COM 454




Communication Contexts

Honor Students

Research Projects

Last updated January 29, 2000




Francis Bacon once wrote, "a prudent question is one-half of wisdom."

Good problem statements, according to Reinard (1998), set limits on relevant information and structure inquiry.  He asserts that there are two prerequisites for useful problem statements:  (1) questions must be within the researcher's competence and capabilities; and (2) questions must be narrow but nontrivial.

Research questions are the explicit questions researchers ask about the variables that interest them.  Two general questions researchers ask about communication are "What is the nature of communication?" and "How is communication related to other variables?"

When researchers feel confident enought to make a prediction, they advance a Research Hypothesis,  a tentative statement about the relationship between the independent and dependent variables.

The most important criterion for selecting a topic is WHETHER IT INVESTIGATES SOMETHING IMPORTANT.  Researchers should be able to answer SO WHAT? or Who Cares?   To do so requires researchers to develop a clear rationale for why the research is being conducted.

Frey, Botan, Friedman, & Kreps (1991) identify the research process cycle model as a five phase process:

Phase 1:  Conceptualization
Phase 2:  Planning and Desinging Research
Phase 3:  Methodologies for Conducting Research
Phase 4:  Analyzing and Interpreting Data
Phase 5:  Reconceptualization
In order to choose an appropriate research topic, one must first understand that communication researchers generate ideas which they consider worth studying from one of two sources:
The need to TEST and REFINE Theory.
 BASIC or PURE Research
can be DEDUCTIVE (Theory-Driven) or INDUCTIVE (Theory-Generating)
Basic research starts with a theory and then seeks to learn whether empirical (observable) data suport it. Applied research sets out to contribute to knowledge by answering a real, pragmatic, social question or by solving a real, pragmatic, social problem.
Bostrom (1998) distinguishes hypotheses from research questions when he writes,
"Hypotheses represent a formal testing of a theory and a research question represents a more general exploration of phenomena. . . the choice of hypotheses as opposed to research questions is determined largely by the state of theory in the area, the statistical procedure used, and the preferences of the researcher."
A good hypothesis, according to Bostrom (1998) consists of three primary characteristics:
1.  A good hypotheses is concerned with only one aspect of the research at a time and is thus, SIMPLE.

2.  A good hypothesis is OBSERVABLE.  It is  related to the theoretical phenomena and actually can be observed.

3.  A good hypothesis is TESTABLE.  It is possible to actually make the observations involved.

We might also add the following to Bostrom's characteristics:
4.  A good good hypothesis investigates something IMPORTANT--both THEORETICALLY and PRACTICALLY.

5.  A good hypothesis must be of sufficient SCOPE and DEPTH.

Reinard (1998) argues that "proper phrasing of problems is required to make them useful."  He suggests the following criteria for sound problem statements:
1.  Problem statements must be stated unambiguously, usually as questions.

2.  Except for simple descriptive studies, problem statements must include at least two variables.

3.  Problem statements must be testable.

4.  Problem statements must not advance value judgments.

5.  Problem statements must be clear grammatical statements.

Reinard (1998) suggests that there is utility in understanding what problem statements are NOT!

He asserts:

"Though we may find some standards for research questions, it is also a good idea to know what are NOT useful research questions.  The types of pseudo-problem statements may trick us into spending our time on them when in fact, they may not be worth our time.


1.  Questions asking for obvious yes or no answers.

2.  Questions asking about applying a statistical tool. These questions confuse the method of answering the question with the research questions themselves.  Problem questions should ask for relationships, not statistical methods.

3.  Questions proposing personal learning goals.  In fact, personal references have no role in productive research questions.  The following example is inappropriate:  "The purpose of this study is to learn ways advertisers sell products."  Purpose statements do not "learn" anything.  The research question should get to the point and ask about relationships.

4.  Questions that have already been competently studied.

5.  Questions that cannot really be solved.  (Whether because of the  lack of resource materials or because the question deals with broad, philosophical issues that cannot be resolved).

The most simple way to phrase hypotheses is to create a statement of simple relationships. 

For example, you could hypothesize that:

There will be a direct (or positive, or negative, or inverse, or curvilinear) relationship between (insert favorite first variable of interest) and (insert favorite second variable of interest)


As (insert favorite first variable of interest) increases (or decreases, etc.) the (insert favorite second variable of interest) decreases (or increases, etc.).


What patterns of deceptive communication characterize close relationships?

What are the perceived dimensions of giving feedback in a task-oriented small group?

What types of power strategies do subordinates perceive themselves using in interactions with their supervisors?

Do men and women report significantly different levles of satisfaction with conflict interaction?

What is the association between how patients communicate about their illness, other patient illness-related behavior, and utilization factors of medical treatment?

How does family mediation of television affect children's comprehension of specific programs and of television in general?

What is the relationship between the amount of television watched by adults and the level of anxiety about personal safety?

Do managers who use responsive listening behaviors with subordinates report greater communication satisfaction than other managers?