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Information, Communication & Society
ISSN: 1369-118X (Print) 1468-4462 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rics20
Against dullness: on what it means to be
interesting in communication research
To cite this article: Manuel Goyanes (2018): Against dullness: on what it means to be
interesting in communication research, Information, Communication & Society, DOI:
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/1369118X.2018.1495248
Published online: 09 Jul 2018.
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Against dullness: on what it means to be interesting in
Department of Communication Sciences, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, Madrid, Spain
This research-based essay presents evidence concerning the leading
dimensions that make an empirical communication research article
interesting. Based on a survey to editorial boards (EBs) of 16
communication journals, ﬁve diﬀerent categories of interest were
found: counterintuitive, foundational, new approach, quality and
exemplarity, and insightful and practical. By outlining these
categories, the article provides illustrative examples of interesting
studies, aiming to stimulate the research community to better
assess the potentiality of their contributions, and thus elevating
the likelihood of being inﬂuential and appealing. To contextualize
these ﬁndings, the study also provides evidence from EBs
regarding the research system itself, arguing that there is a gap
between the current robustness of empirical developments and
the apathy about them showed by some ﬁeld’s forefathers. The
article ﬁnally reﬂects on the social division of academics based on
the research nature of their studies, suggesting that the
‘empirical’term has lost its original meaning of evidenced-based
research and became shorthand for most quantitative work, made
by ‘social scientists’.
Received 26 February 2018
Accepted 26 June 2018
All social scientists want to produce interesting and inﬂuential studies (Gray & Wegner,
2013). The dominant view for producing science is that research is a quest for truth (Tellis,
2017) and thus, a research paper becomes inﬂuential if it is regarded as true (Alvesson &
Sandberg, 2013). However, as Davis (1971) points out, what makes a research paper inﬂu-
ential is not only that is deemed true, but also, if it challenges the assumption(s) of its audi-
ence in some signiﬁcant ways. Similar to other occupations, research is a matter of craft
(Echeverría, 1995). A professional architect, musician or painter, could easily design a cha-
let, compose a toccata or paint an impressionist canvas. Following the principles, norms
and values of their respective ﬁelds they can design standard ﬁgures, sounds and color
combinations. However, from the generation of standard commodities, by obeying the
rules, to the design of fascinating crafts, by transgressing them, lies a great leap.
Likewise, doing communication research is not necessarily hard. Following the research
orthodoxy, a communication scholar could eﬀectively create legitimate science. This
orthodoxy, summarized in the hypothetical-deductive approach
(Hempel, 1966; Kerr,
© 2018 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
CONTACT Manuel Goyanes firstname.lastname@example.org
INFORMATION, COMMUNICATION & SOCIETY
1998), is translated into a standard practice of scientiﬁc production, based on: (1) a litera-
ture review that leads to hypotheses, (2) data collection, (3) test of hypotheses, and (4) dis-
cussion of main results. In addition, all legitimate science (under this philosophy of
science) must be reliable, valid and replicable to be considered as generalizable (Simon-
sohn, 2015) and therefore, should be synchronized with a certain level of orthodoxy
(Bunge, 2015), showing respect for the norms and values that shape the scientiﬁcethos
(Merton, 1968). Indeed, hundreds of research studies are published every year that feature
legitimate science, but how many of them are interesting? Interesting research is not only a
representation of scientiﬁc truth (Echeverría, 1995), but is also a call to the greatness of
human creativity, its vocation of rupture and its ability to stimulate and challenge
(Davis, 1971). Like art, interesting research may seem gaseous, frugal and volatile, but
there are certainly some dimensions that are able to capture it.
This research-based essay explores the question: ‘What makes communication research
interesting?’Illustrating what constitutes an interesting article has become increasingly
relevant to the ﬁeld of communication due to diﬀerent changes in its culture and scientiﬁc
identity (Calhoun, 2011; Gross, 2012; Livingstone, 2011; Vorderer, 2016). Some inter-
related factors are arguably the most responsible: the notable increase in journals and
research publications (Donsbach, 2006), the pressure to publish (Lagoze, Edwards, Sand-
vig, & Plantin, 2015), and the accelerated specialization and fragmentation of knowledge
(Phillips, 2016). All these factors, along with the taken for granted assumption that scho-
lars must publish or perish (Bunz, 2005; Kramer, Hess, & Reid, 2007; Wasserman &
Richards, 2015), have triggered the inﬂation of educational and research credentials
(Alvesson, 2015). The consequences seem clear: an increasing isomorphism in research
outputs and a gradual disappearance of surprise and imagination (Alvesson & Gabriel,
2013; Eisenhart, 2002; Petersen, 2017; Goyanes, 2015). This study set out to challenge
this research culture and thus: (1) contribute to a better understanding of what dimensions
of empirical communication research shape an interesting study, (2) open up academic
discussion concerning the need (or not) to challenge the over-standardization of research
productions, and (3) upgrade the values associated with interesting research as criteria for
assessing research papers and academic trajectories.
This article addresses these challenges by surveying EB members of a sample of 16 com-
munication journals. The rationale behind the focus on EBs to gather empirical evidences
is due to their crucial role in shaping the ﬁeld: whether because they have conducted
research of broad inﬂuence or due to their role as ‘gatekeepers of knowledge’(Burgess
& Shaw, 2010). Their opinions, experiences and expectations serve as a barometer to
measure the inﬂuence of communication research papers and the publication system itself.
