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Anatomy of a Research Project

Lecture notes

Lecture notes
Research Planner

Media Audiences Lecture

Applied Media/Youth Audience Research: Anatomy of a research Project

My name is Kate Liley I am going to talk about the field research component of my PhD thesis work, The RidgiDidge Study, in the context of how one might go about designing and conducting field research with young people.

The RidgiDidge study is a longitudinal project that looks at how new media figures in the lives of Australian School students using a grounded theory methodology. Students were asked at three research windows to complete a media diary over a seven-day period and then attend an individual interview during school hours.

Diagrammatically, my research works like this:

PPt: RidgiDidge Diagram

More about the research project a little later…

While there are many different methodologies, both quantitative and qualitative, I am hoping that by talking about my particular approach to the field research with young people, you will begin to see ways of addressing a specific research task.

Firstly though, I would like to put the practice of conducting children and young people’s media research into a theoretical perspective as a way of outlining the approach to the research or the pre-planning stage.

Regardless of what or whom you may choose to study, you will need to become familiar with the literature about your area of research from both a theoretical perspective as well as a methodological perspective. What this means is that you will need to become familiar the debates in your area as well as the traditional approaches and tools used to research your object of study. In this way you begin to reveal the questions that your research will attempt to answer, or at least define. The best way of doing this is to complete a review of the both the theoretical literature and those texts on methodology. Consider Alasuutari’s ideas about the progress of the field of media research in Rethinking the Media Audience. We are now in the third generation of reception studies that do not necessarily abandon the research that went before, but begins to look at ‘contemporary media culture particularly as it can be seen in the role of media in everyday life’ .

My review of the literature about young people’s media consumption revealed that much of the established research was methodologically flawed, was lacking cultural specificity (in that research from other developed countries was used to develop conclusions), and that the ‘voice’ of the young people participating in the research was absent. As Alderson points out,

PPt: Most research directly on children [and youth] is devoted to measuring them, using that model of animal research to measure their growth, disease or behaviour. Yet it is largely impersonal. If children’s [or youth] views are collected, this is usually to atomise them through a grid of adult understanding’.


Consider your Sternberg reading on Generational Profiling, where Sternberg cites Grossberg in pointing out that ‘The category of youth has been appropriated by others who not only define it but struggle to essentialise it’. The ‘others’ Sternberg is referring to are often the advertisers and marketers who prefer neat demographic groups to whom they can tailor their products and services pitch. (Indeed, there’s a lot of proprietary research on children and youth that is unavailable to those outside the client base of marketing companies given that the children’s and youth market is a multi-billion dollar concern in the US alone . Indeed, we should beware of swallowing marketing labels wholesale. Consider this article. Do we start researching this phenomenon?

OHT: Generation ‘Domestically challenged…

Although better research strategies have been employed since Alderson made this statement, particularly in an Australian context, developmental arguments from the field of Psychology continue to promulgate the idea that kids are just ‘adults in training’, or developmentally inferior. Consider your Gauntlett reading on ‘10 things wrong with the effects model’…

PPt: Lit Review

-Young people are often treated as inadequate

-Negative assumptions about children’s resistant capabilities are characterised by a conservative ideology

-Youth media research is often conducted in an artificial setting

-Some studies have been criticised as lacking methodological rigour

-Media ‘effects’ are often displaced onto others

-Some studies do not see the young ‘audience’ as being actively engaged with their media

-Media research among children and young people would benefit from a ‘coherent’ theoretical footing

From Gauntlett, D. (1998) ‘10 things wrong with the ‘Effects’ model’,

These persistent ideas are illustrated by research on young people and their media consumption where the research looks at ‘information-seeking and statistical patterns of usage’, while participant perceptions about, and the cultural context of, new media is unclear or not considered at all (aspects I have deliberately factored IN to my research).

While a psychological perspective on young people’s media consumption has individual research responses gathered in artificial settings being extrapolated out to fit entire populations, a sociological approach takes a different tack.

Under the new sociology of childhood and youth…

PPt: A general outline of the Structural Perspective

-Childhood/youth constitutes a particular structural form

                          -Conceptually comparable with class

-Youth and childhood is a transient phase but a permanent social category

-Childhood/Youth is exposed to the same societal forces as adulthood

-Consider economic forces, political decisions, environmental factors

-Children/youth are co-constructors of society

-Young people are not ‘trivial Machines’ (input=output) but active agents in society

-Max Wartofski noted that ‘if children learned only what they were taught then the species would have ended long ago - perhaps after a single generation!’

