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Research Methods to Be Used in the Dissertation

Outline

  • Introduction
  • Structured interview
  • Techniques utilized in structured interviews
  • Researches that have applied structured interviews
  • Strengths and weaknesses of using structured interviews
  • The case study method
  • Techniques and processes used in case studies
  • History / traditions of using case studies
  • Strengths and weaknesses of the method
  • Application of case studies in public relations
  • Conclusion
  • References

Introduction

The paper is a summary of two methods that will be utilised in the subsequent dissertation. These two methods were guided by the two research questions i.e. ‘How much is the effectiveness of evaluating public relations on quality of service?’ and ‘what are the roles of pubic relations in improving quality levels?’ The research methods are primary research approaches and they can also be classified as descriptive and co relational. Personal interviews and the case study approach were chosen as the most feasible. These will be analysed below

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Structured interview

This method was chosen in order to tackle the second research question/ objective i.e. ‘What are the roles of public relations in improving quality levels?’ the latter research objective can be classified as descriptive research. Upon successful completion of the research, the interviews should be able to give possible answers or descriptions on the role of public relations in quality level improvement.

An interview is a form of qualitative research that is often designed to give in depth information about a certain topic. Interviews are designed in such a way that they provide researchers with plenty of information from small numbers of subjects. (This can be contrasted to quantitative researches where minimal information is obtained from a wide array of subjects). (Huberman 2004: 45)

After collection of information through the interview process, it is often common to employ hermeneutic methods to analyse the material. The latter term refers to the process of establishing interrelatedness among answers by looking at the holistic picture brought out in the research. It should be noted that there are very few individuals who can be regarded as objective subjects in interviews even when they are experts in their respective fields. In fact a number of people have defined interviews as being “the process of exploring the opinions, beliefs and knowledge of a certain individual” if it is found that the latter three parameters are common among a wide array of the respondents, then a reasonable pattern can be established and a conclusion made on the matter.

While there are numerous types of interviews in literature today, this dissertation will employ structured interviews. Here, a list of questions will be written and all the respondents will be asked the same set of questions. No deviations are permissible here, however, in the event that the interviewee is straying away from the question or when the interviewee has given an unclear answer then the interviewer will seek clarification on these matters. Nonetheless, “the interviewer must try at all costs to be as objective as one can possibly be.” (Patton1997: 59)

Techniques utilized in structured interviews

There are two major steps that must be covered in this process. Firstly, the research’s content must be obtained. This is one of the most important but easy aspects in carrying out the interview because it is what the interviewee actually says. In other words, care must be taken to ensure that everything the interviewee explains is captured. This is accurately done through a secondary device such as a tape recorder. In the research dissertation, a tape recorder will be used so as to ascertain that the unreliability of the interviewer’s memory or summarized words is not encountered.

The second aspect that must be considered when carrying out the interview is the process. This part is a bit more difficult but just as important as the content part. Here one ought to look in depth into the answers offered by respondents even when the answers were not communicated through oral methods. For instance, one can consider the body language of the interviewer i.e. whether the answers one is giving correspond to the kind of non verbal communication that a respondent is using. The process is actually a look into how an interviewee answers questions rather than what the interviewee is actually saying.

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These observations are essential in enriching, confirming or contradicting certain statements made by the interviewee. All this effort ought to contribute towards the overall outcome and conclusion given after completing the interview. There are certain questions that may assist an interviewer when trying to do this and they include;

  • What contradictions has the interviewer presented in the interview?
  • Is the surrounding affecting some of the responses?
  • Is the speaker talking loudly, softly, clearly or incoherently?
  • How is the information given in earlier pieces of the interview related to subsequent parts?
  • What kind of body language is the respondent showing?
  • Are the responses logical, doubtful, convincing or confused?

These questions are important in assessing whether the answers given in the interview are accurate and reliable. (Patton1997: 66)

The latter issues provide a more holistic concept into the interview process. However, there ought to be an examination of some of the technical aspect as well. First, an interviewer needs to establish rapport between oneself and the respondents. This is usually done by being polite, friendly and professional. Aside from that, one can engage in small talk prior to the interview process by discussing light subjects such as the weather or transport.

After building rapport, one should then describe the project that one is supposed to carry out to the respondent. Here, the interviewee should be told about the background of the interviewer i.e. public relations and then more descriptions should be given to the type of study to be done; in this case, the study is an independent one that is being done in order to contribute towards attainment of a Masters degree. Also, details about the actual interview should be given prior to carrying it out so that the respondent may know its duration, its purpose and other similar issues. It should be noted that the latter two steps can be carried out prior to the onset of the interview through a phone call.

Informed consent is another important component of the interview process. This is part of the ethical requirements for any research. For the case of this research, the informed consent will be written down and will contain an allowance for the respondent’s signature. Also, the consent form will tell the respondent that a tape recorder will be used and that the information given will be quoted or used in the subsequent dissertation. (Patton1997: 76)

After the latter issues, then the interview itself can begin. At this point, a series of techniques will be applied so as to gain maximum benefits from the interview. Clarification is one such technique where the speaker will be expected to clarify or explain certain elements. Also, reflection will be essential when carrying out the interview where some ideas that the respondent will have used earlier will act as guides in answering other more complicated questions.

