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Exploring online research methods - Incorporating TRI-ORM

Introduction: Appropriate use of online interviews

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Open/close headingWhy use online interviews?

Whilst there is a vast body of literature concerned with qualitative interviewing (Becker and Bryman 2004; Kvale and Svend 2008; Burgess 1984; Flick 2002; May 2001) the online approach to interviewing remains a relatively new and innovative research method. However, However, as the growing literature concerning their potential advantages and disadvantages testifies, there are many reasons why online interviews can be an appropriate and valuable methodological tool (O' Connor et. al. 2008). For example, the use of online interviews as opposed to onsite interviews provides the researcher with opportunities to:

  • Carry out interviews with a very geographically dispersed population;
  • Interview individuals or groups who are often difficult to reach, such as the less physically mobile (disabled/in prison/in hospital) or the socially isolated (drug dealers/terminally ill/ etc) or those living in dangerous places (war zones);
  • Provide savings in costs to the researcher (for example, costs associated with travel and venue hire);
  • Supply ready transcribed interview data, quickly, providing fast and cheap alternatives to face-to-face interviews;
  • Reduce issues of interviewer effect as participants cannot 'see' each other, and provide opportunities for interactions with a high degree of openness and self-disclosure amongst participants (Joinson and Paine, 2007).



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[Open/close heading]A note of caution

It is important that the use of the online interviews is appropriate to the design of the particular research project. In many respects, online and face-to-face interviews are similar processes for the researcher as both can be considered '…conversations with a purpose' (Burgess 1984, 102). However, there are also important differences to be considered and, as Selwyn and Robson (1998) have highlighted, the electronic interviewer requires different skills. Online interviewing can also bring with it its own particular versions of the the problems and challenges of the qualitative interview (Ayling and Mewse, 2009). As with online questionnaires it is important to consider a number of issues before deciding to adopt an online approach rather than a traditional onsite approach to interviewing, for example:

  • It is important to ensure that an online interview is the most appropriate research tool to address the aims of the research;
  • There are different types of online interview and it is important to select the relevant interview type to address the aims of the research;
  • It can be difficult to access a relevant sample. As such, sampling strategies and access issues must be given full consideration;
  • There are a number of issues surrounding interview design which must be considered. For example, when carrying out text-based interviews, the online interviewer must consider ways in which to build rapport in the absence of visual and non-verbal cues;
  • Guaranteeing the ethical rights of respondents including informed consent, confidentiality and privacy.

As will be explored in this module, the implications for design and conduct and hence the skills required for different types of online interviews are likely to vary greatly depending on whether a synchronous (real-time) or asynchronous mode is chosen and on whether the interview is to be text-based or to involve audio and/or video. While the body of literature on asynchronous interviewing has grown substantially, that focusing on synchronous online interviewing has been slower to develop (O' Connor et. al. 2008), and there has been relatively little exploration of the reflexive experiences of researchers, particularly those conducting synchronous interviews (Fox et. al., 2008). Computer-mediated communication is clearly here to stay and is becoming more embedded in society with the growth in access and usage fuelled by technological developments such as the increases in the availability of broadband internet and audio/video communication tools. However, the use and implications of these forms of communication for research purposes remain relatively unexplored, and caution and reflexivity are required both in deciding whether their use is appropriate and, if a decision to proceed has been made, in preparing and conducting interviews online.



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Open/close headingIntroductory video

The following video lectures by Clare Madge offer an introduction to the key types of online interviewing, the advantages of each, and an introduction to the ethical issues involved in online interviewing. Select the following link to view the video transcript.

Online asynchronous interviewing (Clare Madge)

Synchronous online methods (Clare Madge)




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