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COMM2201 Lecture Notes

Week Five – Oct. 4, 2010


Sample size:
Does size matter?
A number of factors will help you to determine the most appropriate
sample size:
- project type
- project purpose
- complexity
- amount of error tolerated
- time constraints
- financial constraints
- previous research in the area

Some general principles guide researchers when selecting a sample:

- Consider the research method used – focus group will use only 6-12
people while survey pretest may use 10-50 subjects.
- Some researchers estimate a size based on the number of cases they
will need to have per category to efficiently examine a variable.
Example of a samples of 50, 75, 100 subjects per age category. Some
statistical procedure are based on assumptions where there needs to
be a minimum number per category for the procedure to work.
- Cost and time considerations always control sample sizes. Most
research uses a size that fits the budget. We also consider sampling
error. If sampling error does not change much by increasing sample
size from 400 to 1000 then we may go with the 400.
- Multivariate studies always require large samples than univariate
studies. Rules of thumb exist - 10 or 20 cases per parameter being
estimated or variable being studied. These are crude and one should
really estimate sample size using statistical procedures
- Some research methods (experiments, focus groups, panel studies)
require over-recruiting when sampling to allow for dropout and subject
- Use information from published research. It is a starting point. If
literature suggests that a particular sample size produces reliable
results then feel free to use that size in your study.
- The larger the sample, the better but a large unrepresentative sample
is useless.

COMM2201 Lecture Notes
Week Five – Oct. 4, 2010



Note the difference in ‘method’ and ‘methodology’

Method – specific techniques or instruments of data collection

Methodology – the study of methods of research; body of methods; an

approach to data collection

Aims and Philosophy

What is qualitative research?
- a broad philosophy
- a research methodology
- a specific set of research techniques or methods

Research cultures:
- 3 subcultures
o physical sciences (scholars study physical - sometimes man
world - and natural world)
o humanities (scholars produce creative products –
achievements of creative people – music, literature, art,
o social sciences (scholars apply scientific methods to the
study of human behaviour such as the disciplines of
anthropology, psychology, and sociology)

Communication overlaps with each of these three research cultures.

- physical sciences – think of communication technologies and
hardware, telecommunication, information networks, broadcast
engineering etc; “hard” science
- humanities – think of media products or media content –
documentary, web sites, created to communicate particular
messages with the help of the hardware; “soft?”
- social sciences – think humans interacting through mediated (i.e.
use of hardware technologies), interpersonal or intrapersonal forms
of communication; mix of “hard” and “soft?”

Social sciences component (Neuman 1997; Blaikie 1993) can be further

broken down into three distinct research approaches: positivism, interpretive
and critical. We will focus on the first two.

Positivism and Interpretivism

COMM2201 Lecture Notes
Week Five – Oct. 4, 2010

There are two major paradigms that characterize research. They go by many
different names, but here we identify them as the positivist (objectivism) and
interpretive (naturalism) paradigms.

A paradigm is basically a framework within which to operate, a worldview or

as the Germans’ would say your weltanschauung. Wimmer & Dominick puts it
as “an accepted set of theories, procedures, and assumptions about how
researchers look at the world”.

The positivist paradigm can be defined as the family of philosophies

characterized by an extremely positive evaluation of science and scientific
method. The positivist paradigm as applied to social sciences is essentially
concerned with how to apply some of the methods used in the physical
sciences to the study of human behaviour.

The naturalistic or interpretive paradigm can be defined as the family of

philosophies that focus on the socially constructed nature of reality. The
naturalistic paradigm as applied to the social sciences is essentially
concerned with the development of methods that capture the socially
constructed and situated nature of human behaviour.

The critical paradigm is interested in the distribution of power in society and

political ideology.