Besides this, the interview will include some comments from the interviewer where personal ideas and feelings are brought into the conversation. Spurring is highly important in interviews since it causes the speaker to be challenged or to stay interested in the interview. This can normally be done through the use of certain phrases such as “But don’t you agree that….’. Lastly summary skills will be essential in the interview because this entails recapping back what the speaker has just said so as to confirm that the message behind his / her utterances have been properly understood. Here words such as “in, other words, what you are trying to say is…”(Huberman 2004: 24)

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After carrying out the major parts of the interview, one is expected to end it. This should be done in an organized manner and not just abruptly. Here, the interviewee will be asked about any questions that he or she may possess with regard to the interview. It should be noted that taking notes is still an important element as there may be some things that could not have been noted by the tape recorder.

Researches that have applied structured interviews

Place Katie (2009) carried out research entitled “Public relations practitioners and power control.” Paper presented at the NCA 93rd Convention. She utilized this method alongside others in completing her paper. The study’s main purpose was to find out the role of public relations in an organisation’s power structures. The author looked at how public relations are understood by managers and practitioners, how it is these public relations managers are able to communicate to other stakeholders within organisations and how they maintain power.

The researcher selected a number of practitioners within the public relations field and then carried out structured interviews to meet her objectives. The results indicated that relationship building, knowledge, group based and tools based strategies were instrumental in sustaining power among public relations experts. The latter study is related to this particular research because both of them entail establishing a relationship between public relations and some aspect of the organisation.

In Katie’s (2009) research, her research involved a second variable (the first is public relations) known as power maintenance while in this specific research, the second variable is organisational quality. Since the latter paper was accepted in the public relations community, after employing structured interviews, then it is also likely that the same will occur for this dissertation.

Strengths and weaknesses of using structured interviews

Structured interviews are quite advantageous because they save on time since the interviewer will not deviate into other subject areas as there are set questions to guide the interview process. Aside from that, the latter approach provides a one on one basis for interaction between the researcher and the respondent. Consequently, there are tremendous opportunities in which one can assess the participant’s responses in a way that would not be possible if there was no face to face interaction.

Besides that, clarifications can be done vey easily for vague answers. Structured interviews can be generalised to larger populations because the questions are systematic or uniform. Besides that, structured interviews carried out personally usually produce much higher response rates than those ones that questionnaires mailed to respondents do.

One of the major weaknesses of any interview process is that there may be inaccuracy as a result of researcher’s bias. The answers are analyzed solely by the interviewer and they heavily rely on his interpretations of certain things. Aside from that, interacting directly with a participant could cause the latter to become nervous or be confused about the topic hence producing inaccurate answers. Some respondents often lie in order to make themselves appear more positive in the eyes of the interviewer.

This may also occur in the event that a respondent lacks knowledge a bout a certain topic. At the end of an interview, researchers need to realize that all their doing is collecting the opinions or knowledge of other individuals and that expertise depends on one’s interpretation of it. It should also be noted that certain demographic features may interfere with the interview; for instance, if the respondent chosen is of certain age group or gender, then answers may be altered in order to accommodate those factors. Structured interviews can go a long way towards obtaining information about the role of public relations in improving quality levels

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The case study method

This method can contribute towards bringing some insight about a certain issue that seems complicated. In this regard, it can strengthen pre-existing information about the role of public relations while in other circumstances; it may be useful in bringing to light some new revelations. Additionally, case studies can provide contextual analysis of a certain parameter. Stake (1998: 48) defines case study research as “the investigation of a specific phenomenon within its real context through empirical inquiry” usually, this approach is necessary when the relationship between the phenomenon and its context are not properly understood.

For this research dissertation, case study analysis will be essential in answering the first research question / objective i.e. “how much is the effectiveness of evaluating public relations on quality service?” as it can be seen the latter research question is co relational because it will be attempting to find out the link between evaluation of public relations and quality of service. Case study experts normally agree that the method is best used for dealing with research questions that begin with ‘how’ or ‘why’.

Techniques and processes used in case studies

The first step in carrying out this methodology is selection of the cases to be analysed. This may involve the utilisation of certain boundaries in order to determine which group, organisation or person will provide the most reasonable answers to the research questions. Besides this, it may be essential to understand whether the purpose of the cases will be to look for unique attributes or to look for typical occurrences that can be generalised to larger groups. In this research’s case, the latter scenario would be more preferable than the former one.

After selecting a case, one should then think of the most effective tools that can be used in analysing a certain case. There are a series of techniques to choose from but for this dissertation, it would be more effective to carry out document reviews. Here, there will be a thorough analysis of the organisation chosen. An examination of their quality of service and public relations evaluations will be carried out so as to find out how these two parameters are related. These documents will be collected from the chosen companies after obtaining consent. While some of this information may be available within the public domain, there are still certain crucial pieces of data that can only be found within secure local company intranets or in certain files stored within those respective firms. (Stake 1998: 8).

