Mass Communication Research Principles And Process

With the mass media spreading its wings wider and wider and growing widely, research in this field is also getting immensely popular. Whole world rests on process of communication and mass communication with the growth of technology has shown an immense growth all over the world. From nautanki to street plays to print media like books, newspapers, magazines and electronic media like radio and T.V. have shown a great reach. The new media due to upcoming internet has also proved to be a significant media in brining mass mobilization and spurring the masses. Thus, research in the field of mass communication is gathering both popularity and significance. There are private research agencies cropping up doing research in various media. The content generated is getting specific with niche readers and viewers and the advertisers have better chances to reach their target audiences. For this, they require accurate research to be implemented.

Merriam-Webster dictionary describes “research” as “studious inquiry or examination; especially; investigation or experimentation aimed at the discovery and interpretation of facts, revision of accepted theories or laws in the light of new facts, or practical application of such new or revised theories or laws.” Advance Learner dictionary defines research as a careful investigation or enquiry for the search for new facts in any branch of knowledge. Reddman and Mory define research as a systematized effort to gain new knowledge. Research is also defined as the scientific and systematic search for pertinent information on a specific topic. Research is the art of scientific investigation.

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Development of mass media research:

There were four major events that led to the development of the mass media research

World war I- Propaganda studies:

Researchers worked from a stimulus response point of view that attempted to uncover effects of media on people (Lasswell, 1927). There was a need to understand the nature of propaganda used by the media and media had a huge impact on the people. Assumptions were being made and research got a foundation to stand upon.

Realisation by the advertisers in 1950’s and 1960’s:

In this stage, research data was used to persuade potential customers to buy products and services. The advertisers used research studies to know their target audience in a better way and reach them using an effective medium.

Increasing interest of the citizens in the effects of media on public:

At this stage, topics like violence and sexual content in shows for the children shown on television increased. Both the negative and positive effects of were being studied.

Increasing competition among the media for advertising

The competition among media organisations for the audience and for advertising revenue further increased the pace of the mass media research. The audience was being segmented into groups and content created had different niches. The advertisers wanted to know the different demographics and psychographics of these chunks of audience for which researchers had to work.

Objectives of Research

The purpose of the research is to discover answers to questions by the application of the scientific procedures.

To gain familiarity with a phenomenon or to achieve new insights into it. These studies are termed as exploratory research studies.

To portray the characteristics of a particular individual, situation or group. Studies with this object in view are termed as descriptive research studies.

To determine the frequency with which something occurs or with which it is associated with something else. These types of studies are known as diagnostic research studies.

To test a hypothesis of the casual relationship between variable. These studies are called as hypothesis testing research studies.

Motivation in Research

The question of fundamental importance is what makes people undertake research. A few factors promoting motivation in research are given below.

It will help the researcher to get a research degree along with the consequential benefits of the research involved.

It helps invoke an interest in facing the challenges in solving the problems that are unsolved.

Research brings an intellectual joy of doing some creative work.

The research conducted will be of service to the society and beneficial for the people.

The directives of government also motivate people to perform research and the researcher earns great respect for his work.

Scientific approach in Mass Communication Research
Fig 1: Steps in a scientific method

Scientific method is closely related to the Webster dictionary meaning of the word “research”. Scientific research methods involves an organized, objective, controlled, qualitative or quantitative empirical analysis of one or more variables. As illustrated by the figure 1, the four primary steps of scientific method are given below.


A theory is an explanation that is proposed for how certain natural phenomena occur which can make a prediction about the phenomena for the future as well as can be falsified by empirical observations (West & Turner, 2006). The theories based on the topic of research are properly read and pondered upon by the researcher to come to a theory which must be backed by proper scientific support, data, results and replications.

Predictions (Hypotheses)

A hypothesis is an idea suggested to be an explanation for particular conditions but which is not yet proved to be correct (Collins dictionary, 2009). A set of propositions are formulated to reach an argument and form a logical conclusion. This is done on the basis of syllogism where from a set of premises, a conclusion is reached. However, for a conclusion to be correct, the premises must be true.


