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.