Distinguishing between the forest and the trees: Media, features, and methodology in electronic communication research

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Electronic communication media usually differ from nonelectronic communication media on a variety of communication features. However, research designs typically do not allow for the most revealing examination of communication feature effects. This paper proposes a methodological framework for conceptualizing and operationalizing electronic communication research, and presents an illustrative study based on the framework. The methodological framework distinguishes among communication media, channels, and features, and emphasizes the importance for theory and research of understanding the effects of communication features both within and across communication media. To demonstrate this framework, subjects in the study participated in a sealed-bid negotiation. Communication of the bids was either paper-and-pencil or computer-mediated. The results revealed a significant main effect for medium (computer-mediated communication yielded lower individual scores), significant main effects for features (documentation and anonymity both yielded lower individual scores), and a significant interaction between a feature (documentation) and medium. For organizations, these results suggest that the accepted effects of a medium should be reexamined in light of the medium's component features; design and adoption decisions should be made with an understanding of the existence of interactions between features and media.