Blog 13: Theory in Qualitative & Quantitative Designs in Ag Comm

In quantitative agricultural communications research, there are two ways in which researchers typically apply theory. The first way, is to inform the study. In this type of study, the researchers determine how theory might influence the objectives of the research. The first of your JAC readings from this week represents this application of theory. The Baker, Abrams, Irani, and Meyers study utilized the PR Excellence Theory in order to inform their research related to the media’s perception of a specific land-grant institution. The authors took this theory into consideration while designing their study and their conclusions and discussion tie back to the theory. However, this was not built upon the PR Excellence Theory; it did not test the theory or add to the theory.

The second reading for this week, as you may have guessed, represents the other way theory is typically utilized in quantitative agricultural communications research. The Hall and Rhodes study was built upon the theory of planned behavior and the theory of diffusion of innovations. You will notice the researchers’ objectives tie to specific components of the these theories. As you compare the objectives from the other reading, you will notice that the Baker et al. reading’s objectives do not tie to theory.

Both types of application of theory are important for the field of agricultural communications. As scholars, we should strive to always include a theoretical or conceptual framework for our research. In some cases the research questions or objectives we have may lend themselves to testing theory. As you are reading about a theory, you are likely asking yourself questions like “I wonder if this theory would hold true in a family-farm setting or in my place of business or home?” A study with objectives designed to answer those questions would fall into the model of basing a study on a theory and testing the theory. In other cases our research questions or objectives may be more applied like “I wonder how farmers perceive the organization I work for?” It is quite likely that theory will inform this question, but unlikely that a study designed to answer this question would test a specific theory.

At this point, you are all extremely familiar with the theory you used for your in-depth analysis of a theory assignment. You know where there may be gaps to be tested or how it might inform future studies. For discussion this week, write two research objectives: one that will be informed by the theory you used in your in-depth theory assignment and one that is designed to test the theory (possibly in a new context or with a new audience). Use the objectives in this week’s readings as examples to guide you. Remember to remind everyone what theory you are using and explain how each objective fits into the category you are assigning it. I recognize your posts may be much shorter this week, but I also know that writing quality objectives will take up a fair amount of time. I look forward to reading your objectives!

The JAC article you read for qualitative research this week, is an excellent example of how theory is used in qualitative research. Qualitative research, as you may remember form your research methods courses, is not used to test theory. That is not to say that we don’t use theory in qualitative research designs. We certainly do! We typically use theory in qualitative research to inform our research studies. As scholars we want to continually build on previous knowledge, so we need to continually evaluate how theory applies to our research. You will notice in the article this week, that instead of objectives the authors used research questions. This is common in qualitative studies. You can use objectives in qualitative research, but it is more typical to see research questions. You may also have noticed that the questions are extremely broad in nature. This is also typical. While theory and previous research inform the study, there are still a lot of unknowns which is why the authors chose a qualitative research design.

There is another way in which theory can be used in qualitative research. This is through grounded theory. This is almost a reverse process of how we typically use theory. In grounded theory research, the researchers are actually systematically developing new theory in the analysis process. Research questions in this case are extremely broad, as no theory has come before to assess what is happening in this particular area of study.

I have really enjoyed reading your objectives over the previous weeks, and would like to continue our discussion with research questions. This time, let’s again use the theory you used for your in-depth analysis of a theory assignment and the theory you peer reviewed.  For discussion this week, write two research questions: one that is informed by the theory you used in your in-depth theory assignment and one that is informed by the theory you were assigned to peer review. Use the research questions in this week’s readings as examples to guide you. Remember to remind everyone what theories you are using. Think broad – tie in larger questions that are informed by the theory, but not directly testing it. I am looking forward to reading how you can adapt your research questions, or develop new ones for qualitative research.

16 thoughts on “Blog 13: Theory in Qualitative & Quantitative Designs in Ag Comm

  1. Class,

    My in-depth theory was the theory of planned behavior by Azjen. This theory derives from the theory of reasoned action. Theory of planned behavior predicts an individual’s intention to engage in a behavior at a specific time and place. There are three variables that affect an individual’s behavioral intention: attitude to behavior, subjective norms, and perceived behavior control. Subjective norms refers to the social pressure applied to an individual to perform or not perform a behavior.