Why being interesting matters
Despite its importance, being interesting is neither the only nor the most important cri-
teria when it comes to evaluating empirical research (Alvesson & Gabriel, 2013). An intri-
guing and compelling study, lacking the broadly accepted scientiﬁc and academic
practices, ‘provides’irrelevant results (Bartunek, Rynes, & Ireland, 2006). Claims to be
interesting must ﬁrst follow commonly accepted practical techniques (Chalmers, 2013),
whether they are quantitative or qualitative. Being interesting cannot be a substitute for
lack of validity (Salvato & Aldrich, 2012) and thus, research innovation need not come
at the expense of analytical coherence (De Rond & Miller, 2005). The rigor of the method,
the accuracy of codiﬁcations and the research craft itself (how the author marshals the rel-
evant literature and theory, and presents an integrated synthesis, how the author provides
good examples and rich descriptions and, how theory ﬁts data, etc.), are arguably more
central elements in high-quality research than being regarded as interesting (Neuman,
Davidson, Joo, Park, & Williams, 2008).
The challenge facing many social sciences is then to establish a healthy balance between
methodological rigor/writing standardization and research creativity and interestingness
(Caulley, 2008; Petersen, 2017). Methodological rigor (and the sophistication of knowledge
and writing associated to it) plays a central role in sciences, as it is considered capable of
building a uniﬁed body of knowledge based on systematic theory development and testing
(Bunge, 2015; Echeverría, 1995). The rigor in the research process is a crucial factor for pro-
ducing stronger theory and/or knowledge that is less context-contingent and more general-
izable (Esser, 2014). However, while a partiality toward methodological rigor and quantity
of output need not preclude innovation and boldness, a high throughput approach to pub-
lishing risks generating more trivial output (De Rond & Miller, 2005). Therefore, an (over)-
emphasis on methodological conventionality and research performance risk neglecting
interestingness and boldness as criteria for assessing research (Goyanes, 2015).
Critical approaches to communication sciences paradigm(s) and principles are not
especially new (Craig, 1999; Potter, Cooper, & Dupagne, 1993; Putnam, 2001; Rosengren,
1993), and they are habitually brought to the academic forum for further discussion and
problematization (Lang, 2013; Perloﬀ,2013). In recent years, however, a growing number
of scholars have shifted this focus, starting to question both formally and informally the
way in which communication research is produced and disseminated and the role of
major scientiﬁc journals in this process (Gray & Lotz, 2013; Noonan & Lohmeier, 2017;
Phillips, 2016). Some of this is prompted by concerns over the quality, objectives and
ends of many scientiﬁc outputs (Phillips, 2016), the increasing research overload in
terms of scientiﬁc outlets and research publications (Donsbach, 2006) and the lack of bal-
ance between rigor and creative thinking (Alvesson & Sandberg, 2013). In this context,
propelled even further by the ‘publish or perish’institutional framework, research articles
run the risk of turning into a commodity: standard, mass-produced and ultimately boring
and dull (Grey, 2010). Peter Woodford, former president of the Council of Science Editors,
described the poor writing he saw in journals as ‘appalling’(1969, p. 625). Many social
scientists who have written on the subject agree with Grey (2010, p. 691) that scientiﬁc
writing ‘has become increasingly formulaic and dull’. There is a massive gap between
what most scholars consider to be interesting and what they typically produce and publish
Despite the entire technical and tactical rigor (whether in quantitative or qualitative
research), many published research papers do not stimulate or appeal, nor do they engage
or amuse and as a result seems repetitive, predictable and a déjà vu (Caulley, 2008). Many
scholars have experienced this fatigue and, what is more dangerous, a growing taken-for-
granted assumption by which ‘there is no other way of producing research articles’is
taking over the system (Goyanes, 2015). Although this assumption is challenged by
many examples of well-crafted, interesting and inﬂuential articles published daily in lead-
ing journals, there is increasing isomorphism in research papers and a gradual disappear-
ance of style, imagination, and surprise (Alvesson & Gabriel, 2013; Petersen, 2017). To be
INFORMATION, COMMUNICATION & SOCIETY 3
part of the system authors are supposed to respond to expectations, and this means, with
some notable exceptions, being predictable (Gabriel, 2010). As a result, there seems to be
strong mainstreaming of what journal articles should look like (Alvesson & Sandberg,
2013). In this context, what makes an empirical communication research paper interest-
ing? A survey to EB members of communication journals was conducted to ﬁnd this out.
To elucidate which factors make an empirical communication research article interesting,
EB members of 16
communication journals were surveyed. EBs were the focus of the
study due to their central role in setting the values associated to high-quality research
and thus in shaping research strategies and articles’structure and content (Goyanes,
2015). As gatekeepers of knowledge, EB members are fundamental agents in deciding
what is published and therefore what informs communication theory and practice (Harz-
ing & Metz, 2013). This gatekeeping role is shaped by their crucial role in the publication
process, as many EBs are usually reviewers (Metz & Harzing, 2009). Therefore, their
claims concerning interesting research have a wider resonance and might challenge the
socialization process of many scholars and research tribes.
The reasons behind the selection of journals are mainly three: they are all seen as pre-
mier outlets for leading edge communication research, they all represent a fairly good
spread when it comes to the research they publish, and all of them are top-ranked journals.