One should ensure that a number of things have been carried out through this respective case study and they include

  • Adherence to time deadlines
  • Adherence to research protocols
  • Adherence to field procedures
  • An ability to link different aspects related to the research questions
  • Flexibility during data gathering
  • A thorough understanding of the gaol of this research.

Data should be written down as it is being obtained and then stored in order to ascertain that the two issues have been merged together. Also, one’s ability to stay focused on the issue and the evidence is quite important in this step. (Yin 2004: 65)

History / traditions of using case studies

Case studies have had fluctuating use over the past years in literature; there were times when they were intensely used while there were other decades in which the methodology was shunned. The earliest use of this research method is in the continent of Europe and particularly in France. During the early twentieth century, the method was known for its application within the Chicago University in the field of sociology. At that time, Chicago was undergoing a huge cultural transformation as it recorded one of the highest numbers of immigrants within the United States. Consequently, they provided a platform for the study of a series of social issues such as unemployment, poverty and crime. (Yin 2004: 106)

Prior to the year 1935, there were several problems that began emanating out of the use of this method. The period was also marked by a need to make social research more scientific. Proponents of the latter approach debated with Chicago University staff to pay no attention to case study research and they eventually won. So people stopped using this method for roughly thirty years until they entered into the sixties.

At that time, quantitative methods were seen as limiting and these limitations eventually directed attention back to case studies. Their use continued until the nineties when there were some arguments claiming that the use of single cases made it difficult for researchers to generalise them to an entire population. However, other experts argued that if the method was utilised after establishing one’s parameters sufficiently, then its application to two, five or 400 cases was not important as the set criteria has already been adhered to. As long as one constructs a case with accurate rigor, then the method can be applied elsewhere.

Literature illustrates that case studies have been used in almost all fields of study. For example, in medicine, the method has been used to provide a greater understanding about a certain disease. A number of educational programs initiated by the government have been studied through this approach. Also, other areas such as social research have also embraced this mode. (Yin 2004: 143)

Strengths and weaknesses of the method

Case study research can be treated as a compliment to scientific experimentation. Since this method has been used effectively in scientific research, then one can apply a certain case study to another non scientific area if one feels the need to do so. Another important strength of this method of research is that it embraces the complexity theory. In this theory, it is postulated that a whole is not just a summation of parts as the case is with quantitative research. The case study method takes advantage of the dynamism, patterns and comprehensiveness of different aspects that make up the ‘whole’.

One of the major weaknesses of case studies is that they cannot be replicated. If another researcher is to come to the same organisation as the one chosen in this desertion, a number of external and internal factors will have changed in that organisation and it would therefore be difficult to affirm whether the research is valid or not. However, case study proponents respond to this assertion by stating that what matters is not unit analysis per se – it is the use of the same theory for replication.

Another major weakness of this research approach is its inability to deal with diversity or large ranges; an aspect that is quite prevalent in experimental research or quasi experimental research. In the latter cases, researches tend to use randomised subjects thus making it quite easy to lay claim over a wide range. This makes the research more generalisable. However, case study adherents claim that generalisation can be strengthened in case studies either by replicating the research or by scientific selection of the cases. (Stake 1998: 203).

Application of case studies in public relations

Laurel, Garvin and Tetsura, Katerina (2007) carried out a research entitled “Public relations theory and development in South Korea. Paper presented at the 93rd Convention. In this article, the authors wanted to find out how global public relations were carried out through a case study of Walmart South Korea. They compared different aspects of public relations in the US branches and in the North Korean branches so as to see how it was interpreted.

They found that in South Korea, Walmart employees regarded it as a managerial function while in the US, public relations was seen as an effort to establish relationships with the community. Through a case study of Walmart, the research was able to achieve its objectives of understanding global public relations. Similarly, the same method can be used in the research dissertation so as to find out how public relations evaluation is related to quality service.

Conclusion

Case study analysis and structured interviews were chosen as the preferred forms of research because they solve different research dilemmas. One of the research questions was correlational and therefore needed a deep contextual analysis which is best served through the use of structured interviews. The other research question is a descriptive one and it can best be analysed through structured interviews.

References

Yin, R. (2004). Case study research: methods and design. California: Sage publishers.

Stake, E. (1998). Case study research as an art. Thousand Oaks: Garland publishers.

Patton, M. (1997). Qualitative evaluation methods. Metuchen: Scarecrow Publishers.

Huberman, M. (2004). Qualitative data analysis. Norwood Ablex.

Place, K. (2007). “Public relations practitioners and power control.” Paper presented at the NCA 93rd Convention.

Laurel, G. and Tetsura, K. (2007). “Public relations theory and development in South Korea.” Paper presented at the 93rd Convention.

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