(From Qvortrup’s ‘9 theses about childhood as a social phenomenon’ )

In terms of the RidgiDidge Research, adopting a sociological approach to the task allows a more authentic investigation of the object of study.What does become clear from a review of the literature is that there are other ways of discussing young people and their media consumption. In terms of the RidgiDidge Study, this state of affairs in Kids Media research led me to…

PPt: The RidgiDidge Study

  • put the research into a culturally specific context
  • adopt a qualitative approach
  • use a coherent theoretical footing
  • Recognise the capacity for media literacy and the active reception of the sample
  • To proclaim my research as illustrative rather than definitive
  • To adopt a structural perspective

I took these ideas further by asking whom else, other than cultural or media critics and analysts do research on and about young people? It did not take long to work out that the fields of nursing and paediatric medicine might have some ideas about how you approach research with young people. This in turn suggested the development of a range of ‘special considerations’ in working with young people. While these ‘special considerations’ are fairly straightforward, indeed obvious to my way of thinking, they are not stated explicitly in the literature, nor are research guidelines such as these offered as a universal approach to working with young people, regardless of specific methodology.

PPT: Special Considerations

  • Researchers should treat participants with the utmost consideration and respect
  • Chosen methodologies need to minimise the influence of preconceived adult ideas at the research design and interpretation phases
  • Participants can be categorised by their shared cultural capital rather than their age
  • Research design should allow for open-ended and exploratory participant practices
  • There should be no risk of psychosocial or physical harm to participants
  • Research conduct should not greatly displace normal activity
  • The ‘fatigability’ of participants should be accounted for in research design
  • The motivation and cooperation of participants can be enlisted through the engaging presentation of research instruments

See Pearn 

As you can see, these ‘special considerations’ have informed the execution of the methodology.

In conjunction with the struggle to find new and appropriate ways of researching young people, I was also struck by Australia’s status as one of the fastest adopters of new media technology.

Consider Carmen Luke’s assertion that …

PPt: Concepts of youth and childhood no longer take 50 or 100 years to develop and become part of the social vocabulary. Rather, they increasingly emerge in tandem with technological innovations, particularly in relation to media and communications technologies.

Consider this; Plato was concerned that alphabetic print would make people cognitively lazy, and that the dramatic poets would corrupt the youth of the day. The advent of the book and printing would retard the memory and the moving pictures of the early 20th century would harm children’s socialisation and their moral development. So, as you can see, debates about Kids and new media from any era are nothing new, but how we approach these debates is.

Moreover, just in case you need a reason why kids media research is important…

PPt: Culturally specific research…

-Has the capacity to enunciate the ‘nature of the society whose childhood [/youth] it is’

- Kofi Annan said ‘tomorrow’s world may be influenced by science and technology, but more than anything, it is already taking shape in the bodies and minds of our children’

-partially shows how Children/youth are co-constructors of a particular society

-is important because These are the people who will choose your nursing homes

So, we have a vested interest in keeping an eye on all the factors that shape our society, including those ideological industries like the media.

This Literature review has given me reason to ask ‘how does new media technology figure in the lives of Australian High School students?, to justify asking that question and to identify the type of methodology.

We now find ourselves in the middle of the Research and Instrument Design Stage.

PPt: Research and Instrument Design Stage (see handout/Box Diagram)

You have found your research question from the masses of literature and of all the methodologies you have settled on one that suits your object of research. In terms of the RidgiDidge Study, the methodology chosen was Grounded theory.

This is where Grounded theory is described as …

PPt: ...Concerned with understanding action from the perspective of the human agent. Grounded theory is typically presented as an approach to doing qualitative research... focusing on an area of study...gathers data from a variety of sources, including interviews and field observations. Once gathered, the data are analysed using coding and sampling procedures, before being finally written up and presented.’

In terms of the RidgiDidge Study, it works like this

PPt: Addressing the Research Question Diagram

This methodology allows the data to discipline the theory, ‘forestalling the opportunistic use of theories that have dubious fit and working capacity’ . Indeed, this methodology allows my research participants to express how they think and feel about new media technology at the same time avoiding researcher or adult bias. As I mentioned at the beginning of the discussion, The RidgiDidge Study is a longitudinal project that looks at how new media figures in the lives of Australian School students using grounded theory methodology. Students were going to be asked at three research windows to complete a media diary over a seven-day period and then attend an individual interview during school hours. However, there are some practical matters to address before proceeding….