Despite the eﬀorts in developing an inclusive and thematically broad sample size, the
many important journals that were left out (due to practical reasons) and the limited
response rate (due to lack of incentives and because some EB members are simply retired
and, especially, because many EB members are relatively inactive or they are non-eligible
because they do not follow communication research or do not consider themselves social
scientists), precludes the article claiming representative ﬁndings. However, the article’s
intent is not to representatively rank the most interesting articles in the ﬁeld, but to cap-
ture the main dimensions of interestingness. Therefore, the 145 articles that form the basis
of analysis (and the quite common reasons for their nominations), might represent a fair
sample size to distill the categories of interest, pointing to directions that might challenge
the current statu quo.
The ﬁrst round of emails was sent between April and May 2017, receiving a total of 32
valid responses. A gentle reminder was sent again to those who did not respond to the ﬁrst
round at mid-May until mid-June 2017, receiving a total of 48 usable responses. In total,
80 valid responses were received, which represent nearly 12% of EB members and an
apparently homogeneous representation of editors-in chief, associate editors and advisory
board members. Beyond the participation through the oﬃcial response to the established
questionnaire, to the extent that EB members showed an expression of interest in the pro-
ject, a less structured and more personal correspondence was established in order to frame
and oﬀer greater evidence regarding their vision of interesting research, including broader
reﬂections about how a better balance could be achieved between research orthodoxy and
originality. As many scholars are members of one or more EB, the invitation to participate
was only sent once. The total number of EB members contacted amounts to 676, a number
slightly lower than the total population.
The methodology for completing the survey was based on a procedure performed in
similar studies (Bartunek et al., 2006; Salvato & Aldrich, 2012). Speciﬁcally, an invitation
via e-mail to EB members was sent, and they were asked to ‘nominate up to three empirical
articles related to communication research from any academic journal over the past 90
years that [they] regard as particularly “interesting”’. The e-mail asked respondents to
‘describe why [they] consider each article interesting’by providing ‘one sentence per
nominated article’and to indicate ‘up to three keywords describing the main reasons
for their interest in the nominated articles.’Although the study assumes all evidence-
based research, both quantitative and qualitative, to be empirical, this information was
not provided in the survey data in order to explore the possible interpretations of the
meaning that diﬀerent research camps might have.
Coding and analysis
In order to answer the research question previously posed, a thematic analysis was con-
ducted. The thematic analysis is ‘a method for identifying, analyzing and reporting pat-
terns (themes) within data’(Braun & Clarke, 2006, p. 79). Braun and Clarke (2006)
propose an analytic procedure that comprises six phases allowing for systematization
and transparency of the coding and analysis process, which was followed. Codes and the-
matic maps were discussed with two independent researchers, who then informed about
reﬁnement of themes, their deﬁnition and naming. Thematic analysis allows shared pat-
terns to be identiﬁed across the statements of various interviewees centered on research
interests, while remaining staying ﬂexible to identify other emerging themes. To determine
which reasons were most frequently stated a content analysis was performed with the sup-
port of software for qualitative data analysis (QSR NVivo 11). The categories of interest
had to pass the threshold of constituting 15% or more of the total coded text to qualify
for inclusion (Bartunek et al., 2006).
What is interesting in communication research?
The 80 EB members nominated 145 diﬀerent research papers as archetypes of interesting
communication research. Their nominations, and the rationales they provided for them,
oﬀer some indication of what it takes for communication journal articles to be seen as
interesting, at least according to scholars who systematically review leading journals. EB
members nominated a wide variety of articles: 6 of the 145 articles (4.6%) were nominated
two or more times, indicating a huge dispersion of responses and thus great ﬁeld diversity
in terms of research paradigms and approaches. Respondents provided a myriad of
reasons and keywords for their nominations. The qualifying reasons are shown in
Table 1, together with exemplary keywords and illustrative quotations. The thematic
analysis revealed ﬁve diﬀerent categories of interest: counterintuitive, foundational, new
approach, quality and exemplarity, and insightful and practical.
One of the categories most referred to turns out to be Davis (1971), counterintuitive
research. According to respondents’testimonies, studies that challenge the assumption
ground of its audience are regarded as interesting and thus more likely to be read,
INFORMATION, COMMUNICATION & SOCIETY 5
understood, and remembered (Silvia, 2008). That many participants acknowledge this cat-
egory as a benchmark of interesting research suggests much scholarship against this
fashion might exist. Therefore, despite the scientiﬁc relevance of cumulative and incre-
mental studies and their crucial role in reﬁning and exploiting traditional theories
(Kuhn, 1970), scholarship that challenges or violates well-established assumptions
might be seen as more interesting and thus more likely to keep the reader’s attention
and motivation to learn (Deci & Ryan, 2000). Examples of counterintuitive research
usually take the form of what Davis (1971, p. 313), describes as ‘what seems or is accepted
to be X is in reality non-X, and/or what is accepted as X is actually non-X’.
Challenging the ontological, epistemological, and methodological assumptions that
underlie speciﬁc literature can be characterized as paradigmatic assumptions (Kuhn,
1970) and, according to EB members, a crucial strategy for being interesting. Given
their revolutionary nature, ground-breaking studies are, however, very rare in sciences
Table 1. Reasons for ﬁnding an empirical research article in communication science interesting.
Interests General domain of reason Illustrative quotations
53% Counterintuitive Challenges established theory; provides
counterintuitive ﬁndings; provides
surprising ﬁndings that go against
traditional wisdom; violates
expectations and taken-for- granted
‘The article is interesting because
presents important ﬁndings that
challenge normative hopes/
‘Another expectation-violating process
described here is the potent impact of
the attitudes and behaviors of others
on our own attitudes and behaviors
with respect to communication
49% Foundational Classical studies that open up new
avenues or research; provides the
tenets of a research area; oﬀers the ﬁrst
empirical evidence of a phenomena;
provides a signiﬁcant theoretical
contribution to the discipline;
pioneering and massively-researched
‘This article is the original study on why
audiences perceive media biases’.
