Communication Theories and Methods

 Theory: What is it?

 Through research I found the definition of theory is the same across texts.  In the Research Design textbook, Creswell (2003) defined a theory as a “scientific prediction or explanation” (Creswell, 2003, p. 120).  At first I accepted this definition to be true, but later decided I wanted a definition with more depth.  I figured the more in depth definition I could find the better I would understand what a theory is.  Further reading of the textbook led me to a second definition where Kerlinger (1979) explained theory as an organized view of a set of variables, definitions, and propositions that were created for the “purpose of explaining natural phenomena” (as cited in Creswell, 2003, p. 120).  Although these definitions seem to be sufficient for continuing research, I decided I wanted one more to be sure I was totally confident in my understanding.   My final definition came from (n.d.) where theory was explained as “a coherent group of general propositions used as principles of explanation for a class of phenomena” (, n.d., para. 1).  All three of the definitions were closely related with the same core meaning.  After reading these definitions I concluded theory is a scientific explanation of an experience that used related groups of evidence to validate the explanation. 

Method: In Scientific Terms

The first place I looked for a definition of method was on (n.d.) provided a very generic definition of method, that I did not find as useful as its definition of theory. (n.d.) defined method as “a procedure, technique, or way of doing something, esp. in accordance with a definite plan” (, n.d., para. 1).  After feeling unsatisfied with this definition, I decided to read what the Research Design textbook had to say about method. 

Creswell (2003) gave more depth to the definition of method and explained method in terms of communication research.  First Creswell (2003) explained there are three methods that exist in research.  According to the Creswell (2003) data can be collected by quantitative, qualitative and mixed research methods (Creswell, 2003).  Further reading led me to see Creswell (2003) explained the characteristics of quantitative methods to be predetermined, have close ended questions, include: performance, attitude, observational and census data, and have a statistical analysis.  Creswell  (2003) then explained the characteristics of qualitative methods to be emerging, have open ended questions, include: interview, observation, document, and audiovisual data, and have text and image analysis.  Mixed methods include characteristics from both the quantitative and qualitative methods (Creswell, 2003).  Each method is used for specific reasons.  The type of method a researcher uses depends on whether they want to identify the type of data that will be collected in the beginning or allow the data to form itself from the participants in the study (Creswell, 2003).   After reading the definition and the learning the different parts of method, I concluded that method is the process of conducting organized research in either a quantitative, qualitative or mixed form. 

Qualitative Method in Action- Gorham and Millette’s article

I decided to do an EBSCO search to find an article in communication that used the qualitative method to understand it more clearly.  I decided I wanted to learn about communication in the classroom since I would like to become a college professor when I complete my degree.   After typing in keywords such as “communication in the classroom” I stumbled upon Gorham and Millette’s 1997 analysis of teacher and student motivation in college classes.  My first thought was, “How will I determine which method this article uses?”  I looked at my definitions of quantitative and qualitative methods and noticed key terms that could be used to determine which type of method was used in each article. 

 Key terms throughout the article such as “open-ended questions” and “text analysis” determined this article used qualitative methods  (Creswell, 2003, p. 17).  I turned to the methods portion of this article when I first opened it.  The words “open-ended questions” immediately caught my eye because I knew that meant the article used qualitative methods (Gorham & Millette, 1997, p. 248).  Another clue this article was using qualitative methods were in Gorham and Millette’s (1997) results section that included a text analysis by looking at all the answers to the open ended questions.   After examining the key terms in Gorham and Millette’s (1997) article, I realized it was fairly easy to determine the article was using qualitative methods.  More importantly, I felt the article used the qualitative methods in an effective way.  The article concluded with convincing results that stemmed from the effective use of qualitative methods in the experiment.  

Quantitative Methods in Action- Dobo’s article

The second article I found in my EBSCO search was about communication apprehension in the classroom written by Dobo (1996).  After a careful examination of the article I concluded it used quantitative methods.  The first clue that led me to this conclusion was in the method section.  Dobos (1996) explained all the research methods were predetermined.  “Predetermined” is a crucial key word to look for when determining if quantitative methods were used in a study (Creswell, 2003, p. 17).  Dobos (1996) article also included performance data because she watched groups of students interact in different classroom activities.  The last clue that determined this article used quantitative methods was the statistical analysis at the end.   I found that after looking for key words in the Dobos article was an easy way to figure out which method was used.

Comparison of Two Methods

Both articles had the common topic of communication in the classroom, but they both used opposite methods for conducting their research.   I learned through reading these articles the method used does not determine how valid the experiment’s outcome is.  The qualitative and the quantitative methods proved to be effective ways to validate the theories proposed in both cases. 

I preferred reading and I assume I will prefer conducting research in the quantitative method.  I liked this method because it was more concrete with numerical facts.  Numbers tend to be better forms of evidence than text and images.  Qualitative method uses text and image to prove their points, but these two things are so ambiguous it is easy to skew an analysis to fit any outcome the researcher chooses.  I can see why a researcher uses qualitative methods to prove their points, but I think it lowers the validity of the experiment.  It seems smarter to use quantitative methods if numerical facts can be collected.    Numbers are nearly impossible to skew to fit particular outcomes.  I believe this makes quantitative research more valid than qualitative research.   Therefore I plan on conducting research using the quantitative method in the future. 

The Relationship Between Theory and Method

After defining and researching theory and method I came to the conclusion that these two concepts are very intertwined and overlapping.  Although these concepts are distinctive in definition, they need each other when they are applied to research.    Theory and method tend to be inseparable.  Research in all subject areas always includes both theories and methods from my experience.   A theory cannot be proved without an experiment that requires a method.  A theory all by itself would not provide sufficient evidence to be considered valid.  Methods would not exist if there were no theories behind it.  Methods were created to prove theories.  A method without a theory behind it would be ambiguous since it would never have a point or a theory to prove in the end.  I concluded that theories and methods are inseparable from my research.