Identifying Your Interests and Establishing a Research Plan

Constant Nieuwenhuys, Symbolische Voorstelling van New Babylon, 1969

In our Mapping the Field lecture (scroll down to the bottom quarter of the page, and see my “Mapping the Field” lesson and lecture notes) we’ll do our best to map out the field of media studies. It’s a tricky job, since media studies is a terrain whose borders are permeable and always shifting. This survey will hopefully help you to familiarize yourself with the ideas that others have thought and the work that others have done before you; the theories that have inspired research and creative work, and the research and creative practice that have generated new theory; the places and communities in which that practice has taken place; and the uses to which it has been put. Surveying the field and studying its history not only enable you to build on the work that others have already done and open your eyes to the possibilities — scholarly and creative — that lie before you, but these tasks are also imperative if you are to be able to contribute meaningfully to the field. And that’s what it means to be a graduate student: you’re committed to cultivating the field’s terrain.

We’ll also try to situate our own Masters program within that larger field, and, ultimately, give you some tools to help you to orient yourself within the field and chart a path through the program. Considering your own intellectual autobiography (see p. 4) will give you an opportunity to ask yourself some questions about how you’ve gotten where you are, and where you’re going. We’ll begin by looking at some sources for research and creative inspiration. Alan Fletcher, in The Art of Looking Sideways, demonstrates how improvisation, change, imagination, creativity, and our own identities conspire to generate ideas. You may already have plenty of inspiration – but, again, part of being a graduate student is knowing how to channel that energy, how to make your interests match the field’s, or the world’s, needs.

From Alan Fletcher’s The Art of Looking Sideways


One prime source of inspiration is our personal experience. Colin Robson (2002), author of Real World Research, calls this “starting where you are” (p. 49). Lindlof and Taylor (2002) say that “we problematize experience by noticing gaps and dislocations in our own explanations” of particular things or happenings (p. 74). “We might sense an incongruity, an irony, a contradiction, an ambiguity, or a mystery in a situation.” Why is the Hometown Times inconsistent in its coverage of foreign policy? Or, why is this huge media conglomerate releasing so many films espousing radical left-wing politics?

“Or we find ourselves in a new situation, one that defies our ability to explain it. Or we imaginatively put ourselves in the place of others who are confused or mystified.” How might my grandparents — or any older people — feel about learning how to use a computer? How might my straight-laced friend feel at a death metal show? “Or we experience moments that prick at our moral conscience.” Some of these “prickly” moments might be illustrative of larger public problems — on policy, law, human rights, social movements, politics, crises, etc. — that elicit our sympathy and deserve investigation.

When we do “start from where we are,” it’s important to “[r]emember that who you are has a central place in the research process because you bring your own thoughts, aspirations and feelings, and your own ethnicity, race, class, gender, sexual orientation, occupation, family background, schooling, etc., to your research” (Kirby & McKenna, qtd in Robson, p. 49). Fletcher, in the “Identity” section of The Art of Looking Sideways, helps us to think creatively about the natural and cultural variables that help to determine where we’re starting from. While this personal “baggage” is commonly regarded as “bias” that we must shed in order to achieve objectivity, Maxwell argues that “what you bring to the research from your background and identity” can be conceived as a “valuable component of research”; we should consider how to capitalize on our experiential knowledge (qtd in Robson, p. 50).

From Alan Fletcher’s The Art of Looking Sideways

We might also derive our inspiration from research itself — of either scholarly texts or popular media. A problem presented in a secondary source could inspire you to consult additional secondary sources on the same topic, or follow the research trail the author presents in his or her footnotes or bibliography. Or it could be that the source material inspires the research: you might have access to a set of a famous filmmaker’s personal papers, a collection of video art, or some other archive that you want to investigate. Or, as Fletcher suggests, we might apply creativity, imagination, or new practices of visualization – looking sideways, perhaps? – to approach the existing research from a new angle or in a new configuration. [Image: Fletcher, 2001, p. 74]