In this part of scientific method, the researcher tests the hypotheses composed during the previous step. Unlike physical sciences, testing hypotheses in social sciences is difficult, simply because the humans provide multiple possibilities to the social science researchers. There are certain processes although that can help drive the errors and uncertainties to a certain limit. The researchers must be empirical and objective while noting the observations for which certain tools are used.

Empirical generalizations

This is the final stage of scientific method where a phenomenon is described based upon the knowledge of the phenomena at that point of time. These empirical generalizations are based on the observations made in the previous step. At times, a hypothesis may come true and at times false. This must be done with honesty in research findings else there can be an adverse effect of the research.

Types of research

Following are basic categories into which research can be classified.

Descriptive/ Analytical

Descriptive research involves survey and enquiries to find facts of different kinds. The main purpose of the descriptive research is description of the state of affairs as it exists at present. The main characteristic of this research is that the researcher has no control over the variables and he can report only of the happenings. The methods of research applied here basically are the different types of survey methods including the comparative and co-relational methods.

In analytical research, researcher has to use facts or information already available and analyze those facts to make a critical evaluation.

Applied (Action) /Fundamental (Basic)

Applied research or action research is aimed to find a solution for a problem in the society or the organisation. Certain examples of applied research are those to identify social, economic or political trends, marketing research, evaluation research etc. it aims to find a solution for a practical existing problem.

Fundamental research or basic research relates to generalizations or formulation of theories. Research in any kind of natural phenomena, human behaviours or related to pure mathematics are fundamental or pure research. It aims to gather knowledge for the sake of knowledge. It has a broad base of applications and is directed towards finding information to add to the already existing knowledge bank.


Quantitative research is research based on quantitative data i.e. measurement of quantity or amount. All phenomena that are expressed in quantity come under this type of research.

Qualitative research deals with qualitative phenomena like finding reasons for human behaviour. It aims to discover underlying desires and motives with the help of in-depth interviews. Other techniques include story completing tests, sentence completing tests, word association tests etc. Attitude research or opinion research is also qualitative research where research aims to find out what people think about a particular topic or an institution. This research helps find out reasons or factors of liking or disliking a particular thing by the people. Practicing this type of research is difficult although and requires guidance from expert experimental researchers.

Conceptual/ Empirical

Conceptual research relates to an abstract idea(s) or theory. This type of research is generally used by thinkers or philosophers to formulate new concepts or reinterpret the earlier ones.

Empirical research depends on the experiences and observations irrespective of the system and the theory. It can be also called as experimental type of research as it is based on the data, reaching conclusions that are verifiable by observation and conclusion. The data, in empirical research, needs to be collected first hand information from the source. He must have with himself a working hypothesis and then gather enough facts to prove or disprove it. This type of research is done through surveys and/or observations. The researcher has control over the variables under study and he may deliberately manipulate the one of them to study the effects.


All other types of research are variations of the types of research given above. They can be defined as:

Onetime research and longitudinal research

These types of research are classified on the basis of time period. One time research is confined to a single fixed time period while longitudinal research is carried out over a larger time periods.

Field setting research and laboratory research

This classification is made on the basis of the place where the research is carried out.

Clinical research or diagnostic research and Formalized research and exploratory research

These types of research go for case-study methods to reach the causes of events or happenings. A small sample is taken and deep probing is done to gather the data. An exploratory research develops a hypothesis rather than tests it while a formalized research have a proper structure to test those hypotheses.

Research approaches

The types of research given above reveal that there are basically two approaches to research namely –

Quantitative approach

This approach involves quantitative data which is subjected to rigorous analysis in a formal procedure. It can be further classified into following categories:

Inferential approach

In this type of approach, survey research is done through which a sample of population is studied to infer or conclude certain characteristics or relationships of the population.

Experimental approach

In this type of approach, certain variables are manipulated to observe their effect on other variables thus exercising greater control over the research environment.

Simulation approach

This approach creates an artificial environment where data can be generated and relevant information can be studied. This allows observing dynamic behaviour of the system under controlled conditions. Simulation refers to the operation of a numerical model within a dynamic process.

Qualitative approach

This approach involves the subjective study of attitudes, opinions and behaviours where the researcher works according to his insights and impressions. This is done through focus group interviews, depth interviews etc and the results are not subjected to rigorous quantitative analysis.

