Research, methodology and the Internet : a study of the Internet as a data capturing tool

Dowling, Zoë Teresa (2001-12)

Thesis (MPhil)--Stellenbosch University, 2001.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: It is widely accepted that the Internet has become a valuable resource for social scientists, not just for the purpose of information exchange; via e-mail, discussion groups and electronic journals, but also as a medium for data collection. Its global nature gives a researcher access to a vast range of individuals located around the world. It also opens up access to difficult to hitherto penetrate study areas, such as sensitive research on deviant behaviour. Further, it is claimed that considerable savings to both research budgets and time frames are made possible with the new technology. It is not surprising, therefore, that a substantial body of research, employing the Internet as the primary means of data collection, already exists. This raises a number of questions as to how the Internet fares as a research tool. Are there any important methodological issues that this new approach raises? Do the traditional research methods suffice? Or are adaptations to existing methods necessary when difficulties are encountered? Does such changes affect the more fundamental question of the research design? These questions are considered in this thesis. To answer them, I consider two different types of empirical research designs. The first,' survey research, is a quantitative, numerical design that traditionally has a high level of control. I consider in detail issues of sampling, including non-response, and questionnaire design. The second design examined, ethnographic research, is qualitative, textual and generally has a low level of researcher control. I address the methods used in cyber ethnography and then discuss the considerable ethical concerns that feature in such research. I conclude that, on the whole, the existing methods can be transferred to Internet research. Indeed, some of the problems faced in traditional research are also considerations in Internet studies and can be overcome by employing similar techniques, such as using incentives to reduce non-response rates. However, a number of new problems emerge, such as the lack of paralinguistic cues, which require adaptations to the existing methods in order to produce results that can be considered valid and reliable. However, I also argue that these necessary adaptations to the methods do not affect the underlying principles found in the research design.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Dit word algemeen aanvaar dat die Internet In waardevolle hulpmiddel is vir sosiaalwetenskaplikes; nie net vir die uitruil van inligting deur middel van e-pos, besprekingsforums en elektroniese joernale nie, maar ook as In instrument om inligting te versamel. Die globale aard van die internet gee die navorser toegang to In wye spektrum individue internasionaal. Dit verleen ook toegang tot moeilike navorsingsareas, soos sensitiewe navorsing oor afwykende gedrag. Verder word beweer dat dit aansienlike besparings moontlik kan maak vir beide die navorsingsbegroting en tydraamwerk. Dit is dus nie verbasend dat In substansiële hoeveelheid van navorsing, wat die Internet as die primêre bron van dataversameling gebruik, reeds bestaan nie. Dit laat verskeie vrae ontstaan oor hoe die Internet vaar as In navorsingshulpmiddel. Is daar enige belangrike metodologiese kwessies wat hierdie nuwe metode aanraak? Is die tradisionele metodes voldoende? Of moet daar veranderinge aan die huidige metodes aangebring word wanneer probleme ontstaan? Sal hierdie veranderinge die fundamentele aspekte van navorsingsontwerp beïnvloed? Die vrae saloorweeg word in hierdie tesis. Ek gebruik twee empiriese navorsingsontwerpe om die vrae te beantwoord. Die eerste, steekproefnavorsing, is In kwantitatiewe ontwerp wat tradisioneel In hoë vlak van beheer toon. Ek ondersoek in detail kwessies van steekproewe, insluitend geen respons en vraelysontwerp. Die tweede ontwerp wat ondersoek word, etnografiese navorsing, is kwalitatief, tekstueel en toon in die algemeen In lae vlak van navorser beheer. Ek ondersoek die metodes wat gebruik word in kuberetnografie en bespreek dan die etiese vraagstukke wat hierdie navorsing kenmerk. Ek kom tot die gevolgtrekking dat oor die algemeen die huidige metodes toegepas kan word op Internetnavorsing. Inderdaad kan van die probleme wat ondervind word in tradisionele navorsing ook ondervind word in Internet studies en ook hier kan dit oorkom word deur die gebruik van soortgelyke tegnieke, soos om aansporingsbonusse om geen responskoerse te verminder, hoewel daar nuwe probleme opduik, soos die gebrek aan para-taalkundige wenke. Dit noodsaak veranderinge aan die huidige metodes om resultate te lewer wat geldig en betroubaar is. Ek redeneer egter ook dat hierdie nodige veranderinge aan die metodes nie onderliggende beginsels van navorsingsontwerp verander nie.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/52432
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