Audience Dialogue

Recommended books on media research methods

This is Audience Dialogue's selection of what we believe are the best books (in English) on the methods of media research, and social research in general. As there's not much point in recommending a book that's not available, we've favoured those from well-known publishers and those that are on the internet - you have a reasonable chance of being able to either buy them online, or find them in a large library. (But for books on audience research methods, because there are so few of them, all that we know of are listed.)

Note, this selection was last updated July 2007, so it may be a little out of date.  If you believe other books should be on the list then please contact us with suggestions to review for inclusion.

The star/s before a book's title are our rating for readability and difficulty:
* (one star) = Easy to read, specially for people whose first language is not english, and not very technical. (We try to keep most of this website at that level.)
** = More difficult, requiring greater command of English and some knowledge of the principles of research.
*** = Fairly technical. To understand these you need to know English very well, and a good knowledge of research methods. Don't try to read these books before you've read the * and ** books.
**** = Highly academic - written in difficult English and/or covering very technical matters. Because it can be a struggle to read these books, we've only included the ones that we think will repay your struggle.

Audience research and media research

** Handbook on Radio and Television Audience Research, by our good colleague Graham Mytton, a very experienced (former BBC) audience researcher and trainer, with a lot of experience in implementing surveys in developing countries.  Book published by UNICEF, Paris, 1999.  Covers a subject area similar to this one, and is designed for developing countries. Compared with this book, it’s aimed more at managers commissioning research, less at researchers.  It also does not address some methods that are in Know your Audience, such as Consensus Groups.  This book is freely available (each chapter as a downloadable PDF) from this webpage.

* Listener Survey Toolkit, produced for public radio in the USA. Short and succinct. On the internet at www.wksu.org/toolkit.

* Quick Guide to Audience Research, by Dennis List. Original Books, NZ, 2006. More emphasis on “why”, less on “how” than this book. Free online on this website, at www.audiencedialogue.net/qgar.html

* Media and Communication Research Methods, by Arthur Asa Berger. Sage USA, 2000. Detailed coverage of qualitative methods, with a lively and attractive style of writing.

* Mass Media Research: An Introduction. Roger D Wimmer and Joseph R Dominick. Wadsworth, USA, 2005. An overview of mass communication research, dealing with both methods and findings.

** Ratings Analysis, by James G. Webster and others, Lawrence Erlbaum, USA, 2000. Focuses on commercial broadcasting in the US; helpful for marketing people in broadcasting organizations.

* Researching Audiences, by Kim Schroder at al. Hodder Arnold, UK, 2003. Covers media ethnography, reception research, survey research, and experiments; a good complement to this book.

** Television and its Audience, by Patrick Barwise and Andrew Ehrenberg. Sage, London, 1988. On the almost-predictable habits of TV audiences.

*** Media Research Methods, by Barrie Gunter, Sage, London, 2000. Focuses on the findings rather than the methods of research.

** Audience Analysis, by Denis McQuail. Sage, UK, 1997. On the concept of audience, with a summary of findings; more about theory than methods.

Append also a summary list (a PDF, so you need a PDF reader like Adobe Reader or Foxit Reader to open it) compiled by the Germany-based media development agency Catholic Media Council (CAMECO) for your reference, but we've not vetted any that are not on this page.

Research methods in general

* Do-it-Yourself Social Research, by Yoland Wadsworth, Allen and Unwin, Australia, 1997. A concise overview of many research methods.

** Market Research Toolbox, by Edward F McQuarrie. Sage, USA, 2005. Subtitled “A concise guide for beginners”, it helps them choose from a number of standard research methods, and offers guidance of whether to do it yourself or engage a professional.

** Market Research for Managers, by Sunny Crouch, and Matthew Housden, Butterworth-Heinemann, London, 2004. A book aimed at commercial buyers of research, specially in the UK.

* Designing and Conducting Survey Research, by Louis M Rea and Richard A Parker. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 2005. A concise book on survey methods (not qualitative), aimed at public sector and NGO managers.

*** Research Methods in Anthropology, by H Russell Bernard. Altamira Press, USA, 2005. Covers a wide range of quantitative and qualitative research methods; very clearly written. These methods also apply in media research.

