School of Communication, Information
and Library Studies
Methods of Inquiry
Gustav W. Friedrich
1. SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH: is systematic,
controlled, empirical, and critical investigation of hypothetical
propositions about the presumed relationships among phenomena.
2. THEORY: is a set of interrelated
constructs (concepts), definitions, and propositions that presents
a systematic view of phenomena by specifying relations among variables,
with the purpose of explaining, predicting, and controlling the
3. FUNCTIONS OF THEORY:
a. EXPLANATION: provides an answer
to the question "why is the fact what it is?" that is
intellectually satisfying. Formal explanation: subsuming a proposition
under a broader proposition which needs no explanation. It consists
of a universal generalization that is assumed to be true, a particular
set of circumstances, and a conclusion which asserts that an event
had to occur because it was deducible from the logic of the propositions
of the theory. Such explanations are deterministic/causal/nomic.
Law: (x) <If Px then Qx>; Antecedent Condition: Px; Conclusion:
b. PREDICTION: proposing the
occurrence of a future event given some awareness of a past or
present relationship which may or may not be understood (e.g.,
astronomy). One can predict without explanation, but the reverse
is not true. Thus explanation, rather than prediction, is the
end of science.
c. CONTROL: ability to intervene
in a particular case or to alter the case of a particular relationship.
In the pure case it implies complete understanding of elements
and their relationships as well as a closed system. Less purely,
it implies knowledge of the principles along which the phenomena
a. CONCEPTS or CONSTRUCTS: the
level of theory. Ary: a concept is an abstraction from observed
events; it is a word that represents the similarities or common
aspects of objects or events that are otherwise quite different
from one another (words such as chair, dog, tree, liquid, etc.).
Constructs are higher-level abstractions produced by combining
concepts and less complex constructs. Words such as motivation,
justice, and problem-solving are constructs.
b. VARIABLES: the level of observation
A variable is a symbol to which numerals or values are assigned.
1) Independent (predicted from) versus dependent (predicted to)
2) Active (manipulated) and attribute (characteristics of subjects
such as sex, age, intelligence)
3) Continuous (ordinal, interval, ratio) and categorical (nominal)
c. DEFINITIONS: bridging the
1) Constitutive definition: a definition that defines a construct
with other constructs.
2) Operational definition:
a) Measured: one that describes how
a variable will be measured.
b) Experimental: spells out the details
(operations) of the investigator's manipulations of a variable.
a. LAW: describes a nomic, universal
relationship in which scientists have so much confidence they
consider it an absolute "truth."
b. AXIOM/POSTULATE: one of a basic
set of statements from which all other statements of a theory
may be logically derived.
c. PROPOSITION: derived from axioms.
d. HYPOTHESIS: a statement proposing
a relationship between two or more different aggregates of facts
(research, null, statistical).
e. EMPIRICAL GENERALIZATION: the
same pattern of events found in a number of different empirical
f. FACT: a statement, not deduced
from another statement, applying to a particular time and place
whose concepts are observable.
6. METATHEORETICAL ASSUMPTIONS:
a. EPISTEMOLOGY: How do we know
what we claim to know?
1) To what extent can knowledge exist before experience?
2) To what extent is knowledge universal?
3) By what process does knowledge arise?
a) Rationalism: knowledge arises
out of the sheer power of the human mind.
b) Empiricism: knowledge arises in
c) Constructivism: people create
knowledge to function in life.
4) Is knowledge best conceived in parts or wholes?
5) To what extent is knowledge explicit?
b. ONTOLOGY: What is the nature
of the phenomena we seek to know?
1) To what extent do humans make real choices?
a) Determinists (motion theory): humans are basically reactive
and passive; behavior is determined by and responsive to past
b) Teleologists (action theory): people plan their behavior to
meet goals; individuals create meanings, they have intentions,
they make real choices.
2) To what extent are humans best understood in terms of states
3) To what extent is human experience basically individual versus
c. AXIOLOGY: What is the role
of values in inquiry (value-conscious versus value-neutral scholarship).
1) Can theory be value-free?
2) To what extent does inquiry influence what is studied?
3) To what extent should scholarship attempt to achieve social
7. CRITERIA FOR EVALUATING THEORIES:
a. SCOPE: a measure of how many
of the basic problems in the discipline or specialty are handled
by the same theory. It takes two forms: coverage of a broad domain
or explanation of a large number of situations within a narrow
range of events.
b. PRECISION OF PREDICTION: a
property of both single equations and a theory.
c. ACCURACY OF EXPLANATION: while
the equations might precisely predict communication effectiveness,
for example, the question remains whether the premises are accurate
d. PARSIMONY: a property of the
theoretical statements. We are interested in explaining as much
as we can with as little as possible. A powerful theory is one
that makes few assumptions.
e. HEURISTIC VALUE: potential
for generating research and additional theory.