‘Classic study of the origins and
functionality of objectivity in
47% New approach Provides new ways to understand
(digital) phenomena; integrates
multiple perspectives; oﬀers new
perspective from other ﬁelds of
research to interpret data; Re-examines
a classical theory in a new and diﬀerent
‘The paper made an early plea to
consider the “total social situation”or
“conﬁguration”of social inﬂuence in
place of the already-common media
‘Nicely applied social psychological
theories of impression formation to the
context of rebuilding trust’
33% Quality &
Represents empirical research
excellence/rigor/rationality in its
diﬀerent shapes: strong and robust
methodology; on-point literature
review; appropriate/suﬃcient sample
of subjects; rigor of ﬁndings and
arguments; new methodological
proposals; cross-national comparisons
‘A great example of how to turn an
enormous amount of empirical data
into a very clear, precise conclusion; it
crosses multiple boundaries of subject/
‘This is the theoretical basis for huge
numbers of empirical studies’.
‘This is an exemplar of communication
23% Insightful &
Simply written and compelling; provides
good descriptions; has rich cases; oﬀers
clear description of ﬁndings; addresses
clearly the practical implications of
‘Is probably one of the best articles of all
time. Was perhaps the ﬁrst
ethnography and so simply written
and compelling, I use it whenever I
teach anything that involves
ethnography or conversation’
and are for most scholars beyond reach. As Kuhn (1970) suggested, the bulk of scientiﬁc
work is done by normal scientists tied to speciﬁc research paradigms. However, healthy
knowledge production requires a productive balance between the development, reﬁne-
ment and exploitation of existing knowledge and methods and the exploration of possible
new directions (Bacon, 1988). A central question, therefore, is how a good trade-oﬀ
between cumulative competence and a capacity to think diﬀerently can be accomplished.
EBs desideratum might just point to a strong ﬁeld tendency towards incremental contri-
butions over creative thinking.
In this regard, there is a range of options in terms of research novelty between cumu-
lative science and paradigm revolutions that are more feasible to achieve. For instance,
nominated counterintuitive articles, critically problematize a particular theoretical frame-
work, a vocabulary and/or the construction of an empirical terrain. They also show crea-
tivity and personality in style and structure and communicate an original, interesting idea
oﬀering support for it. Counterintuitive scholarship usually assumes the following prin-
ciples: (1) identify a domain of literature, (2) identify and articulate assumptions under-
lying this domain, (3) evaluate them, (4) develop an alternative assumption ground, (5)
consider it in relation to its audience, and (6) evaluate the alternative assumption ground
(Alvesson & Sandberg, 2013). An example of interesting counterintuitive article is Dear-
ing’s 1995 analysis of maverick science. The study violates expectations by demonstrating
that American journalists engage in ‘false balance’when covering controversial science not
because they believe that scientiﬁc outliers are making legitimate truth claims but because
they believe the occupation requires this kind of balancing act.
Foundational articles are the scholarships that originally establish the tenets of a future
massive research area and, as a consequence, its impact on the ﬁeld can only be measured
over time. Pioneering articles are those set by some of the great masters of the ﬁeld and, as
such, their reputation is the product of outstanding contributions along the years, many of
them framed within the boundaries of the original study, improved and revisited (by her/
himself or other scholars ‘on demand’or following traditional reviewing processes), over
the years. Katz’s 1957 two-step ﬂow of communication represents a canonical example of a
foundational and pioneering article in the sense that it starts diﬀerentiating between
hitherto ignored components of mass communication processes and establishes the
groundwork for exploring assumptions, particularly on the role of individuals and groups
in communication theories and processes. Other examples of foundational articles might
include Katz’s et al. 1973 users and gratiﬁcations theory or McCombs and Shaw’s 1972
agenda setting theory.
Foundational research articles provide the tenets of an original theory that will turn sys-
temic. Their practical and theoretical relevance makes them a crucial toolkit for many
research projects and essential reading for research and learning the foundations of com-
munication theory. Due to their explanatory power, they are widely cited and habitually
brought into research projects, whether to support an argument, reﬁne hypothesis or,
more ambitiously, challenge their scope or lack of application in diﬀerent settings.
The new approach consists of two strategies: (1) the application of an established theory
(from the communication ﬁeld or other) in new-found (usually) digital conditions and (2)
the application of a traditional theory/perspective from other ﬁelds to understand and
explain communication-related phenomena. Both strategies present important common-
alities. First, instead of a strong and narrow focus on some issues within a well-deﬁned,
INFORMATION, COMMUNICATION & SOCIETY 7
specialized intellectual terrain, the broad spectrum of new approach articles (in terms of
applicability of theories and getting empirical inspiration) open up research opportunities
through cross-fertilization of theoretical frameworks, enriching the ﬁeld and scholars’
research competence. The new approach then requires breaking intellectual (over)specia-
lization, as it oﬀers researchers the possibility to maneuver in a broader and more varied
academic territory. In the ﬁrst strategy, researchers are driven forward by an exploratory
logic, a logic dominated by the questions ‘Why?’‘So what?’and maybe above all ‘What if?
These broad questions open new possibilities to apply theories and perspectives and test
their explanatory power in new, especially digital, settings. In particular, the ﬁrst strategy
aims to make a broader connection between established theories and new scenarios pro-
pelled by new digital technologies and thereby open up new ways of seeing things.
