Exploring online research methods - Incorporating TRI-ORM

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Decorative image of 'The Big Sleep Blog' showing a post outlining how a contributor slept the previous night alongside a thank-you post.
Image of 'The Big Sleep Blog'



Open/close headingCase study details

Title: Staying up and sleeping in: young people's sleep within a household context

Author: Susan Venn

Affiliation: University of Surrey


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Open/close headingAims of the project

This project was one of many that have been, and are being, undertaken within the Sociology of Sleep group at the Centre for Research on Ageing and Gender at the University of Surrey.  Projects have included researching the sleep of women in later life (EU-funded, Sleep in Ageing Women), couples' sleep (ESRC funded, Negotiating Sleep:  Gender, Age and Social Relationships amongst Couples), and currently the meanings and experiences of poor sleep for older people (ESRC/MRC/EPSRC funded, SomnIA:  Sleep in Ageing, [External Link - opens in a new window]http://www.somnia.surrey.ac.uk/).

This project grew out of the previous project looking at couples' sleep.  Those couples who had young adult children, or teenagers living at home, or intermittently returning home, reported their sleep being considerably more disrupted than when their children were younger.  I decided to pursue this by looking at the way parents and young people interact with each others' sleeping space and time. Firstly, by exploring the influence on parents' sleep of having teenagers and young adults living in the home, then moving on to look at sleep from the perspective of young people, by examining how parents, other household members and technologies, such as mobile phones, influence their sleep. Finally, the positive aspect of sleep interruption that both parents and young people expressed was examined, as, for example, when entering each others' sleeping space and time provides peace of mind and security, and can, in some instances, facilitate sleep. (Moran-Ellis and Venn, 2007;  Venn and Arber, 2008)  


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[Open/close heading]Methodological Innovation Used

A weblog (blog) was created as a tool for data collection from young people.  The use of this sleep blog arose out of previous methodological difficulties.  Following focus groups and interviews, ten young people (aged 13-14 years) had been asked to undertake an audio sleep diary for one week, that is recording on a small hand held tape recorder, every morning, information on their previous night's sleep, including duration of their sleep, the quality of their sleep, any awakenings or any other unusual occurrences.  Essentially I was asking for a subjective assessment of sleep and sleep quality over a 7 day period.  However, this proved problematic in two ways (a) some young people lost the tape recorders, and others recorded over the tape accidentally, and (b) most of the young people did not talk with ease into the tape recorder, resulting in very short diary entries.  In an attempt to engage the young people in complying with recording their sleep experience, I decided to offer alternative methods of data collection, some of which were felt to be more age-appropriate.  A further group of ten young people (aged 13-17 years) were given the choice of a written sleep diary, the audio diary, email or signing up to a blog, and the majority chose the blog.  There are many tools available on the internet for creating blogs (for example, www.blogger.com) but maintaining the confidentiality and anonymity of the respondents was of paramount concern to me, so I wanted to ensure that this blog would be secure and not accessible to anyone else using the internet.  To achieve this, I registered and signed up for a blog that enabled the use of password protected text entry and viewing (www.typepad.com).  As the blogging was only to take place over the course of one week, I was able to sign up for a free trial, so the blog did not cost anything. 

The 'Big Sleep Blog' was created, and I added images and text to customise it specifically for the study.  Prior to inviting young people to sign up for the blog, I ensured they were fully informed about the nature and implications of the blog, including issues concerning anonymity and confidentiality.  Written consent to take part was also obtained.  Subsequently, those who wished to join the blog were emailed with instructions on how to log into the blogging area (including giving them the password) and how to post a blog.  I also gave them my phone number should they need to call for advice, although only one young person needed talking through the signing up instructions.  Included in the instructions for logging in was a further invitation to anonymise their posts, either by not mentioning their name, or adopting a pseudonym, as well as making the young people aware of the need to not mention the names of family or friends.  As manager of the blog I not only had control of who signed up, but also of the posts themselves, although there was never an occasion where I needed to stop a posting. 

Once the first posts from respondents started appearing, I added comments, such as thanking them for taking part, snippets of entertainment news that I had picked up, including images and words of encouragement, so the blog grew and grew on a daily basis.  It is important to reflect that this blog took place at a time before personalised web spaces such as Facebook, Myspace and bebo had really taken a hold, but the comments that were posted onto the blog reflected how young people talk on their own web spaces, that is they were conversational in nature and included comments about their daily activities and jokes.

Text was easily accessed and copied and pasted into word for later textual analysis in qualitative software.  The only potential disadvantage was that others in the group could see what had been blogged and this may have had the potential to influence the content of some of the postings (for example, someone not wanting to reveal sensitive information). However, this cohort were already well known to each other, so the blogging became a 'cohort conversation'.


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Open/close headingReferences

Moran-Ellis, J. and Venn, S. (2007) The Sleeping Lives of Children and Teenagers: Night-Worlds and Arenas of Action, Sociological Research Online, 12, 5.
[External Link - opens in a new window] http://www.socresonline.org.uk/12/5/9.html.

Venn, S. and Arber, S. (2008) Conflicting Sleep Demands:� Parents and Young People in UK Households, in B. Steger and L. Brunt (Eds.)� Worlds of Sleep. Berlin. Franke & Timme, pp. 105-129.


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Author of this page: Susan Venn - Year of publication: 2008 - Affiliation: University of Surrey
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