Research Methods for Studying Family
Communication and Relationships
The adept consumer of research on family processes must have an understanding of the different techniques that are employed in the design, collection, and analysis of family research studies and the data that they generate. Although a thorough treatment of these issues is beyond the scope of this book, in this Appendix we provide a brief summary of some of the different research methodologies, study designs, and measurement techniques that are commonly used in research on families. More in-depth analyses of these issues can be found in Acock (1999), Copeland and White (1991), Markman and Notarius (1987), Miller (1986), Noller and Feeney (2004), and Socha (1999).
There are a variety of different methods that family researchers use to investigate family phenomena. Each of these methods has strengths and weaknesses. Understanding these different methods, what they can reveal and what they cannot reveal, is useful for interpreting the results of various research studies. In this section we briefly review some of the more common research methodologies that appear in the family communication and relationships literature.
The majority of what we know today about family relationships comes from survey research. The common element of all survey research is that investigators ask research participants to provide information. This produces what is known as self-report data. Qualities of self-report data are discussed in more detail later in this Appendix. Ordinarily survey research involves large numbers of participants. This is because surveys are fairly easy to administer to large samples even if spread out over diverse geographic regions. Survey researchers can use the mail, telephone calls, and Internet questionnaires to gather information, making it easy to reach many people. For example, the National Survey of Families and Households (e.g., Bumpass, Martin, & Sweet, 1991) involved interviews of over 13,000 households, producing one of the more intensively analyzed data sets in family science.