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380 Ecquid Novi : Forum Section

Critical approaches + number crunching

= sound academic research
Anské Grobler
University of Pretoria


Both critical approaches, as well as numerical research designs can lead to

successful research amongst Sacomm members. Research orientation is not the
qualifier for being scientific. There will always be a greater slant towards one of
these to paradigmatic inclinations depending on where the researcher is located:
cultural and media studies or communication sciences.
This point of view is firstly motivated by two statements that form the
theoretical underpinnings of general research methodology (Statement 1 and 2).
Thereafter the discussion focuses on the importance and popularity of descriptive
exploratory studies in especially communication studies in South Africa
(Statement 3) which could provide for the possibility of using triangulation as
research method to improve research results in a country where the scientific
research fraternity is relatively small (Satement 4). This discussion (as part of
the Sacomm panel discussion) concludes by emphasising the importance of a
rigorous scientific inclination of the researchers in the Association (the final
statement, no. 5) and a plea is made for more discourse on research and also
collaborate research in the future, away from what Keyan Tomaselli, the Sacomm
President, so aptly calls the “conceptual apartheid”.

Statement 1: Epistemology (knowledge and the philosophy of how scientists

come to know) should be driven by the appropriate research methodology for the
problem at hand, (rather than the researcher’s personal inclination towards a
specific and personal preferred research paradigm).

The best method (methodology) of coming to know (epistemology) should

direct the research process rather a preconceived opinion of which is the better
or even more superior research paradigm. “Epistemology and methodology
are intimately related: the former involves the philosophy of how we come to
know that world and the latter involves the practice [i.e. the specific ways or the
methods that can be used to understand the world better]” (Trochim, 1997). The
main function of a research design is to enable the researcher to anticipate what

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Grobler: Critical approaches + number crunching = sound academic research 381

the appropriate research decisions should be in order to maximise the validity of

the eventual results. Therefore, the choice of research design (set of guidelines
instructions to be followed), depends on the research problem and research
objectives (Mouton, 1996:x; Mutchnick & Berg, 1996:7). Following this train of
thought is the next statement, which reads:

Statement 2: Qualitative vs. quantitative research: it’s not an either-or


The debate between proponents of the qualitative and quantitative research

paradigms – each characterised by a certain logic or approach to social science,
accompanied by collections of certain research designs – is an old but unresolved
one. This should not necessarily be the case as there is no ‘real’ conflict between
them and there are always overlaps between the type of data and style of research
used (Mouton, 1998:38, 40; Neuman, 2000:16).

The differences between these two research designs lie in terms of the research
purpose, the nature of the research, the methods of data collection, the reasoning
of the data analyses, and finally the communication of the research findings.

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• To describe and explain (behaviours, • To explain and predict (quantities,
trends or relations) degrees or relations)
• To confirm and validate
• To explore and interpret
• To test theory
• To build theory
• To generalise from a sample to a
• To explore areas characterised by no/
limited prior research
• Is outcome-orientated
• Is process-orientated
• To measure objective facts
• To construct social reality
• Holistic • Focused
• Unknown variables • Known variables
• Flexible guidelines • Established guidelines
• Emergent design • Static design
• Context-bound • Context-free
• Personal view/Values are involved • Detached view/Value free
• Authenticity is key • Reliability is key
• Informative, small sample • Representative, large sample
• Observations, interviews • Standardised instruments
(Surveys and experimental
• Usually inductive analysis • Usually deductive analysis
• Content analysis • Descriptive and inferential
• Words • Numbers
• Narratives, individual quotes • Statistics, aggregated data
• Personal voice, literary style • Formal voice, scientific style

* Adapted from a table compiled by Schoonraad (2004) from Du Plooy (2001:82 84),
Leedy (1997:106) and Neuman (2000:16)

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Grobler: Critical approaches + number crunching = sound academic research 383

Statement 3: Descriptive exploratory studies are useful in communication


Depending on the degree of the initial research question crystallisation, research

can be classified as being either exploratory or formal. Descriptive research
attempts to answer questions such as who, what, where, when or how much.
Causal research on the other hand, focuses on relationships between events -
answering the “why-question”. Exploratory studies are typically used when very
little previous research has been conducted and the objectives of the research
are to collect new data, developing hypotheses or questions for further research,
clarifying concepts and establishing research priorities (Cooper & Schindler,
2003:146; Neuman, 2000:21). Exploratory research can set the tone for formal
research, which is more systematic and extensive (Neuman, 2000:21). The
importance and popularity of descriptive exploratory research in South Africa
sometimes necessitates triangulation as the/a research option.

Statement 4: Is triangulation the answer? On many occasions, yes

Mouton (1998:37) argues that the highest level of complexity in research is referred
to as methodological paradigms, which include qualitative and quantitative
research designs. The general principle in data collection is that the inclusion of
multiple sources of data in a research project is likely to increase the reliability of
the observations. As Saunders, Lewis, & Thornhill, (2003) succinctly describe it:
“The use of two or more independent sources of data or data collection methods
within one study in order to help ensure that the data are telling you what you
think they are telling you.” A variety of triangulation options starting with
using multiple and different sources (data); multiple researchers (investigators);
multiple perspectives (theory) or; the current case in point: multiple research
paradigms such as qualitative and quantitative. The underlying principle is that,
because various research designs in the research methodology are followed, they
can complement each other and their respective shortcomings can be balanced
out. This observation leads to the final and last statement.

Statement 5: The qualifying criteria of striving to be scientific are “being

critical, balanced, objective, and ethical”, not the research paradigm selected

The issue is not a question of selecting the more superior research paradigm, or
holding an objectivistic or positivistic worldview. The important question is, (albeit
recognizing the possibility of sounding too simplistic), the scientific orientation
of the researcher. All research designs have weaknesses and shortcomings, but

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384 Ecquid Novi : Forum Section

these should not impose on their validity or value. Researchers should strive for
balance, objectivity, ethicality, whilst being as scientifically critical as humanly
possible, questioning not only the epistemology, but also the methodology. Only
then can we verstehen.


Sacomm affords its members the opportunity to debate these important issues
and whilst the President and the Executive Board and Ecquid Novi should be
commented for addressing research as a critically important issue, a plea should
also be made for synergy between researchers and research paradigms in both
media and communication studies.

Cooper, D.R. & Schindler, P.S. 2003. Business research methods. 8th ed. New York:
Du Plooy, G.M. 2001. Communication Research: Techniques, methods and applications.
Lansdowne, South Africa: Juta.
Leedy, P.D. 1997. Practical research: Planning and design. 6th ed. Upper Saddle River,
NJ: Prentice-Hall..
Mouton, J.J. 1996. Understanding social research. Pretoria: Van Schaik.
Mouton, J.J. 1998. Introduction to qualitative research. Pretoria: Human Sciences
Research Council.
Mutchnick, R.J & Berg, B.L. 1996. Research methods for the social sciences. Needham
Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Neuman, W.L. 2000. Social research methods: Qualitative and quantitative approaches.
4th ed. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Saunders, N., Lewis, P. and Thornhill,C. 2003. Research methods for business students.
3rd Edition. Essex: Parson Education.
Schoonraad,S. 2004. Managing financial communication: Towards a conceptual model.
Unpublished MCom thesis. Pretoria: University of Pretoria.
Trochim, W.M.K. 1997. The knowledge base: An online research method textbook.
(WWW document). URL

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