Course objectives

Research is the foundation of good public relations practice. A communication strategy or targeted campaign is doomed to fail if it is not supported by rigorously gathered data. If an organization doesn’t have a solid, research-based understanding of its stakeholders and the context in which it operates, it can’t establish and maintain productive relationships or practice effective environmental scanning. Research is also needed to monitor the progress of communication efforts, identify potential problem areas, and evaluate the success of a strategy or campaign.

While practitioners do use some informal methods similar to those employed by journalists, these methods are inadequate as the basis for developing a comprehensive communication strategy: employers and clients should not be encouraged to invest time and resources into efforts based simply on a “cool idea” or anecdotal evidence. Speculation and guesswork can produce incorrect assumptions that can in turn lead to costly mistakes. Even experienced professionals need to subject their instinctive conclusions to objective evaluation using systematically gathered data. This is the only way to distinguish between assumption and reality. The bulk of this class will therefore focus on introducing students to formal social science research, as it is specifically conducted in a public relations setting.

Public relations practitioners adopt social science research methods adopted in a variety of communication disciplines. The ability to synthesize and communicate research methods and results clearly and thoroughly is another key skill necessary to be effective in today’s professional environment.

By the end of this course, students will:

  • understand the importance of research in communication strategy
  • be able to identify different types of research, and understand how they are used in public relations practice
  • be capable of understanding and critically evaluating published academic and professional research
  • know how to locate and use secondary sources to help develop suitable research questions and support findings
  • have experience conducting research using both qualitative and quantitative methods
  • know how to analyze data to reach robust conclusions, interpret findings and understand their implications within a specific communication context
  • have practice writing research reports

Course requirements

Required readings

This course will not be using an assigned textbook. We will be using a variety of other resources including articles, case studies, book chapters, online materials, and multimedia sources. Students will be responsible for completing all relevant readings before each class session. See the Standards & Policies for more details.

This course will be heavily student-driven: class sessions will focus on discussion, individual and group work, and presentations, with minimal lectures. The purpose of class meetings is not to summarize the readings, but to build on and enhance them. Just because material is not directly addressed in class doesn’t mean that it’s not an important part of the course. You are responsible for your own learning, and will be expected to make use of every available resource to ensure that you understand the material: readings, sources you locate yourself, your classmates, any guest speakers, and of course questions addressed to me in or outside of class.

The organization of the class into Tuesday discussion and Thursday lab sessions will ensure that students have the opportunity to engage with their peers and be able to work on class projects, individually and in groups, with direct supervision and assistance.

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