In the second strategy, researchers engage in broader scholarship as a way of getting
ideas and inspiration from varied sets of literature, types of research projects and social
groups. The second strategy of the new approach emphasizes the grasp of multiple out-
looks and ability to simultaneously embrace diﬀerent research identities and social aﬃlia-
tions. It allows the explanation of empirical evidence borrowing perspectives, theories or
ways of reasoning from scientiﬁc terrains outside the usual suspects. Shum’s 1995, 1996,
and 1997 cultivation studies constitute a nice example of new approach articles. Taken
together as a package, Shum’s empirical studies demonstrate underlying psychological
processes using the experimental method to explain cultivation eﬀects on television.
Prior to this work, cultivation theory was mired down in contradictory ﬁndings based
on correlations, and this research helped move cultivation theory forward greatly.
Disciplines on which new approach scholarship is drawn are many. These include, for
instance, political science, sociology, economics and especially psychology. Researchers
import from these disciplines into their studies traditional theories/knowledge with the
aim of illustrating phenomena or proposing theoretically-grounded hypothesis that
explain fruitful relationships for the communication sciences ﬁeld. By getting huge empiri-
cal inspiration from cousin ﬁelds, new approach articles also provide new avenues for
research and establish empirical connections between literature and theories that were
Quality and exemplarity papers describe what has broadly, but in particular in the con-
text of publishing in leading communication journals, come to be regarded as ‘sound
research’: papers solidly grounded in theory and well executed methodologically. They
represent excellence in theory building/testing and orthodoxy in scientiﬁc practice and
methodological rigor. Research articles under this category (1) are fundamentally quanti-
tative and based on the hypothetic-deductive approach, (2) address themselves in a man-
ner that reveals a solid analytical acumen (2) are socially signiﬁcant and timely, (3) push
theory forward, and (4) present strong implications for future theoretical development
and empirical exploration. Quality and exemplarity research articles fundamentally test,
extend, or build new communication theory. Therefore, research articles must make
strong empirical and theoretical contributions and should highlight the relevance of
those contributions for current discussions in the ﬁeld. In order to accomplish the
intended ‘theoretical contribution’, quality and exemplarity articles usually follow three
strategies: (1) to test intuitive or traditional theory non supported by empirical research,
(2) to build new theory based on the exploration of the mediators/moderators and the
antecedents/consequences that explain the relationship of core constructs in a validated
theory, and (3) to combine both previous strategies.
Although the morphology of quality and exemplarity articles is mainly standardized,
their interest emerges from the way in which they maximize the technical and tactical
rigor of the research process to oﬀer broad and generally representative empirical results
and generalizable ﬁndings that extend or nuanced an established theory. The paradigmatic
research cases of this dimension are large-scale ﬁeld studies, such as comparative analysis,
global surveys or (representative and global) methodological innovations. A canonical case
for quality and exemplary articles is Hanitzsh’s 2011 study on the professional milieus of
journalism. The article is based on the pilot project of the Worlds of Journalism Study
(encompassing now more than 60 countries) and identiﬁes the various professional mili-
eus through a cluster analysis on the survey responses of 1800 journalists from more than
350 news organizations in 18 countries around the world. The analysis provides strong
evidence regarding the relationship between media systems and journalism cultures and
thus is an exemplar of cross-national comparisons.
Finally, Insightful and Practical are those empirical studies that provide rich examples and
vivid (thick) descriptions. For this dimension, much credit is given to writing itself, and thus
to narrative mastery and rhetorical aesthetics. This last category proves that writing with per-
sonality and empiricism is a possible combination. Most scholarship under this category are
qualitative studies, based on interviews, focus groups and/or observations to gather empirical
evidences, relying on critical perspectives (such as feminism, poststructuralism, social con-
structionism, critical theory, etc.) to frame the study and interpret empirical evidences.
In insightful and practical studies, authors are also supposed to point out the normative
and practical implications of the ﬁndings and thereby to address potential actions, visions
or considerations that improve the situation of particular communities and provide rel-
evant information to facilitate the implementation of practitioners. Although communi-
cation scholars might disagree about the extent to which current communication
research is relevant to practitioners, insightful and practical studies prove that implications
for practice (recommendations and suggestions), are fundamental insights for addressing
complex questions in a way that contributes to society, solving the world’s most important
problems. Their practical advice might address practitioners, educators, policymakers,
organizations etc., oﬀering research-based orientations on what they should do (becoming
more aware of certain phenomena, being more sensitive to something, the importance of
learning or gaining additional knowledge in some area, showing alternative ways of
accomplishing something, etc.). A nice example of an insightful and practical article is
Buzzanell and Liu’s 2005 study on maternity leave. The article, through a poststructuralist
feminist analysis, explores 15 women’s discursive constructions of their workplace experi-
ences while pregnant, on maternity leave, and upon return to paid work. The study relates
to policy communication, feminism, inclusion, and work-life issues in addition to organ-
izational and applied communication, oﬀering important normative implications of the
study’sﬁndings and how practitioners (managers) should improve the work-life experi-
ence of women. The article is interesting because it is focused on an extremely important
concern, and is well written, personal and engaging. It also reﬂects a strong moral and
critical commitment oﬀering rich illustrations and creative interpretations.
Table 2 provides some examples of empirical research articles from the diﬀerent cat-
egories of interests.
INFORMATION, COMMUNICATION & SOCIETY 9
Table 2. Examples of interesting articles by category of interest.
