Or perhaps all you saw was check marks on an attitude

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being verbally aggressive perhaps. Or perhaps all you saw was check marks on an attitude rating scale, from which you infer an attitude. Where is the attitude itself? Is there, in fact, such as thing as an attitude? Ontological questions for communication scholars include “To what extent do we make real choices?” For example, is your decision to attend class voluntary or not? Is human experience primarily individual or societal—what would you know of the world and of yourself if you had no interaction with other people? Is communication contextual or universal—does a smile always mean the same thing, or does the meaning depend on who is smiling and under what conditions? Starting From the Work of Others
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Starting a research project without regard to the work of others is risky business. You run the risk of doing research that has already been done and therefore making no new contribution to knowledge. You will also miss out on knowing about especially relevant research methods, advances in research, and findings that might help you. Most importantly, perhaps, you will miss out on knowing about “good research”—the research that most scholars agree is well designed, is professionally executed, and makes a significant contribution to knowledge. The easiest way to join the community of scholars who share your interests is to use your academic libraries regularly. Academic journals ( serials ) record in the form of articles and letters ongoing conversations among researchers. They are admittedly conversations punctuated by lengthy periods of silence as we wait for the next issue of a journal to come out, but browsing communication journals regularly will keep you up to speed with current research and ideas in your interest area. Chapter 4 discusses this essential starting point in more detail. Firming Up Questions Getting started often requires that you identify key constructs and operationalize them. Constructs are ideas or concepts. Operationalizing them means to define them in such a way that they can be measured. For example, let’s suppose that you are interested in the relationship between playing video games and academic performance. You observe individuals who are heavily involved in such games. You conclude inductively that such people keep weird hours and some have peculiar personal habits, but that could be true for any group of people, gamers or not. Deductively, you reason through to two contrary conclusions. First, time spent on gaming must detract from time spent on studying. Therefore, gaming must be detrimental to academic performance. On the other hand, gaming appears to need mental agility, the ability to think fast and to make decisions, and imagination. Deductively, it seems that gaming ought to have a positive effect on academic performance. You have identified two important ideas or constructs—involvement in gaming and academic performance. You think that there is a relationship between them; you’re just not sure what that relationship is.
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