Specific aspects of research

Below are some books on aspects of media research. However no books cover response techniques, consensus groups, discovery conferences, and typicality (as described in the Analysis chapter). For those, the book you’re holding now is the most detailed source available.

Planning to do research (chapter 1)

* Methods for Development Work and Research, by Britha Mikkelsen. Sage, New Delhi, 2005. A comprehensive guide to participatory research methods in international development.

** The Logical Framework Approach. AusGuideline 3.3 from Ausaid, Canberra, 2005. A straightforward guide to setting up a project using the Logical Framework. 39 page PDF file, downloadable from www.ausaid.gov.au/ausguide

* Everyday Evaluation on the Run, by Yoland Wadsworth. Allen and Unwin, Australia, 1998. A collection of simple methods for evaluating the success of any project.

* Are Your Lights On? How to Figure out what the Problem Really Is, by Donald C Gause and Gerald M Weinberg, Dorset House, USA, 1990. A brilliant book about getting ready to make decisions.

Sampling (chapter 2)

** Applied Sampling, by Seymour Sudman. Academic Press, New York, 1976. No book on sampling is simple (except for mathematicians) but this one is easier to understand than most.

*** Survey Sampling, by Leslie Kish. Wiley, New York, 1995. One of the ultimate authorities on sampling: a classic book, so not covering some new (complex) sampling methods.

Questionnaires (chapter 3)

* The Art of Asking Questions, by Stanley Payne, Princeton University Press, 1951. Written with exquisite clarity, and still relevant 50 years later.

** Asking Questions, by Seymour Sudman and Norman Bradburn, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 1982. A very useful reference, with research-based reasons for asking questions in particular ways.

** Cognitive Interviewing: A Tool for Improving Questionnaire Design, by Gordon B Willis. Sage, USA, 2004. A powerful way of developing survey questions through detailed probing in a pilot study.

** Constructing Questions for Interviews and Questionnaires, by William Foddy, Cambridge University Press, Australia, 1993. A very detailed overview of question wording.

Interviewing (chapter 4)

* Interviewing for Market and Opinion Research, by E A van Eunen. ESOMAR, Amsterdam, 1995. Based on a Dutch course for new interviewers.

* The Craft of Interviewing, by John Brady. Vintage, New York, 1997. Written for journalists rather than researchers, but very useful for qualitative research.

Analysis and statistics (chapter 5)

As explained in chapter 5, I don’t think anybody can learn statistics from a book. You need to learn it by practising it, under the supervision of statisticians. The best book I’ve found on statistics, for people who prefer words is

* Statistics: A New Approach, by WA Wallis and HV Roberts.Free Press, Chicago, 1956. It’s been out of print for years, but you may find it in a library.

** Data Reduction, by Andrew Ehrenberg. Wiley, UK, 1978. Ehrenberg’s innovative approach to statistics is to seek patterns in data, and make generalizations from them.

* Surveys with Confidence, by Mark Rodeghier, SPSS, USA, 1997. If you have SPSS, you can sit down with this book and work your way through its examples. A good way to learn analysis.

** Communication Research Statistics, by John C Reinard. Sage, USA, 2006. Focuses on the methods used in media studies, showing how to apply these with Excel and SPSS.

** The Basic Practice of Statistics, by David S Moore. W H Freeman, USA, 1999. A clear and well-tested textbooks on statistics, with lots of graphs and examples.

* Statistics without Tears: A Primer for Non-Mathematicians, by Derek Rowntree, Penguin, London, 2003. Concise, user-oriented, and fairly simple.

* Statistics Unplugged, by Sally Caldwell. Wadsworth, USA, 2006. A beginner’s book that focuses on understanding, rather than formulas.

Among some excellent web sites on statistics, the clearest online course I’ve found is
* Statistics Every Writer Should Know, at www.robertniles.com/stats

Reporting (chapter 6)

* How to Lie with Statistics, by Darrell Huff and Irving Geis. WW Norton, US, 1993. Amusing, informative, and a delight to read. A book about presenting statistics, not about creating them.

* The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, by Edward R Tufte. Graphics Press, Connecticut, USA, 1993. A thought-provoking book on presenting data in visual form: graphs and diagrams. Also several other similar books by the same author, from the same publisher, such as Envisioning Information.

