Major Communication Assignment

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Major written assignment.
Approx. word length: 2,700 words. Weighting: 60%.


The preparation of a literature review that evaluates the methodological strengths and limitations of existing studies in a particular area of communication and/or cultural studies. This might be related to the media portrayal of a particular social issue/event; a new type of consumption/leisure activity, institution or space; the economic significance of a cultural industry; the relevance of the arts to address social problems; the role of technology in the formation of new social identities and politics.

Harvard Referencing style should be used in this assignment. Students are urged to fully edit and proofread this work. Full professional standards are expected.




Introduction. 2

Dominant Methodological Trends in Studies on the Role of Technology in the Formation of New Social Identities and Politics. 3

Assessing the Quality of Research from a Methodological Perspective. 5

Adapting Traditional Methodologies to New Research Contexts. 9

Conclusion. 10

References. 12


Methodological issues ought to be accorded special attention in all studies because they greatly determine the validity of findings arrived at in these studies. In communication studies, researchers are expected to enhance their research skills to be successful in their work. The ability to choose the right methodology is normally a reflection of rapid improvement in one’s research skills. To understand the various methodological issues that might arise during the research process, it is imperative for researchers to review literature in a way that exclusively evaluates methodological strengths and weaknesses of studies in a specific area of communication studies.

In many cases, the choice is between qualitative and quantitative methods. In turn, this choice influences many factors, including research design, interview methods, focus groups, content analysis, and choice statistical methods. It also determines how survey questions are designed as well as how surveys are analyzed. In some cases, social research involves the use of mixed methods. This choice also has far-reaching consequences on different methodological issues are addressed throughout the research process.

Apart from enabling researchers to understand different methodological approaches, such a literature review also enables them to appreciate the challenges encountered in this area of study in regards to the selection and use of different methodologies. Using the knowledge that is obtained in such an evaluation, communication scholars can avoid past pitfalls in future studies, leading to the production of valid findings. Against this backdrop, the present study is an attempt to conduct a literature review that focuses exclusively on various methodological strengths and limitations of existing studies on one area of communication studies. For this purpose, this literature review will examine, from a methodological perspective, studies that investigate the role of technology in the formation of new social identities and politics.

Dominant Methodological Trends in Studies on the Role of Technology in the Formation of New Social Identities and Politics

This area of study has attracted immense interest from scholars who specialize in communication studies. In many instances, a lot of importance is accorded to theory. This is the case not just in communication studies but in other fields of social science. Theory is viewed as the ultimate benchmark against which prowess in research is measured. However, over time, some variations have become inherent, such that some researchers are willing to place facts above the theories that they use to explain them. This trend is demonstrated through growing emphasis on empirical studies. The objective is to ensure that existing ideas are applied to as many research studies as possible.

Zhao (2007) provides an excellent example of how theory has been central to problem-solving in communication studies. Zhao discusses the concept of “digital revolution” in China using the theories of capitalism and socialism. In this paper, the issue of China’s choice of a socialist modernity as an alternative to the capitalist modernity is discussed in the context of technological advancements that are unfolding in the country. This indicates that theory has traditionally acted as the point of departure in social science research. This has greatly influenced how methodological issues are addressed and how findings are derived.

A methodology outlines how a topic is going to be researched. It provides a procedure to be used in studying a phenomenon. A researcher can choose to use either a quantitative methodology or a qualitative methodology. In quantitative methodology, numbers are relied on to test hypotheses. In qualitative methodology, the researcher seeks to obtain first-hand familiarity with a specific setting as a way of inducing hypotheses. Methodologies are judged not on the basis of their correctness or truthfulness but by their usefulness (Rivas, 2012). In other words, a methodology is selected because of its strengths. Conversely, a researcher might choose not to use a methodology because of its limitations.

