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Writing with open ears

It’s time for a new edition of Doing Qualitative Research Online! I previously wrote how I began the process of updating and enhancing this book. Every time I write or update a book, I promise myself that I will do better next time and not end up with chaotic versions or incorrectly-labeled figures. I was approaching this project in a systematic fashion, reading through the 2016 edition with fresh eyes, making minor changes, and taking notes about steps to take for more significant additions to content.

I was confidently moving along, and then…boom! The world changed! Whether we’re grappling with school closures, isolation, illness or spending our time cancelling all the travel we had planned, it is hard to escape this pervasive pandemic. And for researchers, the impact is nothing short of profound.

This situation has a somewhat unique set of implications for my book process. As the title suggests, this book is about online research. While I discuss the use of existing data, documents, archives, a lot of the book is about types of data collection that involves being interacting with human participants through interviews, focus groups, and so on. In the BC era (before Covid) much of the research that utilized such methods was conducted face-to-face.

Now, those who were planning to conduct in-person data collection must confront the fact that they can’t access the sites or be in contact with the people they hoped to study. Qualitative researchers are coming to the realization that the online methods I’ve been promoting for over a decade are ones they need! Of course, I will be happy to sell more books, but it is hard to rejoice when the reasons for their interest are so concerning. In any case, current events are pushing people towards using technology in ways that they hadn’t before. What can I learn that will help me improve the value of the next edition for readers who are new to online research?

I offered a webinar on these topics, and given the large attendance, I asked the organizers to send me a transcript of the text chat and written questions. I’ve been reading through around 150 comments and questions from researchers across the globe. (Note: I am answering many of them in a series of posts on SAGE MethodSpace.) Their discussion is extremely valuable to my thinking about the next edition. Some of the topics raised are ones I have included in prior writings, and others are new.

My careful, linear writing plan is now much more fluid. The whole experience is reminding me of the importance of listening to our readers—and potential readers. As important as it is to keep up with published books and articles, anything in print reflects perceptions from at least three years ago. The written comments I am reading reflect a raw, in-the-moment need. The first edition can help, but I feel compelled to accelerate my writing schedule so the new version will be available sooner. Surely today’s dire circumstances will be behind us by the time it is published, but I hope that the researchers who use it will find practical, realistic strategies that work in a new reality.

Janet SalmonsJanet Salmons is an independent scholar and writer through Vision2Lead. She is the Methods Guru for SAGE Publications blog community, Methodspace, and the author of six textbooks. Current books are the forthcoming Learning to Collaborate, Collaborating to Learn from Stylus, and Doing Qualitative Research Online (2016) from SAGE.