    Quantitative Objectives:

    Informed by the Theory Objective & Test the Theory Objective

    Multiple research studies that have been conducted as part of my initial thesis background research suggest that military afterschool programs are not utilizing extension offerings in the county. Extension has a presence in the local community but is invisible on the military bases where there is a specific niche. Data is sought to determine if specific curriculum were created for this niche, if it would be of any use. The theoretical framework of the theory of planned behavior is guiding this research. The following research objectives were developed to guide this study:

    • Determine the attitude extension professionals hold about collaborating with military youth professionals.
    • Explain the perception of extension that influences military afterschool coordinator’s attitude toward implementing 4-H curriculum into their program.

    The first objective falls under the category of informed by theory. This objective seeks to answer “How do the organizations perceive each other?” Do the organizations have a good outlook on each other? This study will help answer this question. The second objective is classified as test the theory. This objective tests part of the Planned Behavior Theory’s variables that are used to predict a behavior. By explaining the attitudes held by afterschool coordinators, it will help foreshadow if they will implement curriculum if developed.

    Qualitative Questions:

    As a reminder, my in-depth analysis was theory of planned behavior which I described above. The theory I peer reviewed was excellence theory. Excellence theory is a general theory that is most commonly used in the area of public relations. The goal of this theory is to evaluate what a good public relations department looks like. The founders of this theory described four models of use for this theory. Publicity model, is illustrated when businesses say what the consumer wants to hear. Model of Public Information is utilized when an organization relates information about themselves to the public. Asymmetrical is when the organization takes into consideration what the target audience wants to hear. Symmetrical is when the organization listens and responds to what the public wants to hear.
    Informed by in-depth analysis and peer reviewed analysis.

    During my semester abroad in Australia, I was enrolled in a sociological class that focused on rural sociology. This class required me to conduct an interview with an individual who identified as being rural and gain an understanding of how a rural family’s influence impacted their daughters. Her interview gave insight into a new issue facing family farms as they have a new generational role that will be in place for the succession of her family farm.

    The purpose of this study is to explore the current succession phenomenon facing small family farms in Australia.
    • What does a day in the life of a daughter on a family farm look like?
    • What disciplines are targeting daughters on the family farm for part-time work?

    The first objective is informed by the theory of planned behavior. The theory of planned behavior seeks to predict an individual’s behavior at a specific time and place. By understanding the daily habits of a daughter on a family farm, the researcher can better predict her actions in a new generational role on the farm. The second objective is informed by excellence in public relations theory. One of the side effects of a new generational role on the family farm, is more part time jobs since the family is now sharing the responsibility of the farm. This objective will be aided by this theory to help understand which disciplines are targeting those on the farm for work. This can help the researcher understand if the agriculture community is embracing the new role or if others are reaping the benefits.

    This week has been very beneficial to my learning, as I was able to incorporate theories we have learned to research studies I have done or would like to explore. I am looking forward to reading the rest of class’s objectives.

    Christina Peterson

    1. Christina,

      Great post! I really enjoyed learning from you and hearing your point of view. I had sociology experiences during my undergraduate career and I was able to learn a great deal about communicating with individuals from all walks of life as well as understanding how various types of people think. According to people’s way of life determines their way of thinking as well as their ethnic background and even taking their education and occupation into account. Your experience in Australia in terms of educating the daughter on living in a rural community as well as incorporating farming into the life of the younger generation. I never had the opportunity to study abroad but I was able to see the importance of teaching the younger generation even if it was through 4-H and FFA rather than in another country like you experienced. It was really interesting for me to learn about what it takes to bring agriculture and the living of the rural community into the lives of those that have not had any previous knowledge of the way of life.


      Ashlyn Richardson

  2. Class,

    I really enjoyed the discussion this week in terms of communication and incorporating that into the lives of those within agriculture and rural communities. The ability to be able to incorporate various aspects of rural communities into the lives of individuals and families throughout the United States and even the world is vital for the progression of agriculture within the world we live in today.