Methodology encompasses specific research techniques or methods. Some common research methods include observing, surveying, audio-recording, and  interviewing. Similarly, it is difficult to judge the correctness of a research method. The best that a researcher can do is to evaluate a method in terms of its usefulness or strengths versus limitations. For example, Hsu & Lin (2008) chose to use an online field survey to investigate the issue of technology acceptance with specific reference to blog usage. Using this research method, Hsu & Lin (2008) found out that social factors, primarily community identification heavily influenced the intention by blog participants to continue using blogs. Survey messages were placed on more than ten online message boards with the ability to handle heavy traffic such as Yahoo.

The main methodological strength of this approach was that it was used in a context where bloggers could easily participate, that is, on the Internet. Its core limitation is that it was possible for respondents to provide repeat responses. To guard against this practice, the researchers rejected responses originating from the same IP (Internet Protocol) addresses. Such a move might have been counterproductive because it could easily have led to the rejection of views from respondents who often share the same computer.

The circumstances in which a study is conducted also influence the choice of methodology. For example, Postmes, Spears & Lea (2000) did a study to determine how group norms are formed in the context of computer-mediated communication. Data for this study were collected as part of a course on computerized statistics known as “Dr. Stat”. In other words, students who participated in the voluntary course doubled as respondents for the study. During the study, students discovered a “mail” button, which they could use to send email to other students even though it was meant for emailing instructors. Over a period of 4 months, 2,017 messages were sent by some 140 students (Postmes, Spears & Lea, 2000). These messages were subjected to content analysis. According to Seale & Tonkiss (2012), the main limitation of content analysis is that it is likely to bring about serious limitations as far as validity is concerned. Despite this challenge, Postmes, Spears & Lea (2000) came up with the finding that social identities restrain the social construction process. Moreover, these identities manifest themselves in the course of interactions facilitated via computer-mediated communication (Postmes, Spears & Lea, 2000).

Assessing the Quality of Research from a Methodological Perspective

It is possible for researchers to come up with a judgment regarding the quality of research by seeking to establish whether the methodology that was selected for the research was useful. In this regard, one way of determining the usefulness of a research method is by assessing the validity of its findings. In situations where no significant efforts are made to address the limitations of a methodology, the validity of the findings is likely to be in doubt.

A major trend has emerged in the study of the emergence of social attitudes relating to the adoption of information technology, whereby the internet is increasingly being relied on as a research platform. In this regard, content analysis has become a common research method (Van Aelst & Walgrave, 2002). Other common methodological practices include virtual ethnography (Bosch, 2009), narrative account (McMillan & Morrison, 2006), and analysis of websites (Van Aelst & Walgrave, 2002). In other cases, the internet has been shunned as a source of information because it can easily be biased towards participants who spend most of their time online (Hargittai, 2007).

A major challenge relates to the use of social media data to achieve validity of findings. Beer (2012) suggests that this problem can be avoided using data aggregators. These aggregators take the form of data analysis software for conducting social research. It is important to be keen on the insights that these data aggregators are likely to generate. The findings derived through this approach can potentially enable researchers to view social trends arising from the use of information technology in alternative ways. It can also enable the researchers to strike a balance between the “monumentally rich, detailed data” obtained through social media and the high possibility of bias towards heavy users of these media (Beer, 2012).

Tong et al. (2008) carried out a study to compare how the number of friends on Facebook relates to the formation of interpersonal impressions among the users of this popular social media platform. The sample for the study comprised of 153 undergraduate students. These students were required to use the URL (Uniform Resource Locator) provided to them to participate voluntarily in a research. Those who satisfactorily completed the research would be awarded a course credit. Having received informed consent information, the participants understood that the study involved assessing impression formation in the context of electronic communication. Their role was to make a judgment on a sample of an online communication in the form of an Instant Messenger chat transcript, a Facebook profile, or an interactive exchange among individuals via email.

The methodological issues raised in this study show how difficult it can be to study the role of information technology in the formation of social identities. For instance, participants must be rewarded in order to carry out the activities in a natural environment. In the study by Tong et al. (2008), the participants were rewarded through the award of a course credit. This motivated them to, among other things, view all stimulus material for a period long enough to form an impression of the Facebook profile’s owner.

