Doing Qualitative Research Online

Every day, millions of people use the Internet and social media (e.g., Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, virtual communities) to communicate and relate with others. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated this use with an even greater proportion of social interaction moving to online contexts. Understanding the theories and techniques of doing qualitative research in virtual and online contexts is thus necessary to adequately research contemporary social life. Further, doing qualitative research online offers data not otherwise available via other methodologies, which can provide a fuller picture of participants’ lived experiences and can be particularly valuable when studying sensitive or stigmatized topics.

This course will focus on the unique methodological characteristics of working with social media, online communities, and other computer-mediated technologies. Topics will include:

  • Designing qualitative projects with online data-collection components
  • Analyzing qualitative data collected from online contexts
  • Identifying ethical challenges of doing qualitative research online
  • The benefits and cautions for “insider” and “outsider” positionalities within online communities
  • Decision-making criteria specific to online data collection and analysis

Examples will be given throughout from the instructors’ own research with computer-mediated technologies, traditional websites, social media, and other online sources.