Although some critics regard the popular press as inappropriate sources for scholarly work — and out of place in any scholarly literature review — I disagree. Yes, it is important to know how to distinguish between scholarly and popular resources — if only to make distinctions of credibility — but there is no reason that a Vogue article or some popular webisode could not suggest a possible case study for your research. Furthermore, if you’re researching on the bleeding edge — on a topic on which no scholarly literature is yet available — there is no reason why an New York Times or an Cabinet article shouldn’t be included in your resource list — as long as you’ve got plenty of scholarly sources (on methodology or theoretical framework, for example) to fill out the balance of your list.

When asked how he developed ideas for his art and software projects, Alex Galloway, author of Protocol: How Control Exists after Decentralization (MIT Press 2004), Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture (Minnesota 2006) and, with Eugene Thacker, The Exploit: A Theory of Networks (Minnesota 2007), and winner of several Ars Electronica prizes, says:

oh yes that’s an easy one. i just read hacker magazines like 2600 and steal ideas from them! =) (email, May 25, 2005).

Okay, I’m pretty sure Alex isn’t officially endorsing theft — but he does show us that great new research or creative ideas can emerge from ideas borrowed from other (popular, subcultural) contexts.

In reviewing existing research, you might be excited about a theory, a subject, or a methodology you discover, and determine to study it further. Or, you might be motivated to fill a particular gap in the literature: why hasn’t anyone written about the effect of the latest “call to action” documentary on viewers’ behaviors, or about racial and gendered target marketing of mobile technologies? (I’m not saying that no one has written on these topics; I’m just throwing out hypothetical examples.)

Siva Vaidhyanathan, author of Copyrights and Copywrongs (NYU Press 2001) and The Anarchist in the Library (Basic Books 2004) and professor or Media Studies and Law at UVA, found his research topic at the place where his personal interests, his research interests, a social concern, and a perceived hole in the literature converged. He writes:

I found my research topic by listening to hip-hop in the early 1990s. I noticed the music changed. The musical bed shifted from what was a polyphonic melange of found sounds and musical samples — a language in itself — into a steady heavy bass line and simple, obvious samples. It was becoming less interesting, less thick and complicated, less funny and caustic.

I wondered if copyright conflicts had changed how artists make their choices. That was my hypothesis. Turns out, I was right. But I also discovered the interesting relationship between the law and creativity that runs through literature, film, television, and software as well.

Mostly, I yearned to read a cultural history of American copyright written by and for non-lawyers. I could not find one. So I decided to write one (email, May 19, 2005).

Perceived “holes in the literature” (or mediagraphy) have inspired many a thesis or dissertation — or even a term paper. But, as Lindlof and Taylor advise us, we need to wonder why there hasn’t been any work done in this area or on this topic. In the case of my “behavioral effects of call-to-action documentaries” example, such research would be fraught with methodological challenges: how could you prove a causal relationship between the documentary and people’s behavior? What methods would you need to employ to support your hypothesis (in proving causal relationships: experimental methods, for which the results would require statistical analysis) — and are you familiar with those methods? Or maybe nobody’s pursued a particular research topic because it’s not fundable. Lindlof and Taylor discuss how funding priorities shape research agendas (pp. 75-6). We’ll discuss funding in an upcoming lesson.

We might uncover some “research needs” in big, overarching “review essays” — like those in Communication Yearbook — that summarize the work in a field. Edited books bring together diverse views on a subject, and scholarly conferences — both those that are organized by discipline (e.g., the National Communication Association, the American Studies Association, the College Art Association, or the Society for Cinema and Media Studies), or interdisciplinary conferences that are organized around a theme (you should find several on H-Net) — highlight new, potentially inspiring work both within and outside the field. Finally, professors, colleagues at work, other artists, journalists, librarians, classmates — the myriad human resources at your disposal — shouldn’t be overlooked as sources of potential research topics.