    My in-depth theory was social semiotics. During my experience of learning about the theory I was able to see the various types of social aspects that are involved in communication. Questions arise such as how different individuals interact according to where they have grown up. Ethnic background in terms of where an individual was raised has much to do with their social atmosphere and the way they interact with those around them. I discussed during my social semiotics theory the importance of being able to interact with individuals from all walks of life. This is especially important when incorporating agriculture because it is vital to be able to interact with those around no matter what they are discussing even outside of agriculture. Studying the signs around one another in terms of what the signifyer is doing or the signified. In addition, it is especially important to take all connotations and denotations into account. In order to be able to interpret what others are doing you must first be able to take into account the importance of being able to discuss a variety of items within agriculture as well as outside.

    Quantitative questions and qualitative questions are both used when necessary to answer questions regarding numbers and feelings. Each form of questioning should never pose only a one word answer. They should be able to ask a question that allows for a longer answer to learn all that is necessary regarding who you are working with. The differences between the two are very successful in finding out answers if selected correctly. For example, they must be dealing with feelings or numeric questions.

    This week has been very helpful to me in terms of my communication learning and being able to discuss the important factors affecting agriculture.


    Ashlyn Richardson

    1. Ashlyn,

      I also find it important that the agricultural community is able to communicate effectively in order for agriculture to continue to expand in the world we live today. Your theory of social semiotics is similar to the theory I used for my communication in action theory paper, communication of ethnic identity. Both pertain to ethnicity but more specifically how different identities play a part in communication. This class has helped be become more self-aware of my varying identities when I am communicating with others. It has also helped me realize the importance of knowing your audience and being able to adapt your communication style to tailor your message.

      Christina P.

  3. Ashlyn,

    Thank you for your post! I especially like that it is important for all of agriculture to be able to communicate with differing groups. This has been one of my biggest take-aways from the blog posts. It is important to know the audience and how they prefer to communicate, not just in agriculture. For me, it is important to differentiate how my prospects/customers prefer to communicate – some like texting or email and some prefer a call or a farm visit. I am more successful when I am adaptive and can conform to their needs and preferences.

    With that being said, it is important for us to understand specific audiences when sharing about agriculture. In a anti-ag group, it is important to listen more than speak, understand their concerns and not give false information.

    Thank you for your insight this week. Have a great Thanksgiving break!

    Jessica Woofter

  4. Class,

    My in-depth theory was gatekeeping, filtering of news and information. An article that I evaluated while preparing for my analysis of gatekeeping looked at how an editor of a paper decided which news stories to publish and which to toss, or not use. Some factors that affected the decisions were type of story, timeliness, interest and preference – mainly based on the editor’s experience and beliefs. Should I conduct a study with the theory of gatekeeping, I would look at communication in a business or organization. My objectives would cover Why an upper level leaders or management decide to share new information or not to their employees – transparency of information. Several groups would need to be evaluated as dynamics are different in businesses. In a close knit group, information may be more transparent as the leader trusts his employees to use information wisely. Contrary, another manager chooses to sit on information until it will affect someone else. To evaluate these situations on a quantitative basis, it would be important to look at the length of time upper management sits on a piece of new information, and also to rate the importance of the information.

    Jessica Woofter

    1. Jessica,

      After learning about the gatekeeping theory, I have always been intrigued on how news sources choose to delegate what news story get air time or page space. The article you mention sounds extremely interesting. The factors you mentioned all seem like valuable reasons to pick and choose stories. With this being said, it is all still so objective and up to the journalist, on what stories to “crank” out to the public. The study you presented, looking at the communication through a business organization is a great example of the gatekeeping theory. I would be extremely interested to examine the results of this study. After working in a professional setting for a year, it would be interesting to see how much information employers actually withhold or divulge to their employees. Also. I think looking at different businesses and comparing the rate of withholding information would be very interesting. For your qualitative research questions what other theory did you use? I appreciate your first research question of how long management chooses to withhold information from employees, and I can see how this applies to the gatekeeping theory. I am just a little confused as to what theory accompanies your second research question. I really enjoyed your thoughts on the study of communication through a business, and I think it would be an interesting study that could potentially benefit employers on turnover rates, as well as, showcase how communication can create a stronger or weaker bond between employers and employees.

  5. For my theory, I will be using the diffusion of innovation theory. This theory explains how, over time, an idea or product, gains momentum and diffuses through a specific population.

    My thesis work focuses on the use of new media technology as a tool for education in extension. The objectives below are potential objectives that could guide my research, as I continue to work on my thesis.

