Sociological Research in Media Representations

Introduction: On the Sociological Research

A sociological research is one of the experiments that can be carried out with the help of different means and from a number of viewpoints and aspects. Among the most widespread ones, the media representations and the sociological research can be spotted; each provides quite similar account of the phenomenon or people in question, yet each seeks its own means to offer the investigation results; point being, the two means of representing sociological problems offer their own approach to specific phenomena, which predetermines the necessity to compare and contrast the tools which the given methods of research make use of, the specific features of each methods of research, the differences and the similarities between the two, and the ways in which the results are introduced. In addition, since the means and the aims of the two methods of conducting the sociological research are highly likely to prove considerably different, there are sufficient grounds to suspect that the outcomes of the research conducted with the help of media and academic sources may differ, which calls for a comparison of the possible results of the two.

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Sociological Research in Media Representations

There can be no doubt that media representations are one of the few ways in which the population is able to find out about the major scientific findings and the results of the most important researches, both concerning the sphere of sciences and humanities. Therefore, it can be concluded that the main function of a media representation is to inform the citizen of a given country on the most essential discoveries in science and to introduce the new course of actions concerning the given issue to the people. Hence, it can be deduced that the most essential features of any media representation are its clarity, simplicity and efficacy, which these possess, as a rule. However, there are certain controversies concerning media representations of scientific findings to be considered.

Stereotypes in Media Research

Being the “categories and images that are sued to present groups and activities to media audiences, which influence the way we think about these activities and groups” (Browne, 2006, p.207), media research is one of the easiest ways to deliver specific research results to the population. However it cannot be denied that media representations require improvements concerning the sphere of social groups perception.

According to what Browne (2006) says, the latter are viewed in quite a controversial way: “Media representations very often conform to and create stereotypes – generalized, oversimplified views of the features of a social group, allowing for few individual differences between members of the group” (p.207). Hence, it can be concluded that a media representation of the research results is likely to suffer objectivity and contribute to coining stereotypes in the society, which is highly undesirable.

However, it must be admitted that some of the clichés introduced in the media representations concerning sociological research are quite positive. For instance, the portrayal of middle class often possesses the most positive features, shaping people’s ideas of the middle class as the golden mean of the modern society, as Browne (2006) emphasizes (p.207). With the help of the given images, economical and financial situation within the country can improve considerably.

Taking the media information offered by WendyB (2010), one can see clearly that the data introduced in the given media representation reflects the widespread gender prejudices and even contributes to their enforcement. One of the most obvious features is the cast of colors, namely, the blue for men and the pink for women. In addition, the text makes efficient use of widespread stereotypes, like “I’m not some sissy boy” for men and “I just want to eat ice-cream and cry myself to sleep” (WendyB, 2010).

Nevertheless, media portrayals of the sociological research results often contribute to shaping the negative opinion concerning certain social groups or ethnicities. As Browne (2006) explains, the given means of introducing the research results often involve negative portrayals of working class, as well as certain social groups, especially the ones formed by the youth and usually labeled as “problem groups” (p.207).

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Losing Some of the Results on the Way

Whenever speaking of a sociological research, people presuppose the coverage of a vast amount of issues and considering a problematic issue from a number of aspects, which means that every single element of the research must be taken into account and reported about. However, when a sociological research results are delivered with the help of the media sources, scientists have to skip certain issues that make the research three-dimensional and resort to a plainer vision of their achievements. Taking WendyB’s (2010) report as a striking example of media representation of scientific research, one can see distinctly that the report operates only the numbers concerning men-to-women rates of depression in correspondence with various situations and scenarios, without mentioning precise numbers of merely the general number of those who have been questioned.

Thus, when touching upon the features of a media representation of the sociological paper results, one must take into account the relatively little amount of information to offer to the public. According to the evidence provided by Hammersley (2006), the models provided for offering the public the research results, namely, the distribution and the completion models, involve metaphorical elements, making the perception of the information complicated: “Both the distribution and completion models are metaphorical, and even the best metaphors only illuminate some aspects of a phenomenon, and potentially include irrelevant or misleading features” (Hammersley, 2006, p.169).

Judging from the aforementioned, the delivery of clear and concise research results to the population with the help of mass media does not allow sufficient precision of the data, thus, depriving people of considerable amount of facts and even providing them with the misleading information. Contrasting with an academic representation of the sociological research results, the given feature can be considered a result of the adaptation of the scientific research conclusions to the media. Nevertheless, because of the specifics of the media representation, which must offer concise and clear data, the given problem seems an inevitable part and parcel of a research presentation.