Category of Interests Some examples
Counterintuitive Dearing, J.W. (1995). Newspaper coverage of maverick science: Creating controversy through balancing. Public
Understanding of Science,4(4), 341–361.
Walther, J.B. (1992). Interpersonal eﬀects in computer-mediated interaction: A relational perspective.
Communication Research,19(1), 52–90.
Foundational McCombs, M.E., & Shaw, D.L. (1972). The agenda-setting function of mass media. Public Opinion Quarterly,36
Katz, E., Blumler, J.G., & Gurevitch, M. (1973). Uses and gratiﬁcations research. The Public Opinion Quarterly,37
New approach Shrum, L. J. (1996). Psychological processes underlying cultivation eﬀects further tests of construct accessibility.
Human Communication Research,22(4), 482–509.
Quality and exemplarity Hanitzsch, T. (2011). Populist disseminators, detached watchdogs, critical change agents and opportunist
facilitators: Professional milieus, the journalistic ﬁeld and autonomy in 18 countries. International
Communication Gazette,73(6), 477–494.
Boase, J., & Ling, R. (2013). Measuring mobile phone use: Self-report versus log data. Journal of Computer-
Mediated Communication,18(4), 508–519.
Insightful and Practical (for the industry, society and teaching) Buzzanell, P. M., & Liu, M. (2005). Struggling with maternity leave policies and practices: A poststructuralist
feminist analysis of gendered organizing. Journal of Applied Communication Research,33(1), 1–25.
Tracy, S.J. (2000). Becoming a character for commerce: Emotion labor, self-subordination, and discursive
construction of identity in a total institution. Management Communication Quarterly,14(1), 90–128.
10 M. GOYANES
Other insights that emerged from the responses: the power of the topic and the
multi-paradigm nature of the ﬁeld
As addressed in the previous section, ﬁve diﬀerent dimensions shape the morphology of
interesting communication research, according to EBs testimonies. The following section
highlights, however, two relevant ﬁndings that frame and substantiate how the division of
knowledge is shaped in the ﬁeld and the main implications for the construction and envi-
sion of interesting scholarships. These two ﬁndings emphasize, on the one hand, the natu-
ral and inherent individualism of scholars and their research lines in shaping their vision
of interesting research and, on the other hand, the multi-paradigm nature of the ﬁeld when
it comes to establishing and building a common deﬁnition or research excellence.
First, it is interesting to note that eight editorial board members have nominated twelve
diﬀerent articles of their own as benchmarks of interesting communication research,
suggesting that the research topic itself (specialization), is an essential category, beyond
those previously outlined, to determine the interest of a scholarship. Therefore, EB mem-
bers to evaluate the potential of an article to become interesting, might ﬁrst concentrate on
the subject, literature or theory the paper is scrutinizing. The specialization determines
what is understood as interesting and given that many editorial board members are pop-
ular because of their research contributions in their specializations, they might consider
that their research papers have no competence in this regard. Two testimonies remark
on this orientation:
I added this one because it won two awards, including one for applied communication
research because it was so practical as well as theoretical and empirical. You can disregard
because I’ve inserted my own work. Relates to ….(Female, Distinguished Professor of
Today, I’m working in …and, frankly, two of my own pieces are most important. (Male,
Emeritus Professor of Communication).
Second, a more intriguing ﬁnding highlights the multi-paradigmatic nature of the ﬁeld and
the struggle of communication sciences in establishing what is or should be both the vision
and scientiﬁc standards that guide research practice. Speciﬁcally, the testimonies of two EB
members address the inconsistency and conﬂict between research visions in the communi-
cation ﬁeld: what one EB member acknowledged as interesting research for being founda-
tional (second category), another member nominated the same article as a negative
reference, reviewing in detail its theoretical weakness and (many) methodological ﬂaws.
Two references in the ﬁeld and belonging to the same editorial board, consider the
same article (written by another reference in the ﬁeld), both interesting (for being seminal)
and a negative reference point. As this case shows, the different research camps (Meyro-
witz, 2008), trigger the perception and perpetuation of communication science as a matter
of taste, even within a research sub-specialization.
I nominate …because it’s seminal, original and massively-researched. (Male, Professor of
There is one journal article by …which I read when I was very young, and which has ever
since served as a negative reference point for me. (Male, Emeritus Professor of Government
and International Relations)
INFORMATION, COMMUNICATION & SOCIETY 11
Perspectives on the publication system
Journals, as means of scientiﬁc dissemination, establish the norms and values of ‘good
science’, and have a huge impact on the structure and main ingredients of scientiﬁc pro-
duction (Goyanes, 2015). Through editorials, invitations and specialists’contributions
they are the ideologist of the scientiﬁcethos. As one of the most relevant stakeholders
in setting the dominant view of high-quality research, they perform a crucial role in pro-
viding empirical insights globally. In this context, the book, as an enclave of consumption
and interpretation of scientiﬁc knowledge, has been losing ground in the paper’s favor.