    Informed by the Theory Objective & Test the Theory Objective

    Objective 1: Determine the types of technology currently being utilized by extension, as a form of an education tool.
    Objective 2: Determine the likelihood and acceptance of extension agents, to utilize new media technology as an education tool.

    Alongside the diffusion of innovation, the other theory my peer used in their in-depth analysis was the gatekeeping theory. The gatekeeping theory states, events occur everywhere and all of the time. The news media cannot cover all of them. So, when an event occurs, someone has to decide whether and how to pass the information to another person, such as a friend, an official, or even a journalist.
    Once again using the basis for my thesis, of implementing new media technology as a tool for education in extension, some research questions that might come about are:

    Research Questions

    RQ 1: What hurdles are extension agents combatting, that is preventing them to accept the use of new media technologies as an education tool?

    RQ 2: What topics and medium through which they are taught, are important for extension agents to cover, so their clientele find them relevant, accessible, and up-to-date?

    1. Hi Kelsey,

      Thank you for your post. I agree that the diffusion of innovations theory is applicable to your research. As you mentioned, the adoption of technology doesn’t happen all at once, and it is important to understand how technology is adopted over time. I agree with your qualitative research objectives. To test the theory, it would be important to also determine the timeframe and timeline of new media technology acceptance by extension agents.

      Another theory that would be applicable to your research is the technology acceptance model. The model has been used to predict user acceptance of new technology based on two factors, which include: perceived usefulness and perceived ease of use. Your second qualitative research objective could also test the technology acceptance model.

      I also enjoyed reading your qualitative research questions. California is very diverse. We have cities and counties with large populations like L.A., and we have small towns in Northern California with populations with less than 100 people. Having worked in the University of California Cooperative Extension system, I know that the range of technology adoption amongst our county extension offices varied significantly. We had county extension offices in rural Northern counties that didn’t even have access to high speed internet because internet companies hadn’t expanded services to those counites. On the other hand, we had extension offices in large cities with access to top notch research technology. I appreciated your first research question that applied to the diffusion of innovations theory. Barriers to technology acceptance do exist, and as the diffusion of innovations theory reveals, technology acceptance takes time.

      Finally, I also enjoyed reading your qualitative research question that was informed by the gatekeeping theory. In my communications theory in action paper, I chose the agenda setting theory, which is related to gatekeeping. In addition to your research question, I feel like it would also be useful to learn why extension agents choose to cover certain topics.

      Thank you for your insights this week. I always appreciate learning from your posts.


  6. I was assigned the technology acceptance model (TAM) for the in-depth analysis assignment. TAM has been refined multiple times and has evolved into other models, such as TAM2, TAM3, and the unified theory of acceptance and use of technology (UTAUT). For this blog post, I will refer to the final version of TAM which was refined by Davis and Venketesh in 1996.

    TAM is used to determine technology acceptance among users. The model takes two notable factors into account, which include perceived usefulness (PU) and perceived ease of use (PEOU). Perceived usefulness refers to the degree a user believes that using the technology will enhance job performance, while perceived ease-of-use refers to the degree of effort a user believes that it will take to use the new technology. According to TAM, PU and PEOU each impact a user’s attitude towards using a new technology. The user’s attitude then influences the user’s intention to use the new technology, which leads to actual usage. Based on this, TAM can predict actual usage of new technology by a user.

    I previously ran the social media accounts for my family’s business. The business is in a small town with 6,000 people. When I first started helping them, I was trying to get them to use Facebook as a tool to promote their business. As I was researching TAM, I reflected upon my experience in teaching my parents and their manager how to use the technology. I thought about how TAM could be applied.

    If I were to perform a quantitative study that used TAM to inform a study, I would look at how small agricultural businesses perceive Facebook as a tool to promote their businesses. Objectives for the study would include:

    • Determine the number of small agricultural businesses in Colusa County, California using Facebook to promote their businesses.
    • Determine the effectiveness of Facebook as an online promotions tool for small agricultural businesses in Colusa County, California.
    • Determine the preferred form of social media among small agricultural businesses in Colusa County, California to promote their businesses.

    Utilizing TAM to explain the results of this study, potential inferences may include the degrees of PU and PEOU among users. TAM would help explain why or why not small businesses are utilizing Facebook to promote their businesses. TAM would also help explain why certain forms of social media are preferred over others based on PU and PEOU.