When Accuracy Is Completely Scientific

Unlike an academic representation of the sociological research results, which are precise and all-embracing, a media introduction of the sociological research discoveries often lack certain accuracy which has been sacrificed for the sake of the research attractiveness for the general public. Hence, another essential feature of a mass media representation of the academic findings is its objectivity and completeness, which is relatively weak and cannot be compared to the one of the academic interpretation of the research results.

Considering the report offered by WendyB (2010), one must mark that, despite the accurate percentage of the men and women who are apt to be depressed in certain situations, the report fails to deliver the entire range of the factors that have sufficient impact on men and women, driving then to the state of depression. What WendyB does is merely making a list of the factors and their results:

“Top reasons for depression in men:

  • Divorce
  • Unemployment
  • Forced retirement
  • Separation from close family members” (WendyB (2010)).

It is essential to mention that, choosing the given means of introducing the results of a sociological research presupposes sacrificing the accuracy of the research and the detailed reports concerning the findings of the scientists. Therefore, the given means of introducing the research results lacks in its veracity to a considerable extent.

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As Hamersley (2006) explains, the degree of accuracy of the data offered to the public depends mainly on the initial source, namely, the layout of the conclusions in the research itself; without the proper enumeration of the major findings, the media representation of the results faces the threat of being jumbled and hard to understand for the public. However, once approached in the correct way, the media representation will offer a clear and concise report:

As I indicated earlier, if we treat the Review as simply a list of findings, and treat accurate reporting as the reporting of any of the findings included in the Review and its summaries, then there is quite a high level of accuracy in most media reports (p.144)

Judging from the above-mentioned, media representations are supposed to offer rather generalized information; otherwise the data will presumably be distorted due to the specifics of the given method. Designed for the public to have the clearest vision of the research findings, media reports on the scientific discoveries offer high degree of precision, yet involve a brief description of the findings, without going into details, which demands thorough comments and explanations from the researcher and an extensive academic part of the research.

Sociological Research as an Academic Writing

Another of the integral part of a sociological research, the academic writing itself offers a range of features that are strikingly different from the ones of a media representation and pursue quite different goals. Needless to mention, while a media representation of the research results deals with the visuals and the audio part of the research (if any), the academic writing itself is the foundation of the conducted exploration. Hence, it is necessary to consider the features of the academic writing and compare them to the ones of a media representation. Once outlining the main elements that the academic representation of a sociologic investigation is comprised of, one is able to come up with the comments on the features of each and the ways in which they are linked to each other.

Arresting the Public’s Attention: The Language

When speaking about the major differences between the media and academic representation of the research findings, the language issue comes to the fore immediately. Since academic writing does not presuppose the use of colorful vocabulary, metaphors and idioms, as well as the rest of the linguistic devices that allow to introduce a tint of beauty into the paper, while media representation does, an academic presentation might happen to be quite boring. However, there are specific means that allow to make the mood of the paper less stiff. As Chaplin (2002) explains, the language of social research has changed over decades into a less prim manner of delivering the results. Nevertheless, the language of an academic writing remains rather dry, which is a reason for the papers to be considered less emotional and appealing than the media representations:

Although both Krieger and Bluebond-Langner use unusual textual forms to present their research findings, discussion of textual forms, per se, takes place only in the introductions and appendices of their accounts. Almost a decade later, McCall and Becker put discussion of textual form centre-stage; and furthermore they enact their discussion. They explain that although their performances in the past have focused on the presentation of the research data, this one is about performance science itself, and not about the theatre. (p.252)

To demonstrate the efficient use of the language in an academic writing, it would be a good idea to consider the work by Murakumi (2002). Taking a sample of the author’s writing is enough to understand the peculiarities of style and mark the elements that contribute to the readability of the text: “There have been numerous studies conducted within cultures and cross-culturally in order to identify depressive symptoms in both men and women” (27). Judging by the given excerpt, the text is rather dry, which the Passive Voice certifies. However, Murakumi (2002) also tries to make the paper more expressive by asking questions: “Why are so many more women than men depressed?” (27).

Hence, it must be admitted that, in contrast to the media representation, the academic one does not allow changing the dry scientific manner. Despite the attempts to change the stiff style, the latter remains stable. Although the style of academic writing lacks in vivacity, it allows to offer reasonable argumentation and conclusions with a difference.

