A COMPARISON OF QUANTITATIVE AND QUALITATIVE APPROACHES TO COMMUNICATIONS RESEARCH
Heath has noted that the complexity of human communication is the factor that most distinguishes us from other species on the planet. As Heath puts it:
Communication is one of the perspectives that gives us the most insight into human nature. Human beings are "symbol users," as well as "symbol makers" and "symbol misusers."...People communicate to manage interpersonal relationships, express feelings, share views of reality, and disseminate informative and persuasive messages through media. Through words, great and magnificent cities are created, problems of health and famine are solved, and great dramas and comedies are written. Words and other symbols allow people to plumb the depths of their souls as well as those of their friends and enemies. People share ideas in order to work together. They can plan and operate complex business, nonprofit, and governmental organizations that span the globe. (p. 2)
It is this complexity factor that makes research into human communication processes a significant and important endeavor. The purpose of this paper is to delineate, discuss, and compare three types of communication research; Rhetorical and Experimental Research which are both quantitative approaches and naturalistic research which is a qualitative approach. The paper ends with a series of conclusions about the three approaches formulated on the basis of the material covered.
The Approaches, Their Aims and Issues of Replicability and Generalization
Pierce (2003) reports the rhetorical approach to communication research often collects quantitative data in which it attempts to determine the relationship between one thing (an independent variable) and another (a dependent or outcome variable) in a population. For example, a researcher might examine advertising rhetoric to determine whether audiences of different ages are differentially per...