e-Research (Internet Research Methods)
Module: BUSINESS PROJECT
Opportunities for business research
using the Internet
• The Internet as object of analysis;
• Ethnographic study of the Internet;
• Qualitative research using online focus groups;
• Qualitative research using online personal interviews;
• Online social surveys.
Using the Internet to collect data from individuals
• Advantages over traditional methods
• saves time and money
• can reach larger, geographically dispersed samples
• data can be collected quickly
• Disadvantages over traditional methods
• Internet is not accessible to everyone
• loss of personal touch / lack of rapport
• participants’ concerns about viruses, hackers and nuisance email
The Internet as a method of data collection
• Web-based methods
• data collected through the WWW
• Communication-based methods
• data collected by email or other medium
• Synchronous communication
• occurs in real time (e.g. chat rooms)
• Asynchronous communication
• delay between responses (e.g. mailing lists)
• ‘Cyberspace’ as a new site of research
• Participation, observation and interviews with members of an online community
• Markham (1998)
• synchronous online interviews in chat rooms and multi-user domains
• participants challenged distinction between life online and ‘real life’ – online experiences are
Kozinets (2002) coined the term ‘netnography’ for a marketing
research method investigating computer-mediated
communications. His study concerned coffee and its
He began by searching for newsgroups containing the word
‘coffee’, homing in on one -<alt.coffe>- , reading hundreds of
posted messages and narrowing them down to 179.
He followed through particular threads (e.g. those to do with
Starbucks) in terms of their connection with his research
Qualitative research using online focus groups
• Synchronous focus groups
• contributions seen and responded to immediately
• using conferencing software
• which participants must have installed
• Asynchronous focus groups
• use of email distribution lists
• useful if participants are in different time zones
• easier for people with less advanced computer skills
Comparing online interviews and face-to-face
• access to more dispersed
• participants have time to give
• no travel time / costs
• no need for audio-recording and
• helpful for sensitive issues
• appeals to shy people
• more egalitarian
• digital divide: access to online
• difficult to establish rapport
• questions can be ignored
• greater risk of attrition and nonresponse
• less spontaneity of responses
• risk of identity deception
• cannot read non-verbal cues
▪ ‘Embedded’ surveys have their questions appearing as part of the e-mail
message; ‘attached’ surveys have separate questionnaires available for downloading.
▪ Embedded questionnaires are easier to complete and return to the
▪ Attached questionnaires can be made more attractive in appearance, can be
better organized and use more question types;
▪ But, ‘embedded’ tends to have a higher rate of response (although the
response pattern may not vary between the two types).
• Web surveys work by inviting respondents to a website link.
• They can be made to appear much more attractive than other types of
survey, in appearance and design:
• Questionnaires can be designed so that filter questions (for example, ‘if yes, go
to question 12, if no go to question 14’) can be programmed to skip
automatically to the next appropriate question,
• Or so that only one question ever appears on the screen,
• Or so that respondents can scroll down and look at all questions in advance.
• Respondents’ answers can be automatically programmed to download into
a database, eliminating the coding chore.
• The researcher needs to be skilled in the use of HTML or else use one of
the many software questionnaire design packages available
• Surveymonkey is an example of this kind of software.
Combining a paper survey with a web survey
• Evans et al. (2001) carried out a survey on virtual communities concerned
with consumption issues:
• They issued a paper-based questionnaire, distributed at various locations at
the University of Bristol and the University of West of England, Bristol, and at
• Then they conducted an Internet survey, hosted by Bristol Business School and
linked via BBC Bristol Online and a cybercafé.
• Invitations to respond to the on-line questionnaire were posted on
electronic lists at the Bristol universities and international discussion lists.
• As a result of these two strategies, over 300 questionnaires were returned.
• Not everyone has Internet access
• Those who do may not be able to handle questionnaires
online, in e-mail or web formats
• Many people have more than one e-mail address
• Many people use more than one Internet Service
• A household may have one computer but several users
• Internet-users are a biased sample of the population
• Few sampling frames exist of the general online
Advantages of online surveys compared to postal
1. Low cost
2. Faster response
3. Attractive formats
4. Mixed administration
5. Unrestricted reach
6. Fewer unanswered questions
7. Better response to open questions
8. Better data accuracy, especially in web surveys
Disadvantages of online surveys compared to postal
1. Low response rate
2. Restricted to online populations
3. Requires motivation
4. Confidentiality and anonymity issues
5. Multiple replies.
Ethical considerations in Internet research
• The Association of Internet Researchers recommends thinking through
this issue early on in the research.
• Different types of Internet message present varying concerns for
anonymity, confidentiality, informed consent.
• Barnes (2004) identified 5 types of message: exchanged in online public
discussion lists; exchanged in private discussions; between individuals and on private
lists; personal messages sent to the researcher; re-posted and passed around the
Internet; generated by computer programs.
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