According to testimonies gathered, the book is one of the big losers in papers’explosion
as proxy of academic performance and success. However, despite their declining relevance,
the book remains, for many EB members, an essential terrain for the transmission of scien-
tiﬁc knowledge and a remarkable source of inspiration and inﬂuence. A book’s architec-
ture allows researchers to oﬀer wider scope and, therefore, serve as an antidote to the
widespread disposition towards ‘milking’research. Two testimonies exemplify this vision
in the following way:
This exercise made me realize that I have found far more books to be important examples of
empirical research than journal articles (presumably because they are long enough to give
researchers more scope). I also realized that a lot of what I read these days is about theory,
or method, or history of the discipline, rather than empirical. Interesting to notice. (Female,
Emeritus Professor of Communication)
When I think of the writings that inﬂuenced me most, they are all books. […]. When I think
of empirical journal articles, I am taken either by ones that bring together a large range of
research (as used to be done in e.g., the Journal of Experimental Psychology) or occasionally
a very good research design. I think there is far too much tendency these days to ‘milk’
research, to get as many articles as possible instead of one big substantial article. (Male, Emer-
itus Professor in Government and International Relations)
On the other hand, some EB members are concerned about the incremental and cumulat-
ive shift of many journals. For many, some published scholarship actually lacks interest
due to its standardization, formulaic rhetoric and lack of scope. This triggers a great
detachment about what is being published and a general apathy about contemporary
I’m selecting articles that are personally interesting to me, mostly because they’ve been inspir-
ing in some way. There are articles that you have to cite, to be current in the ﬁeld, then there
are articles that you return to, because they are generative and spark ideas, sometimes leading
to new research. I used to read the journals in Communication more than I do. Now, journals
are basically soulless “content containers”that mostly serve to memorialize the production
process. They don’t have much personality anymore and it’s harder to be a committed reader.
I’ve heard this from a lot of people, so it might be something to touch upon in your work.
(Male, Professor of Strategic Communication)
I will say that overall I don’t think empirical pieces are usually as exciting –it is the concep-
tual pieces and the bigger picture theory/agenda pieces that more often do a better job of lay-
ing out an alternate perspective for us. But sometimes, an empirical piece can do that in
surprising but really useful ways also. (Male, Professor of Communication)
Some participants showed their dissatisfaction with the project instead of proposing open
nominations (empirical or conceptual articles/books); the study focuses only on empirical
12 M. GOYANES
research articles. In this regard, although there is no literarily direct evidence to claim that
‘empirical’is ‘boring’, the underlying responses of many EBs members might indicate that,
for many, they actually correlate. In the same way an EB member proposed only books
(arguably because research articles do not appeal to him), while one EB member rec-
ommended introducing books or more theoretical/conceptual analysis in order not to
‘get caught in the traps of positivism’.
I thought I had a few great nominations but then saw you were looking mainly for empirical
pieces …will respond this week ….(Male, Professor of Communication)
These are all works [books] that set up progressive paradigms and jolted a reactionary dis-
cipline into action –at least on its periphery! You won’t need me to give you keywords on
these! (Male, Professor of Cultural and Media Studies)
You could also do three books, but empirical articles fade away after the next better study that
has better and perhaps more important theory; in fact, you should not even focus on the
empirical, without emphasis on the theoretical or you get caught in the traps of positivism.
(Male, Professor of Philosophy of Education)
Many EB members, despite being crucial empirical contributors in the ﬁeld, regard theor-
etical or conceptual articles as the most important and interesting scholarship. However,
their general judgement of taste contrasts with the ﬁeld’s course. For some EB members,
much published scholarship lacks a general theoretical contribution/idea, or is excessively
based on positivistic premises, as the following testimonies illustrate:
I review a large number of submissions to a number of journals. What I look for is a strong
theoretical (conceptual) focus. Unfortunately, most submissions do not have such a focus.
(Male, Professor of Journalism)
I am afraid too much micro-positivist science is being published today in elite journals.
(Male, Research Fellow)
All these factors (lack of a clear theoretical contribution, standardization of the research
process, scope of research articles, micro-positivist science, etc.) cause many scholars,
despite being EB members in one or more scientiﬁc journals, to not read or engage in com-
munication papers. Two EB members reﬂect on that the following way:
I regret I cannot help you. I do not read enough journal articles in our ﬁeld to answer with
any authority. Good luck with your important research. (Male, Professor of Communication)
Thanks for thinking of me, but I am not very attached to journal articles and rely on book-
length arguments for teaching and research purposes. I elect not to participate, as I have little
to add. (Male, Professor of Communication)
Finally, according to the testimonies gathered, there is a clear division in the ﬁeld between
‘empiricists’and ‘non-empiricists’. Many of the ‘non-empiricists’, that is to say, research-
ers who, on the contrary, consider that they do not do empirical research or are not social
scientists because they use qualitative methodologies, decide unilaterally not to participate,
and they exclude themselves from the project. To refer to this division, and therefore, to
evidence that it socially exists, a researcher uses the term ‘evidence-based’, to emphasize
that, although the invitation claims ‘empirical articles’, his choice is not empiricist but
based on data using non-quantitative methodologies.
INFORMATION, COMMUNICATION & SOCIETY 13
I do qualitative rather than quantitative research so I am unable to participate in your study.
(Male, Professor of Critical Studies)
I do not do empirical research. I am basically an ethnographer. Hence I will not be able to
participate in your project. (Female, Associate Professor of Communication)
You will see that “empirical”for me means “evidence-based”and not simply quantitative!
(Male, Emeritus Professor of Communication)
Although I am on the board of NM&S, I am not a social scientist and therefore do not have
much to do with the empirical research that is published by the journal. I hold down the
theoretical/philosophical side of the editorial process. Consequently, I think my input on
this subject matter would probably adversely aﬀect your data. (Male, Professor of Media
In conclusion, the evidence gathered in the study points to two fundamental directions: ﬁrst,
to a huge gap between the robustness of current empirical research developments and the
apathy about them that many EB members show. This excellence, reﬂected in the increasing
rigor or research productions, causes many scholars to stop being committed readers.