* Newsroom Guide to Polls and Surveys, by C Wilhoit & D Weaver, Indiana University, USA, 1990. How to evaluate and describe surveys that others have done, when describing the results in programs or publications.

** The New Precision Journalism, by Philip Meyer, Indiana University, USA, 1991. How to report research findings in programs and publications.

** The Craft of Research, by WC Booth, JM Williams, and GG Colomb. University of Chicago Press, 2003. Aimed at research students, but very useful for anybody wrestling with a research problem.

Telephone surveys (chapter 7)

* How to Conduct Telephone Surveys, by Eve P. Fielder, Linda Brookover Bourque. Sage USA, 2003. Good as far as it goes, but doesn’t cover the world outside the USA, and doesn’t address sampling issues related to mobile phones and the Internet.

* Telephone Survey Methods, by Paul J Lavrakas. Sage, USA, 1993. Same problems as the previous book, but helpful in setting up a survey system.

Mail surveys (chapter 8)

* Mail and Internet surveys: the Tailored Design Method, by Don Dillman, Wiley, New York, 2006. A very practical book, with good coverage of panel and diary surveys, though not specifically about audience surveys.

Visitor surveys (chapter 9)

* Who’s My Market: A Guide to Researching Audiences and Visitors in the Arts, by Helen Close and Robert Donovan, Australia Council, Sydney, 1998. More about how to use research data than to do research, with some interesting case studies.

* Visitor Surveys: A User’s Manual, by Susan K Nichols. American Association of Museums, 1999. Available from www.aam-us.org.

Internet research (chapter 10)

Don Dillman’s book (see Mail Surveys, above) has several useful chapters on Internet surveys, but doesn’t cover online qualitative research.

* Handbook of Online Marketing Research, by J Grossnickle and O Raskin. McGraw-Hill, New York, 2000. A broad coverage of quantitative and qualitative internet research methods, though already out of date.

* Designing Web Usability, by Jakob Nielsen, New Riders, USA, 2000. How to make your web site more user-friendly. Unlike many books on this topic, the information is based on research, not uninformed opinions.

Observation (chapter 11)

* Participant Observation, by James Spradley, Holt, Rinehart, USA, 1980. One of the best books on participant observation, but also very useful on other types of observation.

* Visual Anthropology, by John and Malcolm Collier. University of New Mexico Press, 1986. An inspiring book on using photography for research.

** The Unobtrusive Researcher, by Allan Kellehear, Allen and Unwin, Australia, 1993. Covers observation, content analysis, etc. Rather academic, but very clear, with good summaries and checklists.

* Ethnography for Marketers, by Hy Mariampolski. Sage, USA, 2006. How to understand your audience by immersing yourself in their lives; a highly readable book.

Qualitative methods (chapters 12-15)

There are many, many books on qualitative research, but most are extremely heavy going, and more about the philosophy of qualitative research than how to actually do it. Some of the most useful books are...

* Qualitative Evaluation and Research Methods, by Michael Quinn Patton, Sage USA, 1990. An exceptionally inspiring book, specially if your main concern is how to evaluate the success of complex projects. The 2002 edition, renamed Qualitative Research and Evaluation Methods, is much larger.

* Designing Qualitative Research, by Catherine Marshall and Gretchen B Rossman, Sage USA, 2006. A useful little book covering depth interviews, focus groups, and several other qualitative methods.

* The Research Interview, by Bill Gillham, Continuum Press, London, 2000. All you need to know about qualitative interviewing, in less than 100 pages. Has a good explanation of content analysis, too.

* Qualitative Interviewing: The Art of Hearing Data, by Herbert and Irene Rubin. Sage, USA, 2004. Covers similar ground to Gillham’s book (above) but in more detail.

* Customer Visits, by Edward F McQuarrie, Sage USA, 1998. Intended for use by market researchers rather than audience researchers, but very useful, and clearly written.

* Doing Qualitative Research: A Practical Handbook, by David Silverman. Sage, UK, 2004. Aimed more at research students than practitioners, but has lots of useful detail.

** Qualitative Data Analysis, by Matthew B Miles and A Michael Huberman, Sage, USA, 1994. A marvellously detailed book, which requires a lot of study, but is very rewarding.