Steps involved in a research process

Research process is a time taking process that has money involved in it. Both time and money are highly valuable and so the research must be carried out in a proper process. Following are the eight steps involved in a typical research process:-

1. Selection of a problem.

2. Review of existing research studies and theories (when relevant).

3. Development of hypotheses and/or research questions.

4. Deciding an appropriate methodology/ research design.

5. Collection of relevant data.

6. Analysis and interpretation of the results.

7. Presentation of the results in an appropriate form.

8. Replication of the study (as and when required and necessary).

All the above steps help to reach a maximally efficient research study. For instance, the researcher must a clearly state the research problem before review of literature is done; the researcher must know the types of studies already conducted to design the most efficient method of investigating a problem etc. In addition, all the steps are interactive as review of literature may refine or even alter the initial research problem; a study conducted before may expedite (or complicate) the current research effort.

Step by step procedure of research

The steps involved in a mass communication research project are given below.

Step 1: Selection of topic

The topic that is to be selected for the research must be thought over carefully keeping following aspects in mind:


The topic must hold relevance in the scenario. Its significance is a crucial aspect when starting the research. There are topics upon which immense research are done like effects of violence in movies on children or celebrity endorsements in advertising. Thus, research on such topics would not make sense and instead doing research on current and new topics would be helpful.


The second aspect when selecting a topic for research is the feasibility of the research which means whether the research would be accomplished during the set time period or for that matter, many other physical constraints. Like being located in Kashmir, it would not be feasible enough to do research on the coverage of Tsunami in Tamil Nadu or Andaman.


Depending upon the purpose of research project, the broadness in the topic is decided. For example, if you reach a topic for research which is online advertising, it is way too broad to do research. Depending upon whether the research is a minor project or a major project, the topic is crystallised and decided.

Time and cost constraints

These are also important aspects to think of when selecting a topic for research. Research involves both money and time which are highly valuable. So, a topic for research must be chosen keeping these constraints in mind.

Step 2: Retrieving information & review of literature

After deciding the topic of research, an in-depth reading of the text related to the topic follows. Review of literature is done on the topic chosen for the research for proper understanding of the topic and the already done research on the topic. There are different types of information sources that can be scanned to get the required information. These include scholarly research journals, books, magazines, newspapers, encyclopaedias and handbooks, blogs and websites on the internet etc. All the information sources must be cited properly and proper citations to the information must be given.

Following things must be kept in mind before going ahead:

Types of previous research in the similar area

Results and conclusions of previous studies

Suggestions by researchers for future studies

Some aspects that have not been investigated

Contribution of the proposed study to the knowledge of that area of research

Research methods that were used earlier

Looking at previous research studies, the researcher can decide what perspective of the study has not been done so that he may follow a different methodology and derive results. After proper reading of the present sources of information, specific hypotheses and research questions are defined.

Step 3: Stating hypotheses and/or research questions/ objectives

Thereafter, a specific hypothesis and research questions or objectives are framed keeping in mind the topic of research. A hypothesis as already mentioned is a formal statement that has not been tested yet. It states the relationship between variables and is tested directly. The predicted relationship between the variables is either true or false. While a research question is a formally stated question that provides indications about something. Unlike hypothesis, it is not limited to investigating relationships between variables. Research questions or the objectives define the aim of the study in the general area of investigation. The information used to draft the research questions helps in testing the hypothesis later in the study.

Step 4: Preparation of Research design

Research design means the conceptual structure within which a research study is conducted. Depending upon the purposes of research, research design is made which results in getting maximum information and evidences in less time, money and effort involved.

Exploratory design

This design involves exploring the new concepts or theories i.e. digging deep into the problem to reach a particular conclusion. In this design, many aspects of the problem are to be considered and a flexible research design is to be formed.

Descriptive design

It involves the description of a problem, event etc and thus the design must minimise the biases and maximize the reliability of data collected and analysed.

Diagnostic design

This type of research design takes a small sample and studies it on the basis of several parameters. The reasons, causes and factors regarding a particular problem or an event etc are studied by the collection of the data and its analysis.