PPt: See Handout, Ethics clearance and the usefulness of the system, problems of access

As you can see from your handout, doing research is 90% planning and preparation with 10% execution. However, the 90% preparation dictates whether you will actually get to conduct your research and part of this is Ethical clearance from your institution. Now if you expect to publish and have your research taken seriously, then Ethical clearance is as crucial. It is also a useful indication to prospective participants and their gatekeepers of the quality of your project design and that someone else has said ‘yes’ this is a valid project.

Even if your upcoming projects do not need official approval from the ethics committee per se, the Griffith University Ethics Committee guidelines and pro forma are useful tools in gaining a clear perspective on what you are doing. The pro forma asks you to answer the following essential questions about your project.

PPt: Ethics Committee Questions

-Describe your project in non-professional terms (100-150 words)

-What is your research goal and what is the significance of this research goal (AIM)?

-Who are your participants and why have you chosen them?

-How will you gain access and consent? (School authority, parents and participants)

-Location of Research interactions?

-What is your research methodology and how will you put it into practice?

-what is the background to your project (Literature Review)?

-Potential risks (legal, social, physical, psychological, other)?

-How will you ensure confidentiality?

-Will anything be recorded on Video/audio tape? Who will see such material, why and where will it be stored?

-Will there be a de-briefing session for your participants?

While many of these questions are designed to ascertain the legal risk to the University or institution down the track, you can see the usefulness of them in offering a framework so you can begin to structure your research.

Once all this background and preparation is in place, and you have ‘clearance’ to proceed, you simply expend some shoe leather, let your fingers do the walking and find your research participants, and away you go.

As I mentioned earlier, The RidgiDidge Study is longitudinal study looks at how new media figures in the lives of Australian School students using a grounded theory methodology. Students were asked at three research windows to complete a media diary over a seven-day period and then attend an individual interview during school hours.

The problems I have so far encountered with doing field research are varied and come down to the following suggestions for your work.

PPT: ‘The Real Deal’

  • the best laid plans of mice and men… (No matter how much you plan and prepare, all will never go accordingly to plan, so be as prepared as you can be…)
  • Research can sometimes be a case of not what you know, but who you know (it helps if you have an ongoing association with your research group)
  • The biggest mistake with young people is to underestimate them


Acuff, D. (1997). What Kids Buy and Why: The Psychology of Marketing to Kids. New York: Free Press.

Aftab, P. (2000). The Parent's Guide to Protecting your Children in Cyberspace. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Alasuutari, P. (1999). Rethinking the Media Audience. London: Sage.

Alderson, P. (1995). Listening to Children: Children, Ethics and Social Research. Barkingside: Barnardo's.

Bird, S. E. (2003). The Audience in Everyday Life: Living in a Media World. New York: Routledge.

Glaser, B., G. & Strauss, Anselm, L. (1967). The Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research. New York: Aldine De Gruyter.

Haig, B. D. (1995). Grounded Theory as Scientific Method: Philosophy of Education.

Luke, C. (1999). What Next? Toddler Netizens, Playstation Thumb, Techno-literacies. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, Number 1.

McGillivray, A. (1997). Governing Childhood. Aldershot: Dartmouth.

Pearn, J. H. (1984). Working with Children: An Analysis of Special themes relating to Paediatric Research. Transactions of the Menzies Foundation, Volume 7.

Qvortrup, J. (1992). Nine Theses about 'Childhood as a Social Phenomenon'. In J. Qvortrup (Ed.), Childhood as a Social Phenomenon: Lessons from an International Project. Billund, Denmark: European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research.

Seiter, E. (2000). Television and the Internet. In J. T. Caldwell (Ed.), Theories of the New Media. London: The Althone Press.

Solberg, A. (1996). The Challenge in Child Research: From 'Being' to 'Doing'. In J. Brannen & M. O'Brien (Eds.), Children in Families: Research and Policy. London: Falmer Press.

Taylor, A. S. (2000). The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: Giving Children a Voice. In A. Lewis & G. Lindsay (Eds.), Researching Children's Perspectives. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Wartofski, M. (1981). The Child's Construction of the World and the World's Construction of the Child: From Historical Epistemology to Historical Psychology. In F. S. Kessel & A. W. Siegel (Eds.), The Child and Other Cultural Inventions. New York: Praeger Special Studies.

The information on this site is a resource for students of 3005AMC: Media Audiences