In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Applied Communication Research Methods

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Numeracy and Statistics
  • Measuring Audiences
  • Communicating Science

Communication Applied Communication Research Methods
Mike Schmierbach
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 June 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0225


The field of mass communication is strongly shaped by the early role of professional education in the discipline. Early mass communication scholars were often housed in schools of journalism. Broadcasting, advertising, and public relations all followed. As such, the connection between research and application has long been an important aspect of training in methods. While mass communication scholars are expected to be familiar with the core practice of social science research, they also speak to a professional audience. Textbooks and general guides in methods are written to help guide both scholars and practitioners. Additionally, specific research techniques are applicable to professional practice. Advertising and marketing professionals need to be familiar with a number of tools that can help them evaluate the appropriateness and effectiveness of a chosen message or campaign. Journalists are called upon to report polling, and they increasingly use data to report on the news and construct compelling narratives. In general, content creators seek to quantify their audiences and measure engagement. Finally, as the sheer volume of research grows ever larger, journalists must understand and explain this material, communicating the methods and dilemmas of science to their audience. The relevant bibliographic resources are varied. Many of them are textbooks and similar guides to broad principles or specific techniques. Others are discussions within the industry about best practices and the merits of particular tools. Still others are academic scholarship, providing evidence about the efficacy of methods, the breadth of their adoption, or the consequences of their use.

General Overviews

Anyone looking to use or evaluate research needs to be familiar with the basic terminology and perspectives that guide scientific research and, in particular, the social sciences. Most of the books in this section are textbooks, offering a review of the field as a whole to a general audience; this includes Boyle and Schmierbach 2015; Croucher and Cronn-Mills 2014; Jugenheimer, et al. 2015; Lindlof and Taylor 2017; and Pettey, et al. 2017. Each has its own strengths as a resource. The exception is Mathes 2017, which is an edited encyclopedia. Compared to the others, this resource is written in greater depth and is geared toward a more advanced audience, but the entries are vital references. The best references are easy to navigate and allow the interested reader to focus on the specific terms they need to understand.

  • Boyle, M., and M. Schmierbach. 2015. Applied communication research methods: Getting started as a researcher. New York: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9781315718644

    This is a broad textbook, with material on both qualitative and quantitative methods, although the latter is more of a focus. Organized in part as a glossary, with distinct entries for each key term, it is particularly easy to navigate. It also presents exercises and interviews that link concepts to professional practice.

  • Croucher, S. M., and D. Cronn-Mills. 2014. Understanding communication research methods: A theoretical and practical approach. New York: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203495735

    The authors offer a comparison between different perspectives on the goals of research and the nature of evidence, and a major component of the text is based upon detailed information about specific methods and the types of arguments that can be made based upon those techniques.

  • Jugenheimer, D. W., L. D. Kelley, J. Hudson, and S. Bradley. 2015. Advertising and public relations research. New York: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9781315716565

    This textbook is more narrowly focused, presenting the key principles of research methods through the lens of advertising and public relations practice. As such, most of the methods described are particularly applicable to those fields, and the examples given generally focus on advertising-related problems.

  • Lindlof, T. R., and B. C. Taylor. 2017. Qualitative communication research methods. 4th ed. Los Angeles: SAGE.

    By focusing on qualitative research, this book provides a more detailed explanation of each stage of a qualitative research project. In particular, it offers more information about how to record, process, and present data to an audience, and is thus of particular use to a professional who might feel comfortable conducting a focus group or similar study, but is less sure how to summarize it for an audience.

  • Mathes, J., ed. 2017. The international encyclopedia of communication research methods. 3 vols. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

    This edited encyclopedia covers an impressive array of topics. It includes detailed discussions of specific statistical procedures, software tools, and data gathering techniques, but also more philosophical discussions of important concepts in research. Most of the material is too detailed and technical to be the first resource used, but it is an excellent resource for details about a topic mentioned elsewhere in passing.

  • Pettey, G., C. C. Bracken, and E. B. Pask. 2017. Communication research methodology: A strategic approach to applied research. New York: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203126349

    This textbook primarily focuses on quantitative techniques, though it includes a discussion of qualitative research. It puts less emphasis on specific methods and more on understanding the underlying logic and procedures that scientific studies share.

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