Sunday 18 October 2015

Comparing Research Methods

When someone thinks about research, they usually think about searching for information on the internet. In the 21st century, this is definitely the most common form of research, and rightly so. The internet is a vast source of information ranging from history to technology to literature and beyond. It can be used to access archives of old articles and journals, and even recently published books can be found on the internet, whether they are legal or not. It can be used for both primary and secondary research, as not only can you find information from secondary sources, but you can also post your own questionnaires and post on forums to find out people's opinions about things. For example, a researcher for an upcoming film could spend some time using the internet to learn about the topic the film is about (secondary research), then spend some time asking audiences on the internet whether they would be interested in the film being planned using questionnaires, social media, and forums (primary research). However, the internet does have its disadvantages. Most websites can be edited from anyone anywhere, for example Wikipedia, which can be edited anonymously by any of its users. This means that not all information found on the internet can be trusted, so it is important to check sources for their reliability by seeing if it is from a creditable source, and by checking whether the same information can be found from another source. Despite these drawbacks, the internet remains one of the most effective forms of research, just because of the sheer size of it.

In comparison, libraries and archives were the primary source of secondary research until the internet took over. To this day, libraries and archives are still relevant, it's just that much of the information found in libraries can be found faster on the internet now. The advantages of libraries is that in most cases the information found in books can be considered reliable, especially if you are taking the information from academic journals and archives. However, a researcher may find themselves reading information from a book that is decades old, meaning the information could be fairly outdated. For example, it is unwise for a scriptwriter to research the Egyptians for a historical epic film using a textbook written decades ago, as some of the information may be outdated, so if they want the film to be historically accurate, they should research from recent and up to date information. This does not mean to say that old books and archives should not be used, as they can be useful for learning context behind many things, however information found should always be cross-referenced with another source to ensure its credibility.

For primary research, questionnaires are a very useful tool. They are similar to interviews in that they ask people questions, however the benefit is that they are often anonymous, which in many cases may give the person confidence to be truthful in their answers. However questionnaires can also go the other way, and people may lie about their opinions because they want to give the expected answer. It is important that questionnaires are written in an open, unbiased way, but at the same time being carefully designed to ensure that the researcher is able to extract the exact information they want from the audience. Questionnaires can be distributed in public or spread on the internet, making them a fast and effective way to gain information. An example of a questionnaire being used for media production is in audience research for a product. Producers can use the data taken from questionnaires to understand what their audience is like and what they want from the product.

Similar to questionnaires, internet forums are also a useful way to gain information from multiple people in quick time. A post with a question can be uploaded, and then it is just a matter of time before many people have replied with their thoughts and opinions on the matter. This form of research can also be turned into a conversation between multiple people, anonymous or not. An example of an internet forum being used to research audience opinions on something include forums created for fans to discuss their favourite video games, films, TV shows, and books, which can also be used by the producers and support team so that they can communicate directly with their audience to find out their thoughts as well as help them with any queries they have. A good example is the IMDb message boards, where movie fans can talk to each other and filmmakers can read what their audience is saying about their films.

Arguably, the real life version of an internet forum is a focus group, a form of research commonly used by market and audience researchers when planning a new product or service. For example, advertisers can show a group a new advertisement and ask them questions about what works and what doesn't, so they can gain feedback on it before releasing it publicly.  The advantages of focus groups are that they are a fast and effective way to derive information from multiple people at once depending on the size and co-operation of the group, and the researchers monitoring the group can judge peoples' thoughts and feelings based on their body language and facial expression (which cannot be done with questionnaires and internet forums). The main disadvantage is that sometimes a focus group may develop a mob mentality, and some people may not be as truthful due to "peer pressure," or that they simply do not have the confidence to speak up with an opinion different from the rest of the group. Also, focus groups can be more expensive, certainly more expensive than a questionnaire, so it all depends on the budget the researchers have. An example of when a focus group can be used effectively is when planning a new advertisement for a product. The advertisement can be pitched to the group, then the group can give their feedback on it.

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