Dr. Bey-Ling Sha: The Process of Researching in Public Relations

By May Pham and Isaac Einhell

Dr. Bey-Ling Sha currently serves as the dean of the College of Communications on the Cal State Fullerton campus. When selecting a professional to interview for inspiration towards our future term project, our group decided to interview Dr. Bey-Ling Sha after reading her published study published in 2005 titled “Future professionals’ perceptions of work, life, and gender issues in public relations,” which focuses on work perceptions in the public relations industry. Our goal for the interview was to understand better different research methods relating to quantitative research and how we can apply similar research methods from Dr. Sha’s study to our term project.

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About 20 years ago, Dr. Bey-Ling Sha’s study on “Future professionals’ perceptions of work, life, and gender issues in public relations” (2005) still holds much relevance in today’s society and work environment. With this in mind, our group came into this interview with Dr. Sha very intuitive and eager to learn more about the research steps she developed and the methods used regarding this particular research. Surveying was a large part of Sha’s research, whereas getting respondents’ feedback regarding this issue. Even in 2005, in the early stages of technological surveying, Sha received an above-average respondent rate, with a sample size of 6,284 students, 566 participated. In a college setting, surveys are consistently sent out to students, asking for their opinions and experiences and incentivizing them to complete the survey. Today, college students are less apt to respond to surveys, even with an incentive. One of the first questions we asked Dr. Sha was if 566 respondents still provided significant and accurate data regarding the topic. From her response, we learned that a decent response rate is 10-14%, which she had received. We also learned that the statistical analysis of over 468 respondents was reasonable and adequate. This information will help us idealize what response rate for our survey will provide accurate and adequate data to consider. Dr. Sha also emphasized the importance of “item non-response,” which entails what percentage of the population returned the survey but how many skipped part of the instrument because it was too long. Therefore, we will need to consider the overall sample size being large enough to run the analysis and whether “enough people filled in and answered specific questions that we need to input into the statistical formula to run that particular statistic.” The sample size was important to discuss because getting students to participate in a survey is difficult, so we need to be prepared to have a large enough sample size to ensure the actual response rate is still enough to provide information to run the statistical analysis. 

In order to feel confident in getting a high response rate for our survey, Dr. Sha also shared some tips that will be important in implementing our survey strategies. She shared that getting a high response rate depends on the participants’ convenience. For example, a lengthy and extensive survey can overwhelm and bore the participant, resulting in a poorly answered or completely unanswered and unusable response. While it is better to have a short survey, ensuring our survey is comprehensive is also critical without compromising missing survey questions that help our research. Another thing to think about is balancing authenticity with incentivization. We want people to participate in the survey because of choice rather than because there is an incentive that results in little effort in accurate responses to the actual survey. Another helpful tip Dr. Sha recommended to encourage student participation would be sending everyone a preliminary email that alerts participants, inviting them to participate in a survey that will be sent out shortly. Then also sending a post-solicitation reminder for students that a survey is active but still needs to be completed.  

SOURCE: Sha, B.-L., & Toth, E. L. (2005). Future professionals’ perceptions of work, life, and gender issues in public relations. Public Relations Review31(1), 93–99. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pubrev.2004.09.004

There are limitations when conducting a survey because of skewed sample responses. Dr. Sha’s study identified the sample population. While our study will not be on a large scale or generate an equal amount of responses to Dr. Sha, it is important to remain skeptical and have an appropriate sample size so that our research remains unbiased. In order to do so, this gave our group clarity and a starting checkpoint in our research because we need to determine our sample population and sample size first and then evaluate which research method would be the best fit. Ideally, Dr. Sha understands that more responses are better; however, to be cautious about misusing or misinterpreting quantitative data (for example, 75% out of 4 people is more skewed than 75% out of a sample of 400 people).

In addition to Dr. Sha’s expertise in utilizing quantitative data, she provided a suggested reading material explaining effective measurement techniques for further brainstorming if we were interested in measuring qualitative data. A primary concern when conducting qualitative studies is how to articulate the results and discuss the effects of a research study. Results in a research study do not mean publishing data without providing an explanation; rather, they should provide answers to the research purpose. Dr. Sha’s qualitative research article summarized various published studies that use qualitative research sampling that list the success of qualitative from each research article. Ultimately, multiple qualitative data collection methods, including in-depth interviews, document analysis, or field experiments in a research study, enhance the credibility of the research. One example from Dr. Sha’s article list is nonprofit relationship management, where it utilized a five-dimensional Likert scale for measurements but was able to translate that quantitative data into qualitative data. For our future term project, we could incorporate quantitative and qualitative methods for adequate measurement levels and maintain credibility in our research. 

Our interview helped us determine the next steps and inspiration as we move forward to conduct our research and start our term project. Initially, our idea was to complete a term project using qualitative methods. However, this interview helped us better understand quantitative methods, and we feel confident in our ability to conduct research using survey tools that yield reliable and valid data points. Using quantitative data will allow us to achieve higher responses, and we can effectively execute our research given the short time frame of our project. We gained new insight to pay attention to important details when conducting surveys, particularly skewed responses and biased sampling sizes. Using Dr. Sha’s method to construct our survey is an excellent framework for us to get a start in brainstorming research topics and drafting our survey. 

SOURCE: Qualtrics screenshot of constructing a survey from class on March 9, 2023.

Interview with Dr. Bey-Ling Sha

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