Online Research Methods

My research idea prompts me to conduct a considerable amount of my research work via the internet. Therefore keeping with the various discussions going on regarding various methods I decided to write about this special but increasingly important and interesting form of researching.

Internet has facilitated and arguably stimulated a trend towards research by ‘ordinary’ citizens (though there remains the need of learning social research methodology); just like it has made possible expressing individual ideas, developing new software, creating a new culture and so on by the masses. Online research methods are gaining popularity by the day even for professional researchers and it surrounds the process of researching in, on, and through the internet. “One of the striking things about online research methods is their versatility and their range. Researchers from many disciplines, with varying methodological preferences, deploy a wide range of online research methods to an impressive variety of research problems” (Lee However, a research design has to be constructed that would help in generating reliable and valid data. There are various kinds of Internet or online surveys like web surveys and email. Virtual ethnography concerns applying ethnographic approaches and sensibilities to the study of online environments looking especially into the economic, social and political contexts within which online activity takes place. Blogs, networking sites, online interviews and focus groups can all provide channels to looking into such multi-user virtual environments (MUVEs). The internet also happens to preserve and provide an access to a large amount of data being archived in data sources of a size and complexity impossible for any one researcher to assemble on their own. Digital traces left behind by our electronic interactions are just one of the ways in which data is being created and it is very much an ongoing process. The huge archival resources of information on the net are not fixed, time-bound, geographically limited; are contributed/distributed by multi-user; and valuable to researchers from a wide variety of disciplines and interests. There exists a large volume of software today for developing, conducting and analyzing the data in the semantic web, for mapping networks and examining network properties, for data warehousing and data mining and other technologies, techniques and procedures. Keeping in mind the ethical implications of technological change especially privacy and confidentiality the internet with its ever growing repository of information and data has emerged as having a singular potential for ongoing social research.

Adapted from “The Internet as a Research Medium” by Raymond M. Lee, Nigel Fielding, Grant Blank.

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