Application Exercises

Chapter specific application exercises will help you think about research design in practice or have you explore a relevant resource.

Exercise 1: Readability

Your word processing software should have an option to check the readability of your writing. Typically, this check will provide a number of indirect measures of readability such as the average number of sentences per paragraph, words per sentence, characters per word, and percentage of passive sentences. You may also be able to get specific measures of readability such as the Flesch Reading Ease score and the Flesch–Kincaid Grade Level score.

Type or import sample paragraphs from a scholarly journal such as Communication Monographs into your word processing software and obtain readability statistics, especially the Flesch–Kincaid Grade Level score. This latter statistic gives you the grade level of readers capable of reading the content. Repeat this exercise for an extract of science writing from The New York Times and from your local newspaper.

As a point of reference, 2017 U.S. Census data indicate that approximately 12% of U.S. citizens over the age of 25 have an advanced academic degree, 32% have a bachelor’s degree, and 88% are high school graduates (U.S. Census Bureau, 2017). Based on the readability scores you obtained, what percentage of the population is likely to be able to successfully read each of the articles you sampled?

What information is lost as you compare a scholarly article with a local newspaper account of scholarly research?

Exercise 2: Writing Styles

Compare the report of a conventional survey or experimental study from a scholarly journal with a narrative report such as Pacanowsky’s “A Small-Town Cop” (1983). What differences do you find between the two reports with respect to:

  • Your ability to relate to the individuals in each study?
  • The level of insight each study provides you?
  • The ease with which policy makers could make policy decisions based on each study?

Exercise 3: Assessing Researchers’ Community Engagement

A 2015 survey of members of the AAAS (Rainie et al., 2015) found that about 40% of them often or occasionally do at least two of four activities—talk with nonexperts, talk with the media, use social media, or blog. Nearly half engage in one of these four activities either often or occasionally. These activities suggest that that researchers need to move—and are moving—beyond traditional scholarly publishing if they are to engage with the community at large.

You can use these four activities as a crude measure of community engagement by scholarly authors.

Use your online research skills to identify communication scholars in your area(s) of interest and research their professional communication activities as far as possible. Assign each a score between 0 (you find no evidence of the above four activities) and 4 (you find evidence for all four of the activities). How do you rate these scholars for community engagement? What other measures of community engagement can you think of?