According to Beer (2012), scholars of communication studies are stuck in a moment of realization. The scholars have realized that the internet has provided new, rich, sources of data about social attitudes and identities but they have not moved beyond this point; they have not devised ways of analyzing this data to draw definite trends that can be used to project future changes in the use of the internet and social media (Bays, 2010). Everyone appreciates the potential that is inherent in these data but no one is sure about how it can be realized (Beer, 2012). The level of methodological specificity that is demonstrated in the study by Tong et al. (2008) is encouraging and should be adopted in future studies. Such approaches can help to break the deadlock on the potential opportunities that are being offered by the availability of rich data on internet and social media use.

The qualitative approach remains a dominant  choice in research on the internet. The methodological issues that arise from this choice bring into focus the prospects of breaking new ground as far as the analysis of rich data on internet use is concerned. McMillan & Morrison (2006) did a study on internet use among young people using a method that they referred to as “narrative accounts”. In narrative accounts, researchers seek to continue with the rich history of analysis of documents in social sciences. Documents constitute a crucial source of data for qualitative researchers primarily because of their enduring nature; unlike spoken forms, documents can be relied on for historical insight. They can also enable researchers to capture changes in cultural patterns and how they are linked to individuals’ social attitudes and identities.

The main limitation of narrative accounts is that they do not resonate with the present internet age the amount of written content is simply overwhelming for researchers. Moreover, most of this content is in the context of interactive technologies such as email exchanges, chat conversations, and social media updates. Online written content cannot be analyzed in the same old way of comparing texts for themes. Researchers must embrace the use of technology to facilitate this highly complex analytical process. McMillan & Morrison (2006) asked 72 graduate and undergraduate students who were taking courses in communications to document personal histories regarding their use of interactive media. The participants’ age brackets were chosen in such a way they were aged between 13 and 18 during the emergence of the World Wide Web. They were being told to write about growing up with this interactive technology at a time when they were aged between 19 and 25.

Theoretically, the study by McMillan & Morrison (2006) entailed a systematic evaluation of autobiographical accounts with a view to come up with grounded theory. In this process, subcategories of interactions were linked and related to each other by denoting strategies, context, and consequences (McMillan & Morrison, 2006). To achieve this goal, three steps were undertaken. First, the narrative accounts were compiled and coded into a computer file. The data was systematically sorted in terms of units of information and relevance to the research questions. Secondly, axial coding was undertaken, whereby like ideas were grouped together, in the process denoting emerging patterns. Finally, selective coding was undertaken, whereby researchers pieced together information to get a picture of changes ranging from open coding to axial coding. Eventually, the information that the participants were trying to communicate was pieced into a whole. A major methodological strength of this approach is that researchers can freely add a new dimension to phenomenon under study based on their analysis of documented evidence (Gidley, 2012).

Adapting Traditional Methodologies to New Research Contexts

To address changes in the contexts of data collection in studies on the use of information technology, researchers may have to become innovative in their adoption of traditional methodologies. Bosch (2009) demonstrated how one can be innovative in the use of traditional methodologies by using virtual ethnography in his study. This methodology was complemented with the use of qualitative content analysis. In virtual ethnography, all the principles of traditional ethnography were adhered to only that the research process was conducted using the internet. The core assumption was that online activity leaves traces of users’ attitudes, which are later on reflected in their behavior in offline spaces. In the qualitative content analysis, Facebook profiles of 200 students of University of Cape Town (UCT) were investigated.

