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HCS360 - Research Methods

Creating a Research Plan

Tackling an original research project involves a set of skills you may not have had the chance to fully develop before now. While you have previously relied on other scholars’ ideas and findings to write your papers, you now need to set up your own study, determine what information you need to tell the story you want to tell, do your own analysis of a carefully selected set of sources, and critically reflect upon your work throughout this process.

Research is iterative – you will need to revisit your research plan over the course of the semester and make adjustments as you refine your topic, hunt down data/sources that may or may not exist, and question the limitations of the existing literature.

A research plan is a living document that researchers use to organize their thoughts on a research project. Creating a research plan will help you make the transition from writing “research papers” where you synthesize the work of other scholars – to planning, conducting, and writing up an original research project. Your plan will evolve as your project develops; it is not a one-time thing.

Developing a Research Question

Formulate questions that narrow your topic, reducing what might be your original grand question, to manageable portions. Your research question should be narrow, specific, and answerable. Eventually, your question should be refined based on a review of the literature in your discipline.

You may find it helpful to express or ask your question as a relation between two or more variables.

Note that a hypothesis is a tentative answer to a research question - an expected but as of yet unconfirmed relationship between two or more variables.

Singleton, R. A. and Straits, B. C. (2005). Approaches to social research. New York: Oxford University Press.


Quantitative Research vs. Qualitative vs. Rhetorical Criticism

The following are links to examples of three kinds of empirical studies: qualitative, quantitative, and rhetorical critical studies. Examine the abstracts of these studies (or the studies themselves). They share a "common" topic - parent communication - yet they are examples of the three different types of communication research studies:

Qualitative Research Study - qualitative communication studies focus on the behavior of people and why they think and behave in particular ways. A study is constructed to examine a group of participants which is carefully selected (and described) to be representative of the group being studied. Texts of various sorts may well be studied (such as interviews or survey results) in order to understand particular behavior.

Quantitative Research Study - quantitative  communication studies focus on understanding why people behave in particular ways. Studies are constructed to try and determine cause and effect relationships between particular variables. Samples of participants are randomized with the goal to find variables that show statistically significant causes and effects.

 Rhetorical Criticism Study - rhetorical critical communication studies focus on understanding communication texts through rhetorical analysis. Terms such as "rhetoric", "narrative', and 'discourse" are indicative of this type of analysis. The focus is on the texts and their rhetorical function in specific rhetorical environments.