Classes, too, can be a great place to explore and hone your interests. Justin Reedy and Madhavi Murty offer several tips for strategically choosing your courses: “Identify courses that will help advance your research agenda — both in terms of specific knowledge about the issues and relevant methods.” “Look both inside the outside the department for classes.” “Think specifically about the research questions you want to ask, and think about how you will answer them. Then pick courses to help you in reaching this goal.” “Try to use class assignments to advance your research agenda. If possible, use each seminar paper as a way to focus on a specific part of your overall agenda.” And “don’t be afraid to take a chance on a course that seems somewhat outside of your agenda or your comfort zone.”

Robson provides some useful caveats: Unsuccessful research, he says, begins with the following:

  1. Expedience: research undertaken because it is easy, cheap, quick or convenient;
  2. Method or technique: using research as a vehicle to carry out a specific method of investigation or statistical technique;
  3. Motivation by publication, money or funding: research done primarily for publication purposes rather than interest in the issue;
  4. Lack of theory: without theory the research may be easier and quicker, but the outcome will often be of little value (Robson 56)

Still, a few doozies slip through — and, unless they go undetected (as much bad reseach does), these studies make their way into the Annals of Improbable Research. Somebody actually studied feline reactions to bearded men.

Is this not totally awesome? Source:


We also have to ask questions about “the scene,” which is not the same kind of “scene” we’re referring to when we talk about the “fashion scene” or the “indie rock scene.” Lindlof and Taylor define the scene as “actors’ self-defined scope of social action” (p. 79). It is a “context in which a particular, recurring episode of social action takes place” (p. 79). The scene is a construct — just as a “concept” is constructed. Your scene might be the context in which family television viewing takes place, or the context in which newspaper editors establish the top stories for the day. We need to ask ourselves several questions of this scene: Is it researchable? Is it suitable for me to answer the research questions I want to answer? Is it feasible for me to work within this scene? Do I have the time and resources? Can I absorb and adapt to its cultural codes? (look through the emic and etic (intrinsic and extrinsic) lenses) Is working within this scene safe and ethical? If, for example, I want to study the way imprisoned serial killers respond to movies about serial killers, will I get killed while conducting my research?

Daniel Chandler, the wizard behind the Media & Communication Studies site, a wonderful resource, advises us to consider the following before setting on a research topic:

  • relevance: its perceived relevance to the academic department(s) in which you are studying;
  • supervision: the availability of tutors/supervisors within the department(s) who are interested in the topic and their willingness to supervise such a [research project]
  • interest: your existing knowledge of that topic and the strength of your desire to learn more about it;
  • competence: your likely ability to employ the proposed methods of data gathering and data analysis;
  • scale: the feasibility of completing the study within the time and resources available.

Barzun and Graff, in The Modern Researcher (2004), tell us that we can appropriately “scale” our projects by appropriately framing our research topics: “…your subject is defined by that group of associated facts and ideas which, when clearly presented in a prescribed amount of space, leave no questions unanswered within the presentation, even though many questions could be asked outside it.” (p. 17). In other words, you can’t address everything — so you need to sufficiently delimit your topic, and justify those limitations, to ensure that you’re setting up a solid, feasible project (This is the All-Time Number One recommendation I find myself offering to students as they design their research and production projects).

Wimmer & Dominick (2003) add a few other criteria for assessing the feasibility and appropriateness of a research topic (pp. 20-3):

  • Is the topic too broad? Can you really thoroughly investigate “the educational potential of children’s television” in a semester-long research project?
  • Can the problem really be investigated? If you want to examine how people with no access to mass media receive their news, how likely are you to find people for your sample?
  • Can the results of the study be generalized? Can you extrapolate your findings from a small sample to a larger population, or to different situations?
  • Is there any potential harm to the subjects?

