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This development of this website was funded by the ESRC Research Methods Programme (Phase 2) and the ESRC Researcher Development Initative. The aim of the website is to provide an online training resource for researchers who are interested in using online research methods such as online questionnaires and online interviews. The website is targeted at a wide audience including researchers and postgraduates in the HE sector, and researchers working for other organisations such as those involved with public policy and market research. In September 2010, the site was accepted for inclusion in the ReStore repository.
This site is aimed at individuals with an interest in research methodologies, in particular those who are considering the use of an online methodology as part of their research. The site can be used as a self-study package, a teaching resource or as part of a university training package. It is a valuable resource for the following groups:
- Those who know little about online research methodology;
- Those who are familiar with the process of carrying out research online but want to clarify specific issues;
- Those who teach research methods.
These groups may include:
- Advanced undergraduates, postgraduates and more established researchers intending to use online research methods. These groups may find the resource especially useful for the technical guidelines, the detailed discussion of advantages and disadvantages and the reference lists.
- Those learning research methods as part of their generic training.
- Those delivering training as part of various ESRC research methods training programmes. These groups will find it a useful resource in their programme for advanced training in quantitative and qualitative methods.
At the conclusion of the Exploring online research methods project in 2006, the website consisted of three main areas:
- Project background
The 'Resources' area aims to act as a portal to key information and links in the area of online research methods, while the 'Project background' area offers a range of general information about the project.
The modules section is the main training area of the website. It contains the following:
- Online Questionnaires
- Online Interviews
- Technical Guide
Between 2007 and 2009, the site was explaned and enhanced through the TRIORM project. A section focusing explicitly on new and innovative online methodologies was added. Resources for tutors were also included providing a range of information and materials on using the site for teaching. Information drawn from the other training strands of the project (workshops and online courses) was also added along with resources and recordings.
Further details about the contents along with information on how to use the site are available in the 'How to use the site' section.
This website has been designed to focus on certain aspects of online research: questionnaires, interviews and ethics. It does not attempt to cover other important aspects of online methods such as online ethnographies, online experiments, and research using web pages, discussion groups, blogs etc. Given the limited budget and time frame to develop the site, we made the decision to focus on the methods and approaches we know best, prefering to offer more thorough coverage of these methods rather than what would inevitably have been a less comprehensive coverage of a broader range of methods. For those interested in other areas of online research, we have included, where available, a number of relevant links in the 'Resources' section of the site. Given future funding, we also hope to expand the site resources further to provide a more complete coverage of online research methods.
The website is designed with different types of users in mind. For that reason we have made it possible for users to either 'dip in and out' of the web pages or to work through the modules systematically.
Within each module you will find that we have built in a series of learning activities. You do not have to complete these to move forward. If you do want to test your knowledge by completing these activities, the answers will be displayed for you once you submit the completed activity.
Throughout the website we have tried to be as user-friendly as possible. You will find that on each page there are instructions on how to best navigate the section. One very useful feature we have included is the 'personal references list' facility which allows users to collect a 'shopping basket' of references. On each page you will see instructions on how to 'file' useful references that you come across and then, when you have completed your visit to the site, you can access your personal reference list for printing or downloading as text or endNote ready XML.
Instructions on how to use the website and on different options for accessing the module contents can be found in the 'How to use the site' section.
This development of this website was influenced by issues of accessibility and internationalisation, and a number of steps have been taken to ensure that the site is as accessible as possible to users with disabilities and that it is as suitable as possible for an international audience.
We would welcome any comments concerning the usefulness, accessibility and usability of the site. These can be made via the 'Contact us' page.
Designing the site to be compliant the latest standards of web design is a major step in ensuring accessibility for a range of users, including those accessing content with user-agents such as text-only and screen reading browsers and other assistive technologies. An attempt has been made to ensure that content is kept separate from presentation throughout the site. This allows the user to control how the site should be presented, enabling style information to be overridden so that presentational features such as text size, font, colour and layout can be changed according to preference.
Key accessibility features also include:
- Style Sheet independence, ensuring that pages are accessible without Cascading Style Sheets being enabled or with the user's own Style Sheet applied. All content remains positioned in a logical order if the Style Sheets are removed;
- Script and third-party plug-in independence, ensuring that all content remains accessible when these are not available in the user's browser. See 'Use of scripting and third-party plug-ins' section below;
- Controller independence to ensure that all content can be accessed using a range of controller technologies. This includes ensuring that actions in the site can be triggered using a keyboard (or equivalent such a voice activated controller), and the provision of alternatives where parts of the site rely on the use of a mouse or other point and click device (e.g. drag-and-drop interactions);
- Skip mechanisms to allow users of screen-reading technology to easily pass over repetitive sections of the site, such as the navigation and instructions at the beginning of each page;
- The use of access keys to allow users with access key-enabled browsers to navigate directly to different sections of the site via the keyboard;
- The use of a logical tab order within pages (and within forms or flash movies) to ease navigation via keyboard;
- The provision of text alternatives for graphics to ensure the site contents can be accessed in non-graphical browsers;
- The use of relative sizing allowing users to control the size of text through their browser settings;
- The use of tables only for data and not for the layout of pages to ensure that there are no negative effects on the order and presentation of content in non-graphical browsers;
- The use of descriptive links to ensure links make sense out of context and make them accessible to user agents that present all links on a page as a simple list;
- The use of consistent and clear navigation, colours and icons aims to make the use of the site as straightforward as possible;
- The use of clear language for the purpose and intended audience of the site aims to make the contents as accessible as possible.
The 'How to use the site' section includes details of how to take advantage of the accessibility features of the site. Further details about the standards that the site has been designed top comply with can also be found on the 'About this website' page.
The 'How to use the site' section provides information on the different uses of these technologies, alongside a description of how to use the alternatives included for accessibility.
The 'About this website' page also offers links to third-party plug-ins for those who would like to download them.
From the outset we have mindful of the fact that the vast majority of internet-mediated research has been conduced in the Anglo-American context. Therefore the site has an inherent Anglo-American bias. However, throughout the site attempts have been made to make it as accessible to an international audience as possible. This includes:
- Utilising non Anglo-American sources where possible;
- Conducting usability tests from various locations, such as Australia, Tanzania and Hong Kong;
- Requesting two external consultants to specifically bear in mind the international context when evaluating the site;
- Attempting to avoid the use of culturally-specific figurative language or idiom.
Although the use of English clearly shows a language bias as non-English speakers now predominate in accessing the internet, we have attempted to minimise the effects of this through the use of standard formal British English.