Therefore, within the boundaries of the ﬁeld, there is a conﬂict in which an elite advances
towards a more rigorous and naturalistic science and, at the same time, an elite that is vir-
tually bored due the expansion of the former. Second, the nature of research plays a crucial
role in socially constructing the empirical concept. According to evidence, there isnot com-
mon agreement on its deﬁnition and it seems that ‘empirical’has lost its original meaning of
evidenced-based research and has became shorthand for most quantitative work.
A central ambition of this paper has been to explore what is considered as interesting in
communication research. To do that, the study surveys a sample of journals in communi-
cation sciences. The rationale of this study (and also supported by some EBs) is that there
are strong reasons to caution against the mainstream work that invariably results from
standardized research crafts in communication journals. This article provides insights
with which authors, reviewers and editors, could better assess their contributions and
thus elevate the likelihood of being inﬂuential, appealing and compelling.
As an antidote to dull research (readers can use their judgment and experience to deli-
mit its extension), the study has suggested ﬁve diﬀerent categories to model what EB mem-
bers perceive as interesting. These ﬁve dimensions provide an alternative set of criteria for
evaluating the inﬂuence of good scholarship, complementing or replacing some of the
dominant guidelines that articulate the standard research process. The ﬁve categories
are: counterintuitive, foundational, new approach, quality and exemplarity, and insightful
and practical. Counterintuitive research provides knowledge against accepted wisdom and
therefore challenges the assumptions prevailing in existing theories. Foundational research
work are classical and pioneering studies that establish the tenets of a future massive
research area. The new approach borrows or is inspired by non-communication theoreti-
cal perspectives to explain communication-related phenomena. Quality and exemplarity
research represents the empirical (quantitative) research excellence, while insightful and
practical research symbolizes the critical, well-written and committed scholarships (and
14 M. GOYANES
The study complements the research ﬁndings with qualitative data about the research
system, arguing that there is a gap between the supposedly robustness of research pro-
ductions and the detachment and lack of interest that some EB members express in
their testimonies. In addition, ﬁndings point to a socially constructed division between
empirical and non-empirical scholars based on the research nature of their studies. In
this regard, the concept of empirical research is habitually used and understood as syno-
nym of quantitative research (even by qualitative scholars), and made by social scientists.
In conclusion, the central practical implications emanating from the observations made in
this paper include (a) a redeﬁnition of what is typically portrayed as core ingredients of
good research and scholarship (e.g., specialization, incremental work, add to a subset of
literature) and (b) that values associated with interesting research should be upgraded.
Dilemmas, limitations and future studies
This article explores the dimensions that make an empirical research paper interesting and
the implications for knowledge production. Several limitations warrant discussion. First,
while a survey of editorial board members might yield solid results, other sources to gather
empirical evidences might be applicable too, achieving even more interesting and robust
ﬁndings (such as interviews with particular stars/scholars whose research has gained pro-
minence and traction or those who are widely cited). In addition, as addressed in the
method section, the selection of journals and the low response rate (due to lack of incen-
tives and because many EB members are relatively inactive), might bias the ﬁndings. One
should take the characteristics of the sample into consideration when interpreting the
Second, the dichotomy between interesting and dull research might cause problems in
relation to their boundaries and main sponsors. However, these terms are used to trigger
rethinking and not as ﬁrm empirical constructs. In this regard, the frontiers of both cat-
egories are in many occasions diﬀuse and diﬃcult to delineate, as many scholars mix
elements of standard and non-standard careers, methodologies, and styles of writing.
Advocating for a total turn to interesting research would lead to great (and constant) para-
digmatic revolutions, scientiﬁc breakthroughs and big stars growth. However, normal
science (incremental and cumulative) is crucial for systematically advancing knowledge.
Therefore, ﬁndings should be looked at with some perspective. They might just point to
a simple direction: the relaxation and questioning of some of the formulas that govern
the structure, style and methodology of mainstream research.
Third, this research based essay only considers in passing the institutional pressures on
research productivity. However, these institutional pressures are not at all easy to over-
come. Interesting research can involve risk-taking and rejection from more conservative
journals. Therefore, the production of interesting research might be far more challenging
than what this article assumes. To this regard, future research studies might problematize
how the research system (academic institutions, departments, universities, research assess-
ment exercises, etc.) can address the problem of rewards for dull but proliﬁc productivity
and provide recommendations for changing institutional culture at research universities.
In addition, future studies might also consider how graduates’research training and socia-
lization should be conceived to address the pros and cons of scientiﬁc standardization.
INFORMATION, COMMUNICATION & SOCIETY 15
1. There are other research approaches to science (quantitative or qualitative) that are not rep-
resented by this formula and which are of course legitimate. However, the hypothetic-deduc-
tive approach is one of the most popular formulas in academic research journals and that is
why is taken as reference.
2. Communication Research, New Media & Society, Journal of Communication, Human Com-
munication Research, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, Journal of Media Psy-
chology, Communication Theory, Public Opinion Quarterly, International Journal of Public
Opinion Research, Political Communication, European Journal of Communication, Inter-
national Journal of Communication; Information, Communication & Society, Journalism,
Journal of Communication Inquiry, Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, Inter-
national Communication Gazette.
3. This is mainly due to three reasons: the impossibility of ﬁnding their e-mail, the change of
aﬃliation or simply because they were retired at the time of the survey.
No potential conﬂict of interest was reported by the author.
Notes on contributor
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