Robson discusses the ethical considerations of research. You should keep in mind some of the concerns he identifies — risk of discomfort or trauma, challenges of maintaining confidentiality, etc. — both when you’re selecting a research topic (Do you need to submit an application to the Human Subjects Review Committee? If so, is it worth the hassle? See below for a critique of biomedical models of researcher ethics.) and when you’re reporting your findings (How do you deal with anonymous sources? What responsibility do you have to report any troubling information you uncover in your research? Can you publish the photographs you took during your fieldwork?).


If we identify something we’re interested in, we have to ask ourselves some questions to decide whether or not the topic is worth pursuing. “Is this idea congruent with my personal and researcher identities? Can I sustain my interest in this project over the long haul?” (Lindlof & Taylor, p. 77). Do I want to frame myself as an expert on this subject? Do I really want to make myself known as “that woman who made a documentary on mud wrestling?”

We also need to find out why we want to ask, and how we want to ask it. What are our purposes as researchers: are we explorers, describers, explainers, or emancipators? Of course, you might think of some additional roles that you wish to play, but Robson’s description of these four research “purposes” might help you to start thinking about research as active — about what you do as a researcher — and how your research “purpose” calls for particular research methods (pp. 59-60):


  • To find out what is happening, particularly in little-understood situations
  • To seek new insights
  • To ask questions
  • To assess phenomena in a new light
  • To generate ideas and hypotheses for future research
  • Almost exclusively of flexible design


  • To portray an accurate profile of persons, events or situations
  • Request extensive previous knowledge of the situation etc. to be researched or described, so that you know appropriate aspects on which to gather information
  • May be of flexible and/or fixed design


  • Seeks an explanation of a situation or problem, traditionally but not necessarily in the form of causal relationships
  • To explain patterns relating to the phenomenon being researched
  • To identify relationships between aspects of the phenomenon
  • May be of flexible and/or fixed design


  • To create opportunities and the will to engage in social action
  • Almost exclusively of flexible design

Sociologist Earl Babbie, author of Observing Ourselves: Essays in Social Research (Wadsworth 1986), suggests that before we set forth on a project, we step back, or outside ourselves, and ask what assumptions we’re making, or what “colored lenses” we might be wearing — whether we realize it or not — that influence the way we approach these concepts. He explains how our paradigms can influence the way we look at the media-world, what questions we ask about it, and what we regard as worthy subjects of study. He describes three paradigmatically-defined sociologists — the interactionist, the functionalist, or the conflict theorist — each of whom could be investigating the same phenomenon, but, because of their different paradigmatic “lenses,” pose very different questions to study it. These ways of reviewing the world, or thinking about how things work, inspire, and are inspired by, our theoretical frameworks:

The Theoretical Framework

Research — even research-based production — should be grounded in theory. Theory organizes the way we look at the world, and influences how we see ourselves as researchers or media documentarians or artists or practitioners. Theory informs our choice of research subjects, our choice of research methods, and the way we interpret our data and evaluate our work. As McBeath, Lincoln and Sullivan explain in their course on “Approaches to Media Analysis,” methods are the link between theory and “facts,” as a positivist might say — or, as a constructivist or critical theorist might say, methods are the link between theory and “understanding” or “meaning.” McBeath et al. put it another way: “a method gives us a way of ‘interpreting’ a theory for the purpose of using that theory to analyze the real world.” Scroll down to “the idea of research methods” in their syllabus for an excellent discussion of the centrality of the theoretical framework in all research.

John Creswell, author of Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative and Mixed Method Approaches (Sage, 2003), addresses the “knowledge claims” — paradigms, philosophical assumptions, epistemologies, ontologies, or methodologies — of each of four chief design frameworks.