Additionally, 50 undergraduate students were purposively selected for interviewing (Bosch, 2009). Undergraduates were chosen for their heavy use of Facebook. Graduates were omitted in the interviewing process because it was assumed that most of them use Facebook primarily for professional networking and research purposes. On a negative note, virtual ethnography raised potential ethical challenges despite the guarantee of anonymity for participants. On a positive note, the methodology exhibited a major strength in the sense that it drew heavily on the principles of traditional ethnography. The study’s finding was that Facebook has potential benefits for learning and teaching. However, some challenges remain, such as uneven access and lack of ICT literacy. By extension, one may conclude that continued use of the internet in educational settings will position it as a strong tool with which young people can build strong social identities.

Finally, the issues of response rate and selection bias remain at the heart of discourse on methodological strengths and limitations. Researchers in the field of communication and cultural studies have over the years devised several igneous ways of ensuring that these issues do not pose a threat to their investigations on the impact of technology on the formation of new social identities. A classic strategy involves targeting students who participate in a study as part of an academic course. This strategy has been employed in several studies to address the problems of bias in selection and low response rates (Tong et al., 2008; Hargittai, 2007).

In Hargittai’s (2007) study, the objective was to highlight differences between those who use social network sites and those who do not. First year students of the University of Illinois, Chicago, aged between 18 and 19 participated with the approval of the First-Year Writing Program. This approval was an indication that the sample was representative of the university’s undergraduate student body. A major problem with this method is that not all studies can be conducted in environments where high response rates are more or less guaranteed. As a result, researchers have to adapt to new research environments and adopt ingenious ways of motivating participants while at the same time ensuring that ethical violations do not occur.


In conclusion, the studies investigated in this paper on the role of information technology in the formation of new social identities have shed a lot of light on the significance of methodological strengths and limitations in determining the validity of findings. A methodology is important in a research study because it outlines how a topic is going to be researched. Methodologies are judged not on the basis of their correctness or truthfulness but by their usefulness. The most useful methodologies are those that project only a few limitations for the research. In research on the role of information technology on the emergence of new identities, a major methodological limitation manifests itself in the monumental, rich, detailed data available. Researchers know that this data exists on the internet but have not yet devised an appropriate methodology to analyze it. On a positive note, researchers may choose to adapt traditional methodologies to today’s online environment in such a way that traditional challenges such as selection bias and low response rates are resolved.



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Beer, D 2012, ‘Using Social Media Data Aggregators to Do Social Research’, Sociological Research Online vol. 17, no. 3, retrieved from  on June 25, 2014.

Bosch, T 2009, ‘Using online social networking for teaching and learning: Facebook use at the University of Cape Town’, Communicatio: South African Journal For Communication Theory And Research, vol. 35, no. 2, pp. 185–200.

Gidley, B 2012, ‘Doing historical and documentary research’, in Seale, C Researching Society and Culture, Sage Publications, London.

Hargittai, E 2007, ‘Whose Space? Differences Among Users and Non-Users of Social Network Sites’, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, vol. 13, no. 1, pp. 276–297.

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Postmes, T , Spears, R & Lea, M 2000, ‘The formation of group norms in computer-mediated communication’ Human Communication Research, vol. 26, no. 3, pp. 341–371.

Rivas, C 2012, ‘Coding and analyzing qualitative data’, in C Seale. (ed.), Researching Society and Culture, Sage Publications, London.

Seale, C & Tonkiss, F 2012, ‘Content and comparative keyword analysis’, in C. Seale (ed.), Researching Society and Culture, Sage Publications, London.

Tong, S, Van Der Heide, B, Langwell, L & Walther, J 2008, ‘Too Much of a Good Thing? The Relationship Between Number of Friends and Interpersonal Impressions on Facebook’, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, vol. 13, no. 3, pp. 531–549.

Van Aelst, P & Walgrave, S  2002, ‘New media, new movements? The role of the internet in shaping the ‘anti-globalization’ movement ‘, Information, Communication Society, vol. 5, no. 4, pp. 465—493.

Zhao, Y (2007), ‘After Mobile Phones, What? Re-embedding the Social in China’s “Digital Revolution”’, International Journal of Communication, vol. 1, pp. 92-120.

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