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Theory Development: Scientific Standards

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Questions from textbook Chapter 2: Theory Development

1.  How do our textbook authors define research?

The authors defined research as the methodical gathering of data as well as the careful reporting of the results of the data analysis.

2.  What are some of the major differences between humanistic and social scientific approaches to research?

Firstly, social scientists believe that people react to communication based on their personalities and what their past experiences taught them. Hence, social scientific approaches to research are more concerned with causes and effects of communication. Besides just understanding the communication process, the goal of the theory from a social scientific standpoint has to also be able to predict how a person will behave and communicate.

On the other hand, humanities believe that people have free will and control over their own actions, hence they tend to act (as opposed to react) to communication. Thus their approaches to research are focused more on the choices people make. This way, goal of the theory is purely to understand the communication process as humanists believe that it is impossible to accurately predict human behavior.

Secondly, the humanistic approach to research is mainly in the form of inductive theory development (research before development of theory) while the social scientific approach is mainly through deductive theory development (development of theory before research).

Thirdly, social scientists focus on standardization and control, hence they tend to study small areas in isolation. This method is also known as particularism and the experimental methods are best suited for the social sciences research.

In opposition, humanists believe in looking at the big picture to gain a thorough understanding of the whole process. This method is known as holism and the ethnography research method is best suited for humanistic research.

Lastly, social scientific researches mainly employ quantitative methods as data and statistics make it easier for social scientists to make generalizations which helps to make predictions of human behaviors.

While on the other hand, the humanistic researches employ mainly qualitative methods as they do not believe in being able to predict human behaviors.


3.  How do theories grow and change?

There are 2 main ways theories can grow and change, growth by extension or growth by intension.

Growth by extension occurs when theories expand through the addition of more concepts to give a better representation of the phenomenon in study.

On the other hand, a theory is said to have growth by intension if the number of concepts in the theory does not change but researchers are able to develop a deeper understanding of the prevailing concepts.


Questions from LMS Reading:  Griffin, E. (2008). Weighing the words.  Communication:  A first look at communication theory, pp. 25-36.  New York, NY:  McGraw-Hill

1. According to Griffin, what makes an objective theory good?  What makes an interpretive theory good?

A good objective theory should

  1. Effectively explain the reason why certain event or human behavior happened.
  2. Notice trends and tendencies in situations and accurately predict what will happen in similar situations in the future.
  3. Explain concepts in as simple terms as possible.
  4. Be able to be tested for validity and invalidity of claims.
  5. Be of practical use to people.
  6. Make use of quantitative methods for their research which gives a more precise representation of reality as compared to words which are more subjective.

A good interpretative theory should

  1. Provide a subjective understanding of human behavior.
  2. Bring people’s values into the study.
  3. Be clear, concise and organized with strong aesthetic appeal.
  4. Have strong support from people in the community.
  5. Be able to bring about change in the society.
  6. Make use of qualitative methods for their research which provides a stronger understanding of meaning.

2.  Both objective and interpretive theories involve trade-offs; no theory can meet every standard of quality equally well. Of the 12 criteria or standards discussed, which two or three do you think are most important? Which two or three are least important? Explain your choices.



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