1) Postpositivist Knowledge Claims: that is, thinking after “positivism,” which posited the existence of an absolute, or “positive,” truth of knowledge — is derived from such 19th-century thinkers as Comte, Mill, Durkheim, Newton, and Locke. It’s typically what we regard as “scientific” research — that which employs the scientific method. And its primary assumption, according to Creswell, who quotes Phillips and Burbules (2000), are as follows:

  • That knowledge is conjectural (and anti-foundational) — absolute truth can never be found. Thus, evidence established in research is always imperfect and fallible. It is for this reason that researchers do not prove hypotheses and instead indicate a failure to reject (the null hypothesis).
  • Research is the process of making claims and then refining or abandoning some of them for other claims more strongly warranted. Most quantitative research, for example, starts with the test of a theory.
  • Data, evidence, and rational considerations shape knowledge. In practice, the researcher collects information on instruments based on measures completed by the participants or by observations recorded by the researcher.
  • Research seeks to develop relevant true statements, ones that can serve to explain the situation that is of concern or that describes the causal relationships of interest. In quantitative studies, researchers advance the relationship among variables and pose this in terms of questions or hypotheses.
  • Being objective is an essential aspect of competent inquiry, and for this reason researchers must examine methods and conclusions for bias. For example, standards of validity and reliability are important in quantitative research.” (Creswell 8-9)

We can see these “knowledge claims” at work not only in scholarly research. Consider, for instance, the groups lobbying for regulation of music lyrics or video games; their case is often built on “positivist” arguments that risque or violent media content causes aberrant behavior among media consumers.

2) Socially Constructed Knowledge Claims: Social constructivism is based on the work of Mannheim, Berger & Luckmann, Licoln & Guba, etc. and is based on the belief that individuals “develop subjective meanings of their experiences — meanings directed toward certain objects or things” (Creswell 8). These meanings are negotiated “socially and historically”; they are formed through interactions with others. This framework’s basic assumptions are as follows:

  • Meanings are constructed by human beings as they engage with the world they are interpreting. Qualitative researchers tend to use open-ended questions so that participants can express their views.
  • Humans engage with their social world and make sense of it based on their historical and social perspective — we are all born into a world of meaning bestowed upon us by our culture. Thus, qualitative researchers seek to understand the context or setting of the participants through visiting this context and gathering information personally. They also make an interpretation of what they find, an interpretation shaped by the researchers’ own experiences and backgrounds.
  • The basic generation of meaning is always social, arising in and out of interaction with a human community. The process of qualitative research is largely inductive, with the inquirer generating meaning from the data collected in the field.” (Creswell p. 8-9)

We see “social constructivist” views at play in the work of many artists who represent what Nicolas Bourriaud calls relational aesthetics. Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija, one of the “poster children” for relational aesthetics, sometimes cooks meals for people and calls it art. The Lucky Dragons participatory “workshop-style” concert at the 2008 Whitney Biennial involved the creation of sound through participants’ skin-to-skin contact.

3) Advocacy/Participatory Knowledge Claims: This framework arose out of some researchers’ frustration that constructivism didn’t go “far enough in advocating for an action agenda to help marginalized peoples” (Creswell 9). These researchers combine inquiry with a political agenda, and are often inspired by any of the following theoretical perspectives: feminist perspectives, racialized discourses, critical theory, queer theory, disability inquiry. Its basic assumptions are as follows:

  • Participatory action is recursive or dialectical and is focused on bringing about change in practices. Thus, at the end of advocacy/participatory studies, researchers advance an action agenda for change.
  • It is focused on helping individuals free themselves from constraints found in the media, in language, in work procedures, and in the relationships of power in educational settings. Advocacy/participatory studies often begin with an important issue or stance about the problems in society, such as the need for empowerment.
  • It is emancipatory in that it helps unshackle people from the constraints of irrational and unjust structures that limit self-development and self-determination. The aim of advocacy/participatory studies is to create a political debate and discussion so that change will occur.
  • It is practical and collaborative because it is inquiry completed “with” others rather than “on” or “to” others. In this spirit, advocacy/participatory authors engage the participants as active collaborators in their inquiries” (Creswell 11).

Rirkrit Tiravanija's "Untitled 2005..."

