Research Methods

I believe research methods are tools for generating evidence for the claims we make about the world.  Some of the questions we ask are best answered through quantitative methods whereas others should be pursued with qualitative methods.  I use both types of methods (my dissertation was based on a monstrous 18-page questionnaire that generated even larger piles of structural equation modeling results), and some of my work is mixed method, but I gravitate toward the sorts of questions that are illuminated through interviews and discourse analysis.

The Multidimensional Evaluation of Social Support instrument:

Goldsmith, D. J., & Griscom, A. (in press).  Multidimensional evaluation of social support.  In D. L. Worthington & G. Bodie (Eds.), Sourcebook of listening. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.

The Multidimensional Evaluation of Enacted Social Support (Goldsmith, McDermott, & Alexander, 2000) measures three distinct evaluations of enacted social support:  problem-solving utility, relational assurance, and emotional awareness.  The scale is comprised of 12 semantic differential items scaled on 7-points and can be self-administered by participants or used by outside observers to evaluate a message or conversation.  The scales demonstrate consistently high reliability, and construct validity has been evidenced through confirmatory factor analysis. The measure was developed using student and community participants and has since been utilized in a variety of populations and situations, including students contemplating responses to an HIV disclosure or discussing bullying with a family member, elders discussing future care needs with adult children, and cancer survivors reflecting on advice they received.

Goldsmith, D. J., McDermott, V. M., & Alexander, S. C. (2000).  Helpful, supportive, and sensitive: Measuring the evaluation of enacted social support in personal relationships.  Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 17, 369-391.

Several recent studies have sought to identify characteristics of better and worse attempts at support provision; however, there has been little explicit theoretical attention to the ways in which recipients evaluate enacted support. We developed a multidimensional scale to measure these evaluations. Study 1 asked 122 adults to interpret the meaning of three adjectives (helpful, supportive, sensitive) used in previous research. Although the meanings of these terms overlap, respondents associated helpful with problem-solving utility, supportive with relational assurance, and sensitivity with emotional awareness. Study 2 asked 396 students to rate a recalled conversation on 30 semantic-differential-type scales derived from Study 1. These ratings provided a basis for selecting 12 items to form valid and reliable scales of problem-solving utility, relational assurance, and emotional awareness. Study 3 provides independent validation of factor structure, scale reliability and validity, and conceptual distinctiveness. We discuss a variety of research questions for which this multidimensional scale may be a useful tool.

Consensual Coding for “Openness” 

Goldsmith, D. J., & Miller, G. (2015).  Should I tell you how I feel? A mixed method analysis of couples’ talk about cancer.  Journal of Applied Communication Research, 43, 273-293.

Couples coping with cancer are often told to talk about feelings, yet there is limited theoretical, empirical, or intervention research to justify this advice. We interviewed 19 patients and 16 partners about their communication. In a mixed methods analysis, we found talk about feelings was associated with distress and functioning, even after controlling for marital satisfaction, perceived constraint from discussing cancer, or physical functioning; however, patients and partners who focused on feelings and personal issues had worse outcomes than those who focused on facts and medical issues. Through qualitative analysis, we found multiple ways to cope that did not require talking about feelings as well as ways that higher levels of distress affected talk about feelings. Our findings suggest we should reconsider advice to couples, encouraging multiple ways of communicating, and considering contextual factors that influence the timing and desirability of talk about feelings.

Goldsmith, D. J., & Miller, G. (2014).  Conceptualizing how couples talk about cancer.  Health Communication, 29, 51-63.

Scholarship on couple communication about cancer employs variable conceptualizations of communication, and common measurement strategies make questionable assumptions about communication. This study provides a descriptive foundation for a multiple-topic, multidimensional approach to studying couple talk about cancer. Based on interviews with persons treated for cancer in the last 5 years and partners, we identified 16 topics and 5 dimensions of talk. “Talk about cancer” covers a broad range of issues. The frequency, openness, difficulty, and focus of talk vary considerably for different topics and can change over time or differ between partners. Disagreements were rare but highly salient, and satisfaction with talk tended to be high. These findings suggest we move away from abstract, general measures of couple communication and that we develop descriptive advice for couples, rather than simply prescribing “be open.”

In-depth Interviews in Health Communication Research

Donovan, E., Miller, L., & Goldsmith, D. J.  (2014). “Tell me about a time when…”: Studying health communication through in-depth interviews. In B. Whaley (Ed.), Research methods in health communication: Principles and applications (pp. 21-40). Taylor & Francis.

This chapter discusses the depth interview in health communication research.  We review the theoretical underpinnings of interview methodologies and their implications for studying messages about health and describe some attributes of research problems for which interviews are an appropriate methodological choice. After providing an overview of some procedural considerations, we articulate several of the primary strengths, limitations, and challenges of this type of research strategy. Throughout the chapter, we share lessons that we have learned when conducting our research and engaging with others’ work. We also provide descriptions of contemporary scholarship exemplars that, with the help of good interviews, have contributed to health communication theory and practice with fi ndings that may have gone otherwise undetected.

Teaching Empirical Research Methods 

Parks, M.R., Faw, M., & Goldsmith, D.J. (2011).  Undergraduate instruction in empirical research methods in communication:  Assessment and recommendations.  Communication Education, 60, 406-421.

This study assesses the current state of undergraduate instruction in empirical research methods in communication and offers recommendations for enhancing such instruction. Responses to an online questionnaire were received from 149 communication-related programs at four-year colleges and universities. Just over 85% of responding programs offered an empirical methods course. Although the course often covered both qualitative and quantitative methods, instruction was heavily slanted toward quantitative methods and topics common to both qualitative and quantitative inquiry. The empirical methods course was usually required for graduation, but it was typically not well integrated with the rest of the curriculum and taken late in students’ undergraduate careers. Additional analyses examined staffing and class sizes as well as the most common topics and activities. Four recommendations are advanced for enhanced instruction in empirical methods in communication research. These were evaluated in light of feedback from respondents to the original questionnaire.

Research as Argument

Goldsmith, D. J., & Fulfs, P. A. (1999).  “You just don’t have the evidence”: An analysis of claims and evidence in Deborah Tannen’s You Just Don’t Understand.  In M. E. Roloff (Ed.), Communication Yearbook 22 (pp. 1-49). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

This chapter analyzes how scholars used Tannen’s best-selling book as evidence for their claims about gender and communication and then discusses why these citation patterns are problematic, given the Tannen’s evidence and arguments in the book.

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