Aim To enable readers to make an informed decision about whether online research methods (ORMs) are appropriate for their studies.
Background Using an ORM is an innovative way of collecting data and many research designs, such as surveys, interviews, focus groups and ethnography, can be conducted online. There are many potential benefits that can be conferred on traditional research procedures when implemented via the internet, for example economy and convenience, as there are no travel or postal requirements. Depending on the data sample, participant access can also be increased by using an internet method, as it is possible to reach a large geographical span. The Internet can also offer full anonymity, if appropriate, and for some marginalised groups, such as those with mobility or communication difficulties, the internet is an inclusive method for their participation.
The first paper in this series, Walker (2013), introduced ORMs in general and outlined what needs to be considered when ascertaining whether an ORM is appropriate for the specific research needed, including ethical, validity and sampling issues. It also discussed some of the ORMs that may be used.
Discussion This second paper outlines the considerations researchers need to make when designing an online interview or focus group to ensure their method is valid. The different tools that can be used for collecting data are also discussed. Analysis includes online qualitative data capture, such as collecting data from blogs, social networking sites, chat rooms or discussion lists. This paper also contains resources and references for further reading.
Conclusion ORMs can provide efficient and innovative methods for collecting data, although there are certain considerations needed to ensure that they are valid for given research questions.
Implications for research/practice As more ORMs are validated and as more people using the internet, there will be an emergence of online-only research. Careful consideration should be taken to determine whether using an ORM is an appropriate tool for the population and questions under study.