Tiravanija’s work could be considered activist, too. For his 2005 Hugo Boss Prize exhibition, he created Untitled 2005 (the air between the chain-link fence and the broken bicycle wheel), which the Guggenheim describes as “a self-built low-power television station, to demonstrate that individuals can be active contributors to their own media culture, rather than mere consumers of it. Using rudimentary electronic equipment, Tiravanija reveals how a broadcast can be transmitted over unused frequencies to a local community, circumventing traditional media networks.”

4) Pragmatic Knowledge Claims: derived from the world of Peirce, James, Mead, and Dewey — are based on the assumption that knowledge claims arise from action, situations, and consequences; “there is a concern with applications — “what works” — and solutions to problems” (Creswell 11). These researchers typically use a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods. What follows are pragmatism’s primary assumptions:

  • Pragmatism is not committed to any one system of philosophy and reality. This applies to mixed methods research in that inquirers draw liberally from both quantitative and qualitative assumptions when they engage in their research.
  • Individual researchers have a freedom of choice. They are “free” to choose the methods, techniques, and procedures of research that best meet their needs and purposes….
  • Truth is what works at the time; it is not based in a strict dualism between the mind and a reality completely independent of the mind….
  • Pragmatist researchers look to the “what” and the “how” to research based on its intended consequences — where they want to go with it. Mixed methods researchers need to establish a purpose for their “mixing,” a rationale for the reasons why quantitative and qualitative data need to be mixed in the first place.
  • Pragmatists agree that research always occurs in social, historical, political, and other contexts” (Creswell 12)

Students often wonder if it is essential to align oneself with a single school of thought. And if these various schools have such disparate, and seemingly contradictory, definitions of and approaches to “research,” isn’t each school of thought just an insular community that produces research only to legitimate its own existence? Sure, a positivist might discredit a constructivist’s research results, and an action researcher might be quick to dismiss the results of an experiment. But with increasingly interdisciplinary and collaborative research, the boundaries between these approaches don’t seem nearly so rigid. Sandra Bicknell, a researcher in museum studies, espouses methodological “pluralism”:

There is a superbly non-conformist view of method and approach in Mary Daly’s Webster’s First Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language:

Methodolatry (n): common form of academic idolatry; glorification of the god Method; boxing knowledge into prefabricated fields, thereby hiding threads of connectedness, hindering New Discoveries, preventing the raising of New Questions, erasing ideas that do not fit into Respectable Categories of Questions and Answers (Daly 1987).

I have a feeling that there is a lot of this about. There have been a number of attempts to categorize…methodology. This ‘boxing’ of methods is, in my view, isolationist. It suggests either/or scenarios. One is either a supporter of the naturalist approach, or one is a supporter of the scientific approach; the study is either goal-oriented or goal-free; I am labeled a behaviorist if I watch what [people] are doing, or a follower of the school of cognitive psychology if I try to find out what visitors have learnt…; I use the tools of either the anthropologist, or the ethnographer, or the sociologist, or the psychologist, or the media critic; you either do quantitative work, or you do qualitative work; you do it either before the event or after; you either observe or you ask.

I, however, do not make sure ‘either/or’ choices. I am an unashamed pluralist who uses multiple methodologies as part of an evaluation scenario which has the clear intention of providing answers to the questions my colleagues want answers. I use multiple methods to give greater rigor, reliability and depth to the work I do. Each element is designed both to test and to complement the findings of other elements. The different methods add layers of information but also provide a means of identifying inconsistencies and weaknesses. (Sarah Bicknell, “Here to Help: Evaluation and Effectiveness” In Eilean Hooper-Greenhill, Ed., Museum, Media, Message (Museum Meanings) (Routledge, 1999): 283-4).

So, in short: you needn’t be a methodological purist. The challenge is to find a complementary combination of methods — all appropriate for your research problem or project — that, together, provide for greater “rigor, reliability, and depth.”