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On the Importance of the Supporting Material

Compared to the visuals, the written part of the research that introduces the problem to the audience, defines the basic notions and seeks the means to solve the given issues includes a number of elements that provide essential information, yet are far from being impressive and are unlikely to trigger the audience’s attention. Hence, it is important to provide the theoretical issues and the personal observations in such a way so as to produce the maximum impression on the public.

Because of the need to combine the theory and the practical application of the obtained knowledge, the academic representation of the research findings allows to dwell upon the theoretical issues and the practical applications of the existing theories, which makes the academic representation of the research findings more up to the point and makes the textual part of the research crucial for the presentation.

Murakumi (2002) comprises the theory and the practical part in rather efficient way, yet the theoretical issues still hinder the ease of perception, adding certain stiffness to the style. For instance, the author quotes Hammen and Peter, yet also refers to the results of the research conducted by the latter (28).

Even though, technically, the academic report makes an integral part of the research results delivery, it is obvious that, in the course of the explanations and the comments on the major finds, the audience is most likely to pay attention to the visuals and the rest of the media materials used in the research representation.

Hence, the textual part of the representation is of fundamental importance, yet, unlike the media representation, it contains a number of elements that do not provide the necessary impression, even though serving essential links in the chain of the argument. Therefore, one of the major differences between the media and the academic representation of the research is the necessity to offer the precise and essential information in the former and pick the entertaining elements for conveying the issues of the latter. As Denzin (2009) comments,

Two fundamental problems confront the sociologist as he moves from theory to observations. First, observations with direct relevance for theory must be collected. If they are not, theoretical revisions, modifications, and verifications are restricted, and subsequent research activities become after-the-act attempts to establish what should have been initially present – theoretically relevant observations. (p.81)

Thus, the academic aspect of the research representation necessarily involves the combination of theory and practice. Hence, the objectivity of the research is achieved, and the verified data is represented. Unlike the academic representation, the one involving media does not presuppose the interrelation of the two aspects.

Theory and Observations: The Tipping Point

Dealing with the multiple aspects of the academic representation of the research results and offering them for the public observation, one must mark that the contingency of the research and the practical application of the given results must be represented in both the media and the academic representation of the research results.

Disregarding the specifics of the media style and the peculiarities of the academic representation of the research findings, such elements as the theoretical approaches and the practical application of the latter are a must for a successful representation of the sociologic research results. Hence, the practice records are to be present in the commentaries on the results. However, it is worth marking that in most cases, these are the academic representations that convey the contingency between the theoretical and the practical elements. As Carter, Ivanič, Lillis & Parkin (2009) emphasize,

The post-modern awareness of the contingency of academic accounts and the power relations that underlie their claims to authority has been accompanied by debates, across a range of disciplines, about praxis, the link between research and practice, and between academic and everyday knowledges. (p.72)

Therefore, comparing the media representations of the research results and the academic means of delivering the research conclusions to the world, one must emphasize the necessity to balance between the theoretical and the practical parts. The delivery of each of the aspects is crucial for both the academic writing and the media, which bridges the two means of representation. Taking Murakumi’s paper (2002) as an example, it is necessary to emphasize that the author the paper lacks the practical evidence, while the theoretical part is profound and solid. Hence, it is evident that in an academic representation of the social research results, one must comprise the theoretical issues and their application to reality, in contrast to the example offered by Muracumi (2002).


Judging from the above-mentioned examples, there are considerable differences between the media and academic representations of sociological research results. Mostly concerning the aspect of formal or non-formal approach, the two aspects also presuppose dealing with discrimination issues and the problems of applying theory to practice. However, certain similarities, such as the concision and preciseness of the results, are also to be marked. Hence, the conclusion is that, despite structural and stylistic diversities, the media and academic representations have certain elements in common, serving to provide people with the most up-to-date knowledge on the subject.

Reference List

Browne, K., 2006. Introducing sociology for AS level. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

Carter, A., Ivanič, R., Lillis, T. M., Parkin, S., 2009. Why writing matters: Issues and identity in writing research and pedagogy. Amsterdam, NL: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Chaplin, E., 2002. Sociology and visual representation. New York, NY: Routledge.

Denzin, N., 2009. The research act: A theoretical introduction to sociological methods. Piscataway, MJ: Transaction Publishers.

Hammersley, M., 2006. Media bias in reporting social research? The case of reviewing ethnic inequalities in education. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.

Murakumi, J., 2002. Gender and depression: Explaining the different rates of depression between men and women. Perspectives in Psychology, Spring Issue, pp.27-34.

WendyB, 2010. Depression statistics in men vs. women. [Online]. Web.

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