Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

How People Think about a TV Program: A Q-Methodology Approach

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

How People Think about a TV Program: A Q-Methodology Approach

Article excerpt

It is essential for TV programs producers to know their audience as carefully and deeply as possible in order to produce and broadcast successful TV programs for them. It is customary to use surveys to explore not only audience's needs, interests and favorite programs, but also their opinions and attitudes towards programs. A typical survey helps producers to collect information from people through a "questionnaire" consisting of questions or items related to the topics of interest. However, this way is useful as long as they restrict their knowledge of people to the percent of viewers, the titles of audience's favorite programs and things like that, or as long as they want to measure people's attitudes by requesting them to rate a scale.

A questionnaire or scale has a "structure" in the sense that it is known in advance what it can measure or show. In other words, a researcher first states his objectives and questions and then designs his research instrument (questionnaire or scale) to achieve the objectives and answer the questions. Therefore, the approach or theoretical framework chosen by the researcher is imposed on the instrument when he is designing it. This means that his survey respondents have to regard the subject of survey through the window that the researcher opens for them inflexibly.

Now, let's consider a TV program which you would like to know how viewers think about it. You may design a questionnaire in the form of a Likert scale by choosing various items addressing different aspects and characteristics of the TV program. Since each item has purposely been included in the questionnaire and plays a particular role, you are well aware of the thoughts this questionnaire can potentially reveal to you in advance. Indeed, you first collect different thoughts and the very thoughts determine the "structure" of your questionnaire and ascertain which items have to be included in the questionnaire. Hence, such a questionnaire can merely show those "pre-specified" thoughts which a researcher has already considered, and cannot provide proper situations for respondents to describe their "own" thoughts thoroughly and freely.

This limitation of questionnaire-based surveys is serious when a researcher is interested in exploring people's subjectivity. Because of the nature of subjectivity, the questionnaire structure can influence it and orient it to something different. Therefore, the questionnaire does not measure or show what a respondent really thinks, but it measures or shows whatever its structure (researcher's approach or theoretical framework) allows it to measure or show. This leads to an essential question about how a researcher can understand people's subjectivity, for example, towards a TV program without influencing them. In other words, how can a researcher reduce the effects of observer and observation tool to a minimum in his studies when the subjects under observation may deviate from their right situations by these two factors?

Q-method is a powerful research tool for subjectivity exploration. It is free from standards and norms used in questionnaires and scales. By taking advantage of Q-method, researcher does not interfere in detection of people's subjectivity and viewpoints due to imposing his approach, but people themselves present their subjectivity and viewpoints to him. It is noteworthy that Q-methodology was invented by William Stephenson (1902-1989) in 1935 and can be categorized as a qualiquantological method. I will review this methodology in the next section and then offer one of its applications in the field of media research. I will

pursue my discussion on differences between Q-method studies and questionnaire-based surveys later in the last section.

A Short Review of Q-methodology

I am a researcher in the research center of IRIB which is an Iranian leading organization in the field of media research. My colleagues are interested in people's attitudes towards TV or radio programs and social or political events, and my work generally focuses on the methodological aspects of their studies. …

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