Furthermore, the lenses or frameworks through which we look at the social world, the media, humankind — or whatever our research “universe” might be — also influence the scale at which we conceptualize things, and how we break the world up into pieces, or concepts. If we were standing together on a street corner near The New School in New York, and you pointed across the street and said, “Hey, look at that!” I might ask, “What, that group of Parsons students?” Or, “What, that building?” Or, “What, the city?” The scale at which I’m looking and thinking — and the things my eyes and brain are attuned to — both influence and are influenced by the way I break up my world into concepts. Babbie tells us that concepts are merely figments of our imagination; they’re merely labels we apply to an assortment of observable or measurable indicators.

There are basically two kinds of definitions of concepts. The first, a constitutive definition, defines a word by substituting other words or concepts for it. A constitutive definition for “intelligence” might be “the ability to think abstractly.” The second, an operational definition, specifies procedures that enable one to observe or measure a concept (Wimmer & Dominick). We can “operationalize” intelligence by defining it as, say, the score on an IQ test. It should be obvious that having an operational definition is essential for researching any concept.

You might be interested in “concentration of media ownership” — but how will you measure that concept in a research project? How could you operationalize that variable? Or, you might be interested in “representations of gays and lesbians in mainstream film.” How can we operationalize something as amorphous and slippery as “representation”?

Any operationalization is bound to have limitations — which is why we often identify multiple indicators of a concept, and measure each of them, thus representing the concept as the composite of these measured indicators, or variables.

Concept Maps by Lantzilla on Flickr:

Some researchers have realized that various graphic representation techniques, like “concept mapping,” can prove useful in identifying research topics; identifying the component parts, or indicators, of concepts and the relationships between them; and suggesting search topics and subject areas for library research. Cynthia Tysick, an Arts & Sciences Librarian at the University of Buffalo, uses concept mapping to help graduate students organize concepts and develop search strategies.

You can either go “old school” — with paper and pencil (or, for some added flavor, colored markers!) — or “new school,” with one of the variety of mapping programs available online, either for free or through a free 30-day trial.

via Brenda Laurel, Design Research (MIT Press 2003): 204-5

B.J. Fogg (in Laurel, 2003), head of the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford, presents another method for graphically representing research or design ideas. His “conceptual designs” model — with its overview, user description, storyboard of user experience, prototype, discussion of features/functionality, justifications for design (theoretical and practical), results of user testing, shortcomings of design, plans for expansion (what else is possible?), next steps in design process, summary — is essentially a research proposal adapted for design.

How might the conceptual design components map onto the components of a research proposal? And what questions might Fogg’s model lead us to ask ourselves that a typical research proposal might not? How might it be helpful to think about these things at the very beginning of the research process — even if, at this stage, we can’t answer all the questions Fogg proposes, and we couldn’t provide a fraction of the information required for a complete proposal?


Works Cited:

Earl Babbie, Observing Ourselves: Essays in Social Research (Wadsworth 1986).

Jacques Barzun & Henry F. Graff, The Modern Researcher, 6th Ed. (Belmont, CA: Thompson, 2004).

John W. Cresswell, Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Method Approaches, 2nd ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: 2003).

Norman Denzin & Yvonna Lincoln, Eds., The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research, 3rd ed. (Sage 2005).

Alan Fletcher, The Art of Looking Sideways (New York: Phaidon, 2001).

Eilean Hooper-Greenhill, Ed., Museum, Media, Message (Museum Meanings) (Routledge, 1999).

Brenda Laurel, Ed., Design Research Methods and Perspectives (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003).

Thomas R. Lindlof & Bryan C. Taylor, Qualitative Communication Research Methods, 2nd ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2002).

Justin Reedy and Madhavi Murty’s “Creating a Research AgendaInside Higher Ed (May 20, 2009).

Colin Robson, Real World Research, 2nd ed. (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1993/2002).

Peter Turchi, Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer (San Antonio, TX: San Antonio University Press, 2004).

Roger D. Wimmer & Joseph R. Dominick, Mass Media Research: An Introduction, 7th ed. (Belmont, CA: Thompson, 2003).

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