14Researching and Reporting in the Information SocietyCarolyne LeeThe crucial skills in this post-industrial ‘information economy’ (Barr 2000; Castells 1997) are those of research and writing: the ability to find information, the ability to synthesise information and the ability to present that information for other people.Ina Bertrand and Peter Hughes1In time of trouble, I had been trained since childhood, read, learn, work it up, go to the literature. Information was control.Joan Didion2The Why and What of ResearchAs I have made clear in other chapters of this book, it is important to read in the genre in which you want to write. In the genre covered in this chapter, it is quite impossible to ignore what others have written on your topic if you want to write a successful research report.Of course, your ‘research’ will also often include empirical work—frequently referred to as ‘fieldwork’. If you are a student in, say, a Media and Communications course, you might be required to
Word Bytes184analyse a body of material gathered from media or cultural products. This is your empirical work or fieldwork, and could comprise news-paper articles written over one week on a certain topic, for example. Or you might need to analyse illustrations of celebrities in popular magazines to see whether what is offered is the representation of a certain type of body (for example, extremely slim bodies). In such a scenario, a lecturer might ask students to use one or more of various research methods to try and formulate some explanations of what it is that readers are being offered in these articles or illustrations.Empirical or Fieldwork Research MethodsThere are numerous research methods, each with its own specific his-tory and usage. The methods most commonly used in social science based disciplines at undergraduate level are content, or quantitative, analysis and one or more forms of qualitative analysis. Qualitative methods include those such as discourse analysis (a close analysis of the language used, based on linguistic principles), as well as the more specialised research methods of semiotics, visual analysis, interviews, and observations (of the production of a radio show, or a newsroom, for example). While once these two types of methods—quantitative and qualitative—were thought to be poles apart, with each group of theorists possessing completely different world views, and arguing for the supremacy of their method and the inadequacy of the other, in recent decades most researchers have come to recognise the benefit of using both quantitative and qualitative methods together. This is often referred to as ‘triangulation’, which simply means that a more complete picture of a particular object or phenomenon can be obtained by using completely different, but often complementary, methods of viewing or measuring it.
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