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CMN 228 - Thweatt: Research Methods

Content Analysis

Planning for Content Analysis & Manifest Content

Citation (MLA): Bengtsson, Mariette. “How to Plan and Perform a Qualitative Study Using Content Analysis.” NursingPlus Open, vol. 2, 2016, pp. 8–14., doi:10.1016/j.npls.2016.01.001.

Citation (APA): Bengtsson, M. (2016). How to plan and perform a qualitative study using content analysis. NursingPlus Open, 2, 8–14. doi: 10.1016/j.npls.2016.01.001



This short video discusses operationalization and provides examples of making ideas measureable


The Study of Everyday Life

Dr. Wes Sharrock provides a short introduction ethnomethodology, the study of how we accomplish what we do in everyday life.


For an example of ethnomethodology at work, see ""Scissors, Please": The Practical Accomplishment of Surgical Work in the Operating Theater" by Jeff Bezemer et al. Bezemer and his colleagues study how doctors, nurses, and other workers in operating rooms use language and nonverbal communication to perform surgeries. 

If you're curious about ethnomethodology in the context of other research methods, you may be interested in Thomas Lindoff & Bryan Taylor's "Qualitative Communication Research Methods," especially the section starting on page 36. (This text is available through the Internet Archive, a free repository of human culture. To access the ebook, you will need to make a free account. Ask a librarian if you need help with this.)

Historical Analysis

History & Postmodernism

"The history of scientific objectivity is surprisingly short. It first emerged in the mid-nineteenth century and in a matter of decades became established not only as a scientific norm but also as a set of practices, including the making of images for scientific atlases. However dominant objectivity may have become in the sciences since circa 1860, it never had, and still does not have, the epistemological* field to itself. Before objectivity, there was truth-to-nature; after the advent of objectivity came trained judgment. The new did not always edge out the old. Some disciplines were won over quickly to the newest epistemic virtue, while others persevered in their allegiance to older ones. The relationship among epistemic virtues may be one of quiet compatibility, or it may be one of rivalry and conflict. In some cases, it is possible to pursue several simultaneously; in others, scientists must choose between truth and objectivity, or between objectivity and judgment. Contradictions arise."

From Lorraine Daston & Peter Galison, "Epistemologies of the Eye," in Objectivity (New York: Zone Books, 2010), 27-28.

* Epistemology refers to the study of how we know what we know.

Here are some examples of historical analysis at work:

Archival Sources
Historical analysis often relies on archival sources - sources from previous eras which have been preserved and described as part of an archives. The Advertising: History and Archives guide from Pennsylvania State University provides a list of online archives focused on advertisements and media artifacts.

Ideological Criticism


Marxism - the theories of Karl Marx - have had a profound impact on many areas of study, including communication. Bahar Kayihan's article in Cognition, Communication, Co-Operation considers how Marxist thought has influenced communication - especially in the digital era.

Over the decades, Marxism has been criticized for not carefully considering how gender and race (not to mention other aspects of social life) interact with economic power. Maria de Guadalupe Davidson's research demonstrates an approach to ideological criticism which does think carefully about race. Check out her article on pro- and anti-choice rhetoric about Black women's bodies. 



Representation & Identity

In this short video, Judith Butler talks about how each of us 'do' gender. This is one way of understanding gender as communicated, discussed, maybe negotiated.

Representation - as part of cultural ideologies - even filters down to our smartphones. In their 2019 article, Costa & Ribas discuss how AI (artificial intelligence) assistants (Siri, Cortana, Google Assistant) often have female-sounding voices. Looking at other gendered voices / images for artificial intelligence, they ask: Does AI mirror back the gender ideologies we already have?

Rhetorical Analysis

Rhetorical devices aren't strictly linguistic. They can also be image-based. Memes are a great example. 


If you're interested in analyzing the rhetorical content of images, Roland Barthes' classic essay, "The Rhetoric of the Image" will be invaluable to you. In addition, here's a great summary / explanation of Barthes' main points.

Rhetorical Devices


Creating Good Questions & Sound Surveys

There's an art to writing good survey questions. Here are some tools to help you:

  • 10 Commandments for Writing Good Surveys and Questions: Qualtrics is a platform for creating surveys, used widely by university researchers. Here are their rules for creating a good survey and clear, meaningful questions.
  • How to Write Good Survey Questions: This blog post from Constant Contact identifies common mistakes and errors in logic in survey design. CC isn't a research website exactly, but the advice still holds.
  • Tip Sheet on Question Wording: This advice comes from Harvard University's Program on Survey Research. It includes best practice information, as well as citations for continuing your reading.


Representative Samples

Although this video is focused on psychology research, it does a good job of clarifying the relationship between population, sample, and generalizability


And remember: just because there is a correlation between two things (for instance, gender and a communicative practice) doesn't mean that one causes the other. This is often summarized as, "correlation does not equal causation." 

For instance, as divorce rates have declined in Maine, so has the sale of margarine. And, the more films starring Nicholas Cage, the more people who die by drowning in a pool! Don't believe me? Check out Spurious Correlations.