Positivism differs from interpretivism along three main dimensions:

Positivist Interpretive
1. Philosophy of reality Objective; exists apart Subjective; No single reality;
from the researchers and exists in reference to observer
can be seen by all
2. View of individual All humans are basically All humans are different and
similar and can fit into cannot be pigeonholed
3. Scope of findings Generate laws explaining Produce unique explanation
many things in many about a particular subject
settings (nomothetic) (idiographic)

Figure 1: Dimensions in positivist and interpretive research


These two paradigms could also be distinguished along five major research

Positivist Interpretive
1. Role of researcher Separate from data Actively involved in data
2. Design Determined before it Evolves during research & can
begins be adjusted during

COMM2201 Lecture Notes
Week Five – Oct. 4, 2010

3. Setting Controlled Natural

4. Measurement Exists apart from Researcher is the instrument
instrument researcher
5. Theory building Test existing theory Develops theory; data-driven

Figure 2: Research areas in positivist and interpretive research


The difference between qualitative and quantitative ultimately is about the

- Qualitative – flexible questions, many emerging as you conduct the
- Quantitative – static or standardized set of questions, designed before

Assumption Question Positivist Naturalistic

Ontological What is the nature of Singular Multiple
reality? Objective Intersubjective
Epistemologic What is the Independent Interdependent
al relationship of the
researcher to that
being researched?
Axiological What is the role of Value-free Value-laden
values in the research Unbiased Biased
Methodologic What is the process of Deduction Induction
al research?
Search for cause & Wholistic
effect relationships understanding of
between variables patterns of
Static design
Emergent design
setting Natural setting

Quantitative methods
Context-free methods
Goals of explanation, findings
prediction and control
Goals of

COMM2201 Lecture Notes
Week Five – Oct. 4, 2010

understanding and
social change

Rhetorical What is the language Formal Informal

of research reports? Impersonal voice Personal voice

Figure 3: Distinguishing positivism and naturalism based on

philosophical assumptions
Source: Frey, Botan and Kreps (2000); See also Creswell (2007)

Data Analysis in Qualitative Research

Qualitative data can be found in a variety of forms: field notes from
observation, interview transcripts, documents, diaries, journals, photographs,
artifacts or items collected at the research site. The aim of qualitative data
analysis is to group the data into meaningful categories while looking for
patterns and themes that emerge from organizing the data.

Preparing the data

Data can be organized in many ways – temporally, spatially (analytical
wallpaper), depending on your intentions. Some may use a large desk, or
even an entire room, or digitize everything and use computer software to aid
in the data organization and subsequent analysis.

Epoche – process by which researcher tries to remove or at least become

aware of prejudices, viewpoints or assumptions that might interfere with

Analysis Techniques
Two commonly used techniques are: the constant comparative technique and
the analytic strategy. (You may want to read up on others for your own

Constant comparative technique

Four steps:
1. Comparative assignment of incidents to categories
2. Elaboration and refinement of categories
3. Searching for relationships and themes among categories
4. Simplifying and integrating data into a coherent theoretical structure

Analytic induction strategy

1. Define a topic of interest and develop a hypothesis
2. Study a case to see if hypothesis works. If it doesn’t work, reformulate
3. Study other cases until the hypothesis is in refined form.
4. Look for “negative cases” that might disprove (!) the hypothesis.
Reformulate again.
5. Continue until the hypothesis is adequately tested.

COMM2201 Lecture Notes
Week Five – Oct. 4, 2010

Should qualitative researchers even be talking about hypothesizing? What do

you think?

The use of the term “hypothesis” here should not be interpreted in the same
way a quantitative scholar talks about hypothesis testing. If the qualitative
researcher is supposed to approach the phenomenon without any
preconceived notion of that phenomenon then we should not have a
hypothesis in the strictest sense of the word. In the analytic induction
strategy, the hypothesis is developed as researchers go along and “tested” -
not quantitatively where the test is for statistical significance based on
confidence levels but by finding supporting or anecdotal evidence.

Reliability and Validity in Qualitative Data

Factors affecting credibility of data:
- completeness of data
- selective perception
- reactivity – act of observation changes the situation itself (Read
some more on the Hawthorne effect)

Rather than talking about reliability and validity which is mostly applied in
quantitative research, qualitative researchers focus on trustworthiness or
credibility (or transferability of findings, dependability of results and
confirmability of data)

Four factors affecting credibility:

1. multiple methods of data collection
2. audit trail – detailed permanent records of original data and
researcher’s comments
3. member checks – subjects asked to confirm content of research
4. research team – researchers keep check on each other or an outsider
observes to detect bias or misinterpretation

A possible fifth suggested by Creswell is debriefing (an outsider questioning

the meanings, methods, and interpretations of researcher.)

Common qualitative techniques

We now look at five common methods of collecting qualitative data.