Experimental design

These can be informal or formal designs and involves huge amount of money for the laboratory set-up. This is the most difficult type of research design to be practised.

Research Methodology vs. Research Methods

The words methodology and methods are often confused with each other. Methodology is the study of methods and the groundwork philosophical assumptions of the research process itself. Different research questions will have different methodologies. If a researcher is interested in how the Internet is affecting the copyright laws, he or she would probably choose the methodology of legal research. If a researcher wants to trace how radio programming has evolved since the introduction of television, he may choose historical methodology. A study about the effects of television on children may use scientific methodology.

In short, methodology deals with the question of “why” to do research in a certain way. It lists what problems need to be investigated and how the research should proceed. Different methodologies may have different paradigms to follow. Quantitative methodology uses the positive paradigm while qualitative researchers use the critical paradigm.

In contrast, a method is a specific technique to collect and gather information following the assumptions of the chosen research methodology. Researchers who choose the positivist paradigm use methods like surveys and experiments while those who choose the interpretive paradigm choose methods like focus groups, ethnography, and observation.

Types of research methods
Survey method

The literal meaning of word survey is to look at or study something carefully. It encompasses investigation and examination. Complete study about the unknown facts is survey. A descriptive survey attempts to describe or document current conditions or attitudes i.e. to explain what exist at the moment where as analytical survey attempts to describe and explain why situations exist. Here two or more variables are usually examined to investigate research questions. A media survey is a process by which quantitative facts are collected about the media aspects of community’s composition and activities. The media survey is a comparative undertaking which applies scientific method to the study.

Types of surveys:

General or specific surveys

Regular and ad-hoc surveys

Preliminary and final surveys


Opinion polls & exit polls

In survey method, the data is collected through tools such as questionnaire, schedule or interviews. A set of questions are framed according to the objectives of the research. The questions can be-

Open ended questions

Open-ended questions give respondents freedom in answering questions and an opportunity to provide in-depth responses. The major disadvantage of these questions is that the answers require large amount of time to collect and analyze the responses.

Closed ended questions

In these questions, the respondents have to select an answer from a list provided by the researcher. These questions are popular because they provide greater uniformity in the collection of the responses and the answers can be easily quantified. The major disadvantage is that often certain responses are not included in the options. As a solution to this problem, the researcher can include an “Other” response followed by a blank space to give respondents an opportunity to supply their own answer.

Mixed questions

These questions are a combination of both open ended and closed ended questions.

Observation method

Observation means viewing things with a purpose. It consists of collection of the facts which are in the direct knowledge of the investigators. Observation is the perception with a purpose. It is the process of acquiring knowledge through the use of sense organs.

Types of observations




Non- participant

Case-study method

According to P.V. Young, case study is a method of exploring and analyzing the life of a unit be that a person, a family, an institution, a cultural group or even an entire community”. Goode and Hatt described it as “a way of organizing social data so as to preserve the unitary character of the social/object benefits studied”. Case study is based on intensive study of comparatively fewer persons. It’s a method of qualitative analysis. It aims at studying everything about something rather than something about everything.


Berelson defined content analysis as “a research technique for the objective, systematic and quantitative description of the manifest content of communication”. Content Analysis is a systematic way of analysis and description of the content of communication media. It is specialized application of coding techniques. It allows for the discovery and description of focus of an individual, group, institution or social attention.

Steps in Content Analysis

There are several discrete stages in a procedure of content analysis. Following are the steps listed in sequence but they need not be followed in the order given and at times, the initial stages of analysis can be easily combined.

Nonetheless, the following steps may be used as a rough outline:

Formulation of the research question or hypothesis.

Defining the universe.

Selecting an appropriate sample from the population.

Selecting and defining a unit of analysis.

Constructing categories of content to be analyzed.

Training coders and conducting a pilot study.

Establishing a quantification system.

Coding of the content according to established definitions.

Analysing the collected data.

Drawing conclusions and searching for indications.

Historical Methods

Past knowledge is considered to be pre- present knowledge. In so far as anything has an anticipated history and natural development, past is properly related to the present.

