This chapter examines how the questions and concepts used in social communications research affect data collection. It begins by offering conceptual definitions of two types of social environments – networks and contexts – that are used to define the boundaries of the field and to highlight its diversity. From this starting point, the implications of these definitions for three methodological issues are discussed: 1) choosing an environmental unit of analysis, 2) selecting cases of social environments for inclusion in a study, and 3) establishing causality. The organizing theme of this chapter is that social communications research is best served by focusing on deep measurement of social environments. Although this advice has the consequence of slowing the development of a unified research program, it prioritizes better measurement and conceptual development that will place the subfield on solid footing.
McClurg, Scott D. "Methodological Challenges in the Study of Social Communication." (Jan 2010).