Field Observations - a study of phenomenon in its natural setting. Almost

similar to naturalistic inquiry but can be distinguished by focusing on the


Observer Participant

COMM2201 Lecture Notes
Week Five – Oct. 4, 2010


Example: Schmitt, K.L., Woolf, K.D., Anderson, D.R. (2003). Viewing the
Viewers: Viewing Behaviors by Children and Adults during Television
Programmes and Commercials. Journal of Communication 53(2), 264-281

Advantages of field observations:

- define basic background information needed for later hypothesizing
- make excellent pilot studies to detect important variables
- observation not dependent on subjects’ availability or willingness
- provide access to groups who would probably not complete other
measurement instruments eg hidden populations
- relatively inexpensive
- occurs in natural setting

Disadvantages of field observations

- poor choice if external validity is key
- potential bias exists based on researcher’s selective perceptions
- reactivity

Address the last two by using cross-validation by other researchers and

supplement observations by other data.

Field Observation Techniques

Choosing the research site: select sites where behaviour occurs
to make observation worthwhile; make sure
site is suitable to recording equipment;
avoid sites where you are well known or
have some involvement
Gaining access: depends on how public setting is and the willingness of
subjects to be observed; may require
permission from authorities depending
Sampling: How many to observe? What behaviors to observe? Most use
purposive sampling. But other techniques
include maximum variation sampling;
snowball sampling; typical case sampling

COMM2201 Lecture Notes
Week Five – Oct. 4, 2010

Collecting data: ranges from “notebook and pencil” approach to audio

video recording. In addition to these
firsthand observation methods, there are
others: diary keeping, unobstrusive
measures (erosion and accretion) or
document analysis (public or private)
Analyzing data: primarily organizing information and analyzing its
contents; data can be analyzed during the
course of the study and be changed
Exiting: must be handled carefully to avoid any psychological problems
those being studied

Focus Groups – a carefully planned discussion designed to obtain perceptions

on a defined area of interest in a permissive, non-threatening environment.
Conducted with approximately 6 –12 persons who were chosen because of
some shared characteristics. Note the importance of establishing
homogeneity, ensuring that members of the focus group are homogeneous.
Used to gather information on specific topics from specific target groups.

Example: Hall, Alice. (2003). Reading Realism: Audiences’ Evaluation of the

Reality of Media Texts. Journal of Communication 53 (4), 624-641

Advantages of Focus Groups

- collect preliminary information about a topic especially in pilot
studies to detect ideas for further investigation
- can be conducted very quickly
- relatively affordable
- flexibility in question design and follow-up; can use extended focus
- more complete and less inhibited than other methods such as

Disadvantages of Focus Groups

- can be affected by dominant participant
- depends heavily on moderator skills
- inappropriate for gathering quantitative data
- not representative of population and should be used for

Uses of Focus Groups

- self contained
- supplemental – starting point or follow-up for quantitative study
- multimethod – combined with other methods

Methodology of Focus Groups

Seven basic steps:
1. Define the problem

COMM2201 Lecture Notes
Week Five – Oct. 4, 2010

2. Select a sample
3. Determine the number of groups necessary
4. Prepare the study mechanics
5. Prepare the focus group materials (funnel technique)
6. Conduct the session
7. Analyze the data and prepare a summary report

Online focus groups

Online chat groups or online shared-typing sessions or password protected
online bulletin boards or discussion boards. Hardly any control over the
respondents and how they choose to respond so this could be a waste of

Intensive interviews – a type of survey but done with the intention of

collection in-depth information from respondents through relatively long,
face-to-face or one-on-one settings involving an interviewer who becomes the
instrument of data collection. Used to obtain detailed information from small

Example: Golish, Tamara D. (2003). Stepfamily Communication Strengths –

Understanding the ties that Bind. Human Communication Research 29(1), 41-

Advantages and Disadvantages of Intensive Interviews:

- provides wealth of data
- more accurate on sensitive issues
- appropriate for certain hard-to-reach groups (elite interviews)
- generalizability sometimes a problem
- especially sensitive to interviewer bias
- problems in data analysis