Step 5: Data collection

One of the goals of scientific research is to describe the nature of a population i.e. a group or class of variables, subjects, concepts, or phenomena. In certain research studies, an entire class or group is investigated like the population counting that happens after every decade. This process of examining every member in a population is called a census. Studying every member of a population is although costly and at times not feasible. Thus, to go ahead with the study, a sample is taken from the population. A sample is called as a subset of the population that is representative of the entire population. An important word in this definition is representative. A sample that is not representative of the population, even though has appropriate size, is inadequate for testing purposes because the results cannot be generalized to the population from which the sample was drawn. Thus, the whole purpose of study fails as such.

Whenever a sample is drawn from a population, researchers need a way for the estimation of the degree to which the sample differs from the population. Since a sample does not provide the exact data coming from a population, error is taken into account when interpreting research results. All research is riddled with error. Much of the source of error in the behavioural sciences is that the research is conducted with the respondents i.e. the human beings who are subject to constant change. There are two broad types of error present in all research:

Sampling error- This is the error related to the selection of a sample from a population; and

Non-sampling error- This is the error created by the aspects of a research study like data analysis errors, measurement errors, the influence of the research situation itself, or even error from an unknown source that can never be identified, controlled or eliminated.

Determining an adequate sample size is one of the most controversial aspects of sampling. How large must a sample be so that it is representative of the entire population and brings the desired level of confidence in the results? This answer is difficult to answer. However, the sample selection depends on at least one or more of the following seven factors:

type of project,

purpose of project,

complexity of project,

amount of error tolerated,

time constraints involved,

financial constraints,

Previous research in the area.

Research designed as a preliminary study for giving general indications usually does not require a large sample. However, studies designed to answer significant questions or to provide information for decisions involving large sums of money or decisions that may affect people’s lives) require high levels of precision and, therefore, large samples.

Area of study

The research study to be conducted has a specific area of study that can be based on the topic, location of the researcher and so on. From this area, a particular sample is collected from the entire population using a suitable sampling technique. The concept of sample and population are explained in the coming section.

Sampling techniques

Sampling is an important part of all research which is often misunderstood by beginners in research. A sample is collected from the universe or population and if selected correctly, it can represent the characteristics, opinions and attitudes of the entire population. The most important part of sampling procedure is to avoid any kind of bias which means that each respondent should have an equal chance of being selected. A few sampling techniques to select samples for your research are given below.

Non-probability or purposive sampling

The non-probability or purposive sampling involves deliberate selection of particular units of the universe to constitute the sample. Non-probability sampling does not follow the guidelines of mathematical probability. When the units of population are selected due to ease of access, it is known as convenience sampling. This can be given by an example where advertising agencies are to be taken as a sample then the researcher can select the agencies according to his convenience. At times, this type of sampling can give biased results especially when the audience is not homogeneous. There is another type of purposive sampling known as judgement sampling where the researcher uses his judgement to select the sample. This sampling is used in qualitative research where hypotheses are to be developed or relationships between variables are to be found instead of generalising them to entire population.


It is easy and convenient to follow.

When the time for the research is limited, this technique is easier to be used.

This is not a costly method for sampling and can bring greater results for less cost spent.


The error in sampling cannot be calculated.

The sample selected can bring biased results at times.

Probability or random sampling

It technique is also known as chance sampling since each unit of the population has an equal chance of getting selected. In finite population each unit has the same probability of being selected. It is mostly used when a study is being conducted to support or refute a significant research question or a hypothesis and the results will be generalized to the population. Probability sampling generally uses some type of systematic selection procedure like lottery method or a table of random numbers, to ensure that each unit has an equal chance of being selected. Another type of sampling known as systematic sampling is used in which every nth subject, unit, or element is selected from a population. The researcher randomly selects a starting point and a sampling interval. Systematic samples are used frequently in mass media research. They often save time, resources, and effort when compared to simple random samples. However, it does not always guarantee a representative sample from the population, even when systematic selection is followed.


1. Detailed knowledge about the population is not compulsory.

2. External validity may be concluded statistically.

3. A representative group can be easily obtained.

4. The chances of classification error are eliminated.


1. A list of the population has to be compiled.

2. A representative sample may not result in all cases.

3. The procedure is at times more expensive than the other methods.


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