    To test TAM, I would conduct another study with 25 small agricultural businesses in Colusa County. I would survey those responsible for online communications within agricultural businesses that are not already familiar Facebook. I would introduce them to the technology and determine their behavioral intention to use the technology and their actual usage of the new technology, based on their degrees of PU and PEOU. Objectives for the study would include:
    • Determine the perceived usefulness of Facebook among potential users within small agricultural businesses.
    • Determine the perceived ease of use of Facebook among potential users within small agricultural businesses.
    • Determine potential users’ intentions to use Facebook.
    • Determine users’ actual usage of Facebook following introduction to the new technology.

    This would test the theory because high degrees of PU and PEOU should result in high intentions to use Facebook which should result in actual usage of Facebook. On the other hand, low degrees of PU and PEOU should result in low intentions to use Facebook and low numbers of businesses utilizing Facebook.

    If I were to develop a qualitative survey using the technology acceptance model to inform my study, my research question would be:
    • How and in what ways do small agricultural businesses with less than 50 employees use social media as a tool to promote their businesses?

    The theory that I peer-reviewed was the social semiotics theory. The theory refers to how people interpret meanings from signs, which include: visual, verbal, written and gestural. If I were to use this theory to inform a qualitative study, I would utilize this theory to examines brand effectiveness among the target audiences of the organization that I work for. I currently work for an agricultural land trust, and our tagline is “protecting what matters”. We have four target audiences, which include: ranchers, high-wealth individuals with an affinity for our cause, developers, and business professionals. My research question would be:
    • What are the interpretations and perceptions of the Rangeland Trust based on our branding efforts, and how effective are our messages among our target audiences?

    -Alyssa S.

    1. Hi Alyssa,

      Your explanation of the technology acceptance model was very helpful and your proposed study is detailed and very interesting. I also help my parents with their business Facebook page, so I can relate to your experiences and questions. I had not thought to apply theory to managing a family business Facebook page until now, but it’s a good idea!

      You mention that you would introduce business owners to new technology. How would you do this? It seems like a rather daunting task, especially for a sample size of 25 businesses. However, I’m sure there are a plethora of different ways to do this.

      I think the questions that you pose and your research methods would make a very intriguing and useful study today. Since we are surrounded by new technologies in almost very aspect of our lives, it’s hard to both keep up with changes and adapt to using them, especially when running a small business. I think that results and recommendations from a study like this would be very helpful for the agricultural industry.


    2. Hi, Alyssa!

      I enjoyed learning more about the TAM theory as I was able to peer review your infographic about it. I thought your idea of applying TAM to 5 small agricultural businesses was great. I think that measuring the PU and PEOU of certain technologies across those small ag businesses would provide great insight into what is most useful for small business owners, which continue to be growing contributors to our economy. It seems like almost every business has a Facebook page, because they are so simple and easy to make. Your study would provide insight into how beneficial the interactions that Facebook provides small businesses actually is.

      Great ideas!

  7. The elaboration likelihood model focuses on how information is processed and how effective persuasive messages are when processed two different ways, either centrally or peripherally. When messages are centrally processed, argument quality, logical consistency, and amount of truth affects the amount and direction of attitude or behavioral change. These messages typically require more thought and care, but often have a deeper impact on the receiver. Peripherally processed messages, on the other hand, use attractiveness, source credibility, or other cues not related to the ideas or strength of the argument in the message. Messages that are peripherally processed tend to not have the lasting persuasive effects like those that are centrally processed.

    Social media is a huge part of life today. Even businesses are now using websites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to connect with customers and sell products. As sales and marketing shifts to mostly online sources, many garden centers and greenhouses are starting to use social media to promote products and services too. In looking at the effectiveness of messages on social media, the content must be evaluated. The elaboration likelihood model explains the different impacts that centrally and peripherally processed messages have on receivers. To evaluate what kinds of messages are most effective in attracting and keeping garden center customers, the following research objectives were developed:

    RO1: Determine what kinds of persuasive messages garden centers/greenhouses are currently using on social media.

    RO2: Determine what type of persuasive message receives more audience engagement on social media.

