There are two types of public relations research: qualitative research and quantitative research. The purpose of qualitative research is to provide a rich, in-depth understanding of how certain people think or feel about a subject. However, the results cannot be generalized to larger populations. Qualitative research allows public relations practitioners to “discover rather than test” ideas (Broom & Dozier, 1990, p. 400). Quantitative research “is the controlled, objective, and systematic gathering of data” (Stacks, 2002, p. 6), which can be generalized to larger populations. Both types of research are valuable, and can provide critical public relations insights, especially when used together. For example, a public relations practitioner might conduct a series of focus group interviews (qualitative research) to identify possible issues that concern employees. The practitioner could use information from the focus groups to develop questions for an employee survey (quantitative research).


Factors that determine which research methods to use include the nature of the research problem, budget, timing, the degree of accuracy required, and the importance of the findings to the success of the organization. All research requires making tradeoffs among rigor, cost, and timing. Some issues may not warrant extensive research because they will create little impact on the organization. Other issues may be expected to create a tremendous impact, but tight deadlines do not allow for designing and implementing an extensive research program. The reality is that public relations practitioners must gather the best information possible to make the best decisions possible within the constraints of the situation.

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