Group discussions (chapter 13)

* Focus Groups, by Richard A Krueger, Sage USA, 1988. A useful guide to organizing and running focus groups.

* How to Make Meetings Work, by Michael Doyle and David Straus, Simon and Schuster, USA, 1976. Intended for business meetings, but useful for group discussions too.

* Qualitative Market Research, by Wendy Gordon and Roy Langmaid, Gower, UK, 1988. An excellent book, mainly on focus groups, not for beginners.

Monitoring (chapter 14)

** Handbook on Monitoring and Evaluating for Results, from UNDP. Can be downloaded from the Internet at www.undp.org - a useful book, designed for aid projects, but adaptable for media research.

* Whose Reality Counts? By Robert Chambers, Intermediate Technology Publications, UK, 1993. About the research approaches of PRA and RRA (Participatory and Rapid Rural Appraisal).

* Sharpening the Development Process: A Practical Guide to Monitoring and Evaluation, by Oliver Bakewell, Jerry Adams, and Brian Pratt. INTRAC, UK, 2004. Methods that can be used to develop a monitoring and evaluation system.

The co-discovery conference (chapter 15)

No books (except this one) cover this technique, but I based it on the search conference, and the two methods have much in common. These books on search conferences and related methods are well worth reading if you’re interested in doing a co-discovery conference.

* The Search Conference, by Merrelyn Emery and Ronald Purser, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 1996. Other books on search conferences are heavy going; this is the clearest guidebook.

** Future Search, by Marvin R Weisbord and Sandra Janoff, Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco, 2000. An extension of the search conference method, involving a wider range of participants.

* Open Space Technology, by Harrison Owen, Abbott, USA, 1992. A looser method than the search conference or future search, best suited to a group of people with a strong common purpose.

* Locating the Energy for Change: an Introduction to Appreciative Inquiry, by Charles Elliott, International Institute for Sustainable Development, Winnipeg, 1999. Readable online at www.iisd.org

Many more such methods are covered in ** The Change Handbook, by Peggy Holman, Tom Devane, and Steven Cady. Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco, 2007. A huge and practical book.

* Cracking Creativity, by Michael Michalko. Ten Speed Press, USA, 2001- a very useful book on creativity, and how to encourage it. Lots of interesting examples.

Content analysis (chapter 16)

* Media Analysis Techniques, by Arthur Asa Berger, Sage USA, 1998. This small, clear, enticing book, despite the ambitious title, is mainly about content analysis.

** Researching Communications, by David Deacon et.al, Oxford University Press, UK, 1999. A very thorough coverage of content analysis methods.

Using research findings (chapter 17)

There are hundreds of books on research methods, fewer on how to actually do research, but almost no books about how to use research findings. However, the following books are excellent, even though they don’t specifically apply to audiences…

** Utilization-focused evaluation, by Michael Quinn Patton, Sage, 1997. An exceptionally useful book for managers and researchers: how to make sure evaluation data is usable.

* Decision Traps, by J Edward Russo and Paul J H Schoemaker, Doubleday, New York, 1989. Describes 10 barriers to effective decision making, and how to overcome them.

** Reasoning with Statistics, by Frederick Williams and Peter Monge. Harcourt, USA, 2001. How to link statistical findings to decisions.

** The Improvement Guide, by Gerald J Langley et al. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 1996. Subtitled “a practical approach to enhancing organizational performance” - which describes it perfectly.

Keeping up to date

It would be handy if there was a journal of audience research, which you could read to keep up with new developments. I know of no such journal - the closest is

** Public Opinion Quarterly, published by the Chicago University Press. As the title suggests, it focuses on public opinion research methods, but they happen to be almost identical with audience research methods.

** Field Methods, from Sage Publications, though aimed at anthropologists, is very readable for an academic j ournal. Again, it’s not audience research, but many of the methods described here can be used for audience research.

Sage Publications (which as you can see from this list, seems to publish as many books in this area as the rest of the world combined) have a website that’s worth checking, at www.sagepub.com

MandE News - a Monitoring and Evaluation website, at www.mande.co.uk - a mine of information on monitoring and evaluation methods, specially for development programs.