Procedure: define problem; recruit respondents; collect data; and analyze


Case Studies
Case studies use many data sources to systematically investigate individuals,
groups, organizations, events within their real-life context. The emphasis is
usually on a single case of the phenomenon under study.
- Particularistic - focus on one, single case
- Descriptive - detailed
- Heuristic - helps us to understand
- Inductive - generate generalizations through inductive reasoning

Case studies are used to grasp in-depth understanding of a single


COMM2201 Lecture Notes
Week Five – Oct. 4, 2010

Example: Avraham, E. & First, A. (2003). “I Buy American”; The American

Image as Reflected in Isreali Advertising. Journal of Communication 53(2),
282-299 (Case study using a triangulation of methods – content analysis &
semiotic analysis)

Advantages of Case Studies

- provide tremendous detail; good for the researcher who is trying to
ideas for further research
- can suggest why something has occurred
- affords researcher ability to deal with wide spectrum of evidence

Disadvantages of Case Studies

- lack of scientific rigor
- not amenable generalization
- time-consuming and may produce massive quantities of data

Conducting a case study

Design: Questions “how” and “why”; what determines a “case”
Pilot Study: Before pilot study, a protocol (document describing
procedures and also containing instruments) must be created.
Findings of pilot study used to revise protocol.
Data Collection: Data may come from at least four sources:
interviews; observation; artifact
Data Analysis: pattern-matching; explanation building; time-series
Report Writing: Can follow traditional research study format: problem,
literature review, method, findings, discussion. But could be
arranged chronological or comparatively. Consider your

This is the study of how people behave when they are absorbed in genuine
life experiences in natural settings.
- Used to help us understand cultures.
- Used synonymously for qualitative research.
- Involves spending long time in the field.
- Originally done by anthropologists and sociologists but now practiced
in other areas such as communication.

Macro-ethnography: traditional study of entire culture

Micro-ethnography: study of smaller units

Other distinctions:

COMM2201 Lecture Notes
Week Five – Oct. 4, 2010

- Descriptive Ethnography – extended field research to produce thick

natural description of a people and their culture.
- Critical Ethnography – gives voice to the mistreated and uses this
knowledge for social change

Ethnographic research is characterized by four qualities:

1. puts researcher in middle of topic under study
2. emphasizes studying an issue or topic from subjects’ perspective
3. involves spending a long period of time in field
4. uses a variety of research techniques

Youngblood, John D and Winn, Emmett J. (2004). Shout Glory: Competing
Communication Codes Experienced by the Members of the African American
Pentecostal Genuine Deliverance Holiness Church. Journal of Communication
54(2), 355-370

Workman, T.A. (2001). Finding the Meanings of College Drinking: An Analysis

of Fraternity Drinking Stories. Health Communication 13(4), 427-447

Conducting ethnographic research

While much of the process is similar to other qualitative method, there are
steps to follow when conducting ethnographic research:
- define problem
- choose research questions and choose site
- gain access
- select sample (purposively); identify key informants (who can give
guidance on how to proceed with rest of research)
- begin fieldwork
- collect data using four types of notes:
o condensed accounts - written during observations
o expanded accounts – written after observations
o fieldwork journals – researcher’s reflections
o analysis and interpretation notes – attempts to integrate
various kinds of data into analysis scheme or category while
still in field collecting data (think back to the constant
comparative method)
- analyze data; blend etic (outsider) and emic (insider) perspectives
- write report: statement of purpose or guiding research question, a
description of method, evidence and examples illustrating themes,
interpretation, and implications for theory and future practice – a
rather lengthy document.

COMM2201 Lecture Notes
Week Five – Oct. 4, 2010

Writing the Qualitative Research Report

- Lengthy descriptions depending on the detail and novelty of method used.
- Various writing styles include:
1. realist (third person, detached)
2. confessional (first person, revealing much of the author)
3. impressionist (vivid imagery and metaphors to convey point)

A general format:
1. Introduction
2. Method
a. method(s)
b. research setting
c. sampling
d. data collection
3. Findings
Arrange chronologically; most important findings first; save most
important for last; arrange according to some theoretical/conceptual
4. Discussion
summary & implications
limitations; strengths & weaknesses

We looked at qualitative methods by showing how the interpretivist
paradigms of research differed from positivism. We saw how qualitative data
were analyzed. We looked at five specific techniques: field observation, focus
groups, intensive interviews, case study and ethnographic research.