Topic 0017: Internet-Mediated Research (IMR)



State of art

Data-gathering stage that IMR methods have the biggest impact, as opposed to other stages and processes in the methodology of a piece of research, such as conceptualisation, interpretation, etc. (e.g.Hewson, 2008)

IMR approaches which seemed viable at this time included interviews, focus groups and observational studies which used linguistic data, and procedures for implementing these methods were devised and piloted (e.g. interviews: Chen & Hinton, 1999; Murray & Sixsmith, 1998; focus groups: Gaiser, 1997; Tse, 1999; Ward, 1999; linguistic observation: Bordia, 1996; Workman, 1992; Ward, 1999).

  • most relevant to qualitative social science research
  • cost and time efficiency,
  • expanded geographical reach, and
  • access to hard-to-reach

Tools, technologies, procedures

Synchronous approaches which gather data in real time

  • debate, clarification and resolution
  • more rigorous procedures
  • obtaining signed consent forms

Asynchronous approaches is to follow them in ‘real-time’ e.g, subscribe to a group and follow an ongoing discussion

Design issues and strategies

  • Solely text-based methods
  • Lack of physical proximity
    • facial expressions,
    • tone of voice,
    • body language, etc.

Depth and reflexivity

  • offering potentially more time for thoughtful, reflective responses
  • elicitation of richer,
  • more elaborate qualitative data.
  • enhance reflexivity and the depth and accuracy of interviewees’ responses Bowker & Tuffin (2004); Kenny (2005); McDermott & Roen (2012); Murray & Sixsmith (1998); O’Connor & Madge (2002).

Levels of rapport

Getting to know’ participants may help in maximising levels of confidence in the authenticity of the accounts they offer during the course of an interview.

Anonymity, disclosure, social desirability

  • high degree of privacy (Hewson et al, 2003)
  • higher levels of self-disclosure than ftf contexts (e.g. Bargh, McKenna & Fitzsimons, 2002; Joinson, 2001)

Principles for good practice in qualitative internet-mediated interview and focus group research.

  1. Use robust, well-tested procedures which have been well-piloted (reliability).
  2. Use the simplest low-tech solutions and equipment available that will do the job (reliability, accessibility).
  3. Use appropriate procedures for verifying identity (e.g. offline, audio / video) where this is crucial (e.g. highly sensitive research) (ethics, validity).
  4. Adopting clear strategies for establishing rapport has been shown to work well and is advisable (validity).
  5. Remain mindful of potential trade-offs when deciding upon procedures and making design choices, e.g. asynchronous approaches may facilitate depth and reflexivity but reduce conversational ‘flow’ (validity).
  6. Related to the above principle, remain aware of possibilities for combining methods, e.g. online and offline, asynchronous and synchronous, etc. (validity).
  7. Carefully consider security and confidentiality risks when making sampling and procedural design choices, and the ethical responsibility to inform potential participants of any non-trivial risks they may be unaware of (ethics, validity).
  8. Adopt procedures for maximising security and confidentiality where possible (e.g. setting up a dedicated online research site) (ethics, validity).
  9. Remain mindful of the possible threats to participant confidentiality and anonymity that can emerge from dissemination and publication procedures, and take careful measures to minimise these threats (ethics).
  10. Respect standards of privacy and netiquette, and pass participation requests through moderators where appropriate (e.g. sampling from mailing lists or newsgroups) (ethics).
  11. Make sure participation requests are well-constructed, containing information on researcher affiliations, contact details for further information, and value of the research (ethics, validity).
  12. Carefully consider how different sampling approaches and design procedures may facilitate or restrict access by different groups (accessibility, ethics).

Principles for good practice in qualitative internet-mediated observation and document analysis research.

  1. Keep in mind that different observation sites / sources may restrict or facilitate the design options available (e.g. using archived logs precludes participant approaches and makes disclosure / consent often implausible; observing real-time chat makes undisclosed, nonparticipant observation often untenable) (ethics, validity).
  2. Keep in mind the different types of dialogue and interaction that may be encouraged by synchronous (e.g playful) and asynchronous (e.g. reflective) technologies when selecting which is most appropriate (validity).
  3. Carefully consider whether undisclosed approaches are ethically justifiable, keeping in mind the following key factors: privacy expectations; sensitivity of data; levels of risk of harm; legal and copyright regulations; scientific value (ethics).
  4. Keep in mind that trade-offs will often emerge, especially in relation to ethics procedures, e.g. disclosure may increase the risk of reducing data authenticity and validity, but also reduce the risk of harming a group (ethics, validity).
  5. Keep in mind that it is often good practice to consult moderators before carrying out observation (e.g. of online discussion groups), particularly where disclosed approaches are proposed; however, moderators may also have agendas and opinions which could be prohibitive to the research, and in some not making contact is arguably justified (ethics, validity).
  6. Remain mindful of the increased traceability of data sources online, and the potential associated threats to anonymity / confidentiality, particularly in devising dissemination / publication strategies (ethics).
  7. Take steps to maximise data security, especially when utilising less secure technologies such as email (e.g. in soliciting documents) (ethics).
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