Thoughts on Communication Theoryand Research
is a theory?
"Theory is more accurately defined as a set
of interrelated concepts that present a systematic view of phenomena by
specifying relations for the purpose of explaining and predicting the phenomena.”
-- Tucker, Weaver, and Berryman-Fink, in Research in Speech Communication,
1981, citing Kerlinger, Foundations of Behavioral Research, 1973.
“Theories are maps of reality. The truth
they depict may be objective facts ‘out there’ or subjective meanings inside
our heads. Either way we need to have theory to guide us through
unfamiliar territory.” -- Griffin, A First Look At Communication
Theory, 3rd ed., 1997.
do theories do?
A theory is a set of concepts and relationship
statements that enables one to understand, describe, explain, evaluate,
predict, and control things (phenomena). Theory-makers are puzzle-solvers.
Humans naturally invent theories. We cannot resist solving puzzles…Theories
are why explanations of puzzling phenomena... -- Cragan and Shields, Understanding
Communication Theory, 1998.
1. Comprehension - theories promote
1. Explanation - theories explain
2. Prediction - theories predict
3. Control - theories provide certainty
4. Criticism - theories provide a basis
for evaluation and judgment
(adapted from Miller and Nicholson,
Communication Inquiry, 1976; and Anderson, Communication Theory,
-- Specification of the initial conditions that generate the theory.
A communication theory provides a set of logically
related general propositions (statements, ideas, beliefs) which permit
the deduction of some outcome or characteristic of communication interactions
A communication theory provides a unifying
explanatory mechanism; a means for explaining communication behavior.
A communication theory has predictive power.
A communication theory must be tested, requiring:
-- Clear identification of outcomes.
Communication theories are functional, that
is, useful in some contexts but not in others.
Communication theories are stochastic (probabilistic)
rather than deterministic (certain to happen).
Communication theories help us understand,
to solve the “people puzzles” we encounter.
Communication research helps us learn; to
answer questions we develop about the “people puzzles.”
Our theories suggest research activities and
our research work leads to theories.
Research helps organize existing knowledge.
Research may seek to resolve inconsistent
Research attempts to relate new information
Research seeks to understand, explain, and/or
Research clarifies theory.
Research improves instruction.
Research tests and refines methodologies.
Historical/critical research…asks what happened
Descriptive research…asks what is (norms)
and what goes with what (correlation)?
Experimental research…asks what will happen
and under what conditions?
Naturalistic and ethnographic research…asks
what is and what does it mean (interpretation)?