    By determining the existing messages that horticultural businesses are already using, researchers can see what is effective and what is not. Suggestions for new marketing methods or content can then be made to help the greenhouses or garden centers connect better with their patrons. In the same way, knowing what type of message social media consumers want to see allows messages to be tailored to the audience.

    In addition to the elaboration likelihood model, the knowledge gap theory is often applied to research in agricultural communications. The knowledge gap theory states that segments of the population with higher socioeconomic status are more likely to receive news and information faster than those of a lower status. This creates a gap in knowledge over time between the two segments. Since the introduction of the Internet, the term “digital divide” is used to describe this theory as well.

    When communicating with horticultural industry consumers, the digital divide and knowledge gap should be kept in mind. Many garden centers and greenhouses are often located in rural areas, customers tend to be in the middle to lower socioeconomic levels; therefore, they do not always have access to new information as soon as it is available. In order to effectively engage with customers, horticultural businesses should carefully choose not only message content, but also the correct medium for target audiences. The following questions were developed to address the purpose of this study:

    RQ1: How many horticultural businesses in the Midwest are currently using social media to connect with their consumers?

    RQ2: How engaged are Midwestern consumers with horticultural businesses’ social media pages and websites?

    By determining the number of horticultural businesses using social media, researchers can then study the content that those businesses are posting on the Internet. It is highly probable that the amount of social media users directly affects businesses’ use of social media. By determining the engagement levels of consumers, researchers can see how effective social media strategies are and can suggest methods to allow for more engagement.

  8. The theory that I researched for the In-Depth theory assignment was the agenda setting theory, which to be brief is the creation of public awareness and concern of salient issues by the news media. This theory demonstrates the media’s power of deciding which issues are the most important, therefore leading to viewers believing that the chosen issues are the most important. I believe that this theory can provide a guide to better understand how the media’s agenda directly affects the agriculture industry, particularly in times of a food crisis. This theory can guide communication efforts to increase a public understanding of the industry and to positively influence agriculture issues and legislation.

    If I were to conduct a study informed by the agenda setting theory, I would choose a particular agricultural food crisis to research. My qualitative research question would be: How did media coverage of (*food crisis, such as pink slime*) affect consumers opinion of that product?

    The theory that I peer-reviewed for the In-Depth theory assignment was the technology acceptance model (TAM). TAM is an information systems theory that models how users come to accept and use technology. Factors that influence users decisions of how and when they use it include perceived usefulness (PU) which is the degree to which a person believes that using a system would enhance their performance, and perceived ease of use (PEOU), which is the degree to which a person believes that using a particular system would not require much effort.

    If I were to develop a qualitative survey using the technology acceptance model to inform my study, my research question would be: How do farmers and ranchers, age 30 and under, utilize agricultural applications on phones or tablets to maximize efficiency in their job?

    Hannah R.

    1. Hannah,
      I like your idea of researching a particular food crisis, something that I like to bring up in my animal ethics class that is related to this is the false advertising that takes place in the grocery store. For example, when chicken in the grocery store is labeled “hormone free” this leads consumers to believe that the product labeled is different and that hormones are used in chicken. I feel that this is false advertising because in reality it is illegal to sell poultry with hormones in it, but this food label is leading consumers to believe otherwise. To me I feel that labels are a form of media and this is a concern I would like to address through research. These are my thoughts, thanks for sharing!
      -Leah D.

  9. My assigned theory was “The Excellence in Public Relations Theory,” this was founded from a 15 year study which explains the values of public relations to organizations and society. This theory surveyed CEO’s, public relation specialists, and employees in 327 businesses, used several countries including Canada, United States, and the United Kingdom, and is proven to be most beneficial to businesses and organizations of all levels.

    If I were to conduct a study my questions on this theory would be as follows:

    Research question: How does the excellence theory improve public relations campaigns effectiveness and relevance?

    To me this is a developed qualitative question because this is a refined question which can help design a more credible argument for your research.

    Research question: Could you describe the most important factors in public relations?

    This is a qualitative question because it provides the opportunity for a more personal response that can again help to support a credible argument.

    The theory that I peer reviewed was “The Agenda Setting Theory,” which is where the mass media determines what we think and worry about.

    Research question: What is the role of mass media in our everyday lives?

    To me this question helps to identify what you wish to explore in your research.

    Leah D.

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