Conducting online research

conducting researchOn June 26th, TAA hosted an #AcWriChat Tweetchat event focused on online research strategies. Resources were shared relative to conducting online research, specifically on validating sources, collecting primary source data, qualitative and quantitative research practices, and online research tools.

Below is a summary of the discussion.

Online research practices

As noted in the paper, “Online research: Methods, benefits and issues — Part 2”, many benefits can be identified when evaluating online research practices – most commonly larger sample sizes, lower costs, and greater speed when collecting data. “In the 21st century, we have more information and knowledge instantaneously at our fingertips than could have been imagined 100, 50, or even 30 years ago.”, states Lynn Hall & Leah Wahlin in their open textbook A Guide to Technical Communications: Strategies & Applications. The problem, however, is that “figuring out how to wade through all of that information can be daunting.”

In an online resource, the University of California, Santa Cruz states, “Just being in print or available via the Internet doesn’t guarantee that something is accurate or good research. When searching the Web, it’s important to critically evaluate your search results”. It’s important to develop strategies for gathering reliable information when conducting online research.

One method is to use database tools to identify reliable, peer-reviewed resources while conducting your research. According to the FIU Libraries, “Learning to identify scholarly (often known as “peer-reviewed”) and non-scholarly sources of information is an important skill to cultivate. Many databases provide help with making this distinction.”

Many primary data sources are also available online. Fitchburg State University cautions that researchers determine the origin of sources they locate online. “Before relying on the information provided by a website, examine and understand the purpose of the website. While the purpose may not affect the accuracy of the primary source material it contains, it might indicate that the material has been altered or manipulated to change or influence its meaning.”

It is equally important to “understand the researcher’s motivations, purpose, and designs” when conducting research with online interviews or in other forms of primary research including observations and surveys conducted online. Ethical guidelines should govern a researcher’s use of digital data. Specifically, “the Web poses new challenges that compel researchers to reconsider concerns of consent, privacy and anonymity” according to Lisa Sugiura, Rosemary Wiles and Catherine Pope in their paper, “Ethical challenges in online research: Public/private perceptions”.

Quantitative research online

When conducting online quantitative research Kristin Page Hocevar and Andrew J. Flanagin identify both evolution of existing research methods and technological developments only possible in online environments. In either case, they note that sampling and data integrity are critical concerns. “Regardless of whether online research methods are being employed to enhance the efficiency of more traditional research endeavors (e.g., the online delivery of a questionnaire, versus a paper‐and‐pencil version) or if they are being used in more novel ways (e.g., the natural language processing of events discussed in real time on social media across millions of users), core methodological concerns remain crucial for the conduct of sound research.”

As with anything, online survey research has both advantages and disadvantages as identified by Kevin B. Wright in his article in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. Specifically, online survey research provides advantages like access to unique populations and time/cost savings but is disadvantaged by sampling and access issues.

Qualitative research online

An Invoke blog article claims that “online qualitative research still generates skepticism” but offers that “the key to success in the online qualitative world is structuring a well thought out discussion guide that can cater to a large audience, building a rich participant experience, and being able to analyze results in real-time”.

Emily Smith of Remesh shares tools for online qualitative research specific to conducting one-on-one interviews, observational research, or online focus groups. She frames these methods with the following definition of qualitative research: “Often thought of through the lens of impressions, opinions, and views, qualitative research brings depth to data collection analysis by providing context and insight to confirm a hypothesis.”

Additional online qualitative research resources have been compiled by Susan Hawes, PhD and Katherine Evarts Rice, PsyD for the Clinical Psychology Department, Antioch University New England.

Tools for conducting online research

We concluded our discussion with some curated lists of tools for conducting online research, as follows:

We encourage you to join us on Twitter this Friday, July 10th for our next #AcWriChat event where we’ll be discussing how to frame a working thesis.


Eric Schmieder

Eric Schmieder is the Membership Marketing Manager for TAA. He has taught computer technology concepts to curriculum, continuing education, and corporate training students since 2001. A lifelong learner, teacher, and textbook author, Eric seeks to use technology in ways that improve results in his daily processes and in the lives of those he serves. His latest textbook, Web, Database, and Programming: A foundational approach to data-driven application development using HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, MySQL, and PHP, First Edition, is available now through Sentia Publishing.