future exchanges to obtain a different outcome. It is likely you engage in these types of communication research activities on a daily basis.

Photo of woman in evening dress staring at notecards in a hallwayLikely you have engaged in basic levels of Communication research without even knowing it. Remember our discussion in the last chapter that theory is “a way of framing an experience or event—an effort to understand and account for something and the way it functions in the world” (Foss, Foss & Griffin, 8). Well, we generally do not understand how something functions in the world unless we have had some level of experience with it, and then evaluate the outcome of that experience. Have you ever planned out what you would say and do to persuade someone to go on a date? Have you ever intentionally violated the communicative expectations (such as arriving late or forgetting to do a favor) of a friend, “just to see what would happen?” While we do not consider these to be examples of formal Communication research, they do reveal what Communication research is about. Remember our discussion in Chapter 1, those of us who study Communication are interested in researching “who says what, through what channels (media) of communication, to whom, [and] what will be the results?” (Smith, Lasswell and Casey 121).

The term “research” often conjures up visions of a mad scientist dressed in a white lab coat working through the night with chemicals, beakers, and gases on his/her latest scientific experiment. But how does this measure up with the realities of researching human communication? Researching communication presents its own set of challenges and circumstances that must be understood to better conceptualize how we can further our understanding of the ways we communicate with one another.


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