The Characteristics of Introductory Research Methods Courses in Mass Communication Doctoral Programs

By Lu, Amy Shirong | Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, Autumn 2007 | Go to article overview

The Characteristics of Introductory Research Methods Courses in Mass Communication Doctoral Programs


Lu, Amy Shirong, Journalism & Mass Communication Educator


This study assesses the content of introductory research methods courses in mass communication doctoral programs in the United States. Directors of thirty-two graduate programs were surveyed about their doctoral programs' requirements for research methods. Syllabi for forty-three required introductory research methods courses were collected. An extensive list of variables for each was analyzed and compared. Requirements in research methods training have become fairly common across doctoral programs. Although quantitative methods instruction, emphasizing design and analysis skills, is still most prevalent, non-quantitative methods courses, focusing on qualitative methods and philosophical and historical theories, are offered and often required in many doctoral programs.

Good tools make for good work. Even if a craftsman came up with the most ingenious design in die world, he could not complete it without the help of the right instruments. So is the case with research. If due attention is not paid to methods, scholars run the risk of not fulfilling on great ideas.

Research methods instruction has long been a vital component of journalism and mass communication graduate education. Although research methods are still considered just a means to an end by some academics, most scholars and professors have come to realize the importance of these "means." With the expansion of doctoral programs and the emergence of new research paradigms, is there any consensus about what doctoral students should know about research methods? Previous studies have explored the epistemological frictions among various methodological approaches.1 Some kept tabs on methods used in academic publications.2 Some examined research methods instruction in undergraduate programs.3 This study builds on prior research by focusing on introductory research methods courses required for doctoral-level students in journalism and mass communication programs by examining the syllabi of the primary methods courses offered at most U.S. doctoral programs.

Literature Review

The field of journalism and mass communication has always been interdisciplinary as it has borrowed both theory and methods from other contiguous fields, such as sociology, psychology, and political science. This was clearly shown more than twenty years ago when Paisley found that the published articles in communication journals contained more citations from non-communication journals (especially social scientific ones) than communication journal citations.4

Sociology is usually regarded as the parent of journalism and mass communication research in terms of perspective, theory, and methodology. Sociologists, however, still debate the discipline's underlying paradigms, thus allowing scholars to adopt different perspectives and research methodologies.5 It is generally agreed, however, that quantitative methodology has been on the rise since the 1940s and continues to play an important role in sociology today.6 A similar trend of the dominance of quantitative methods has been observed in psychology and political science as well.7

The interdisciplinary nature of journalism and mass communication research has always allowed a multiplicity of research perspectives, but has also contributed to clashes between different schools of thought. Today, the "quantitative" school and "qualitative" school are the most common referral points of social scientific and interpretative humanistic approaches. Social behavioral quantitative methods have become more widely used by mass communication researchers since the early 1950s, although humanistic methods and viewpoints had almost exclusively dominated the field previously.8 Since the 1970s, qualitative methods began to regain adherents and use.9 With the emergence of critical and cultural studies, the field's methodological diversity has grown.10 Potter et al. described three mass media research paradigms: social science, interpretative, and critical studies. …

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