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Chatting online: the use of instant messaging in qualitative research

By Jane Callaghan, Helen Barber, Charlotte Cusik and Kevin Buchanan


The turn towards cyberculture, social networking and online interaction is now well established in western culture. In this paper we explore the use of instant messaging as a tool in qualitative research. Using data from an online project exploring ‘celebrity worship’ in online communities, we argue that instant messaging offers researchers and intriguing hybrid of conversational interaction that in many ways is akin to ‘chatting’ in the ‘real world’ and reflection in the written form. We consider the ways that this form of interaction converges with and diverges from more traditional qualitative formats like face to face individual interviews. We argue that it offers an interesting opportunity to explore what happens when research participants are able to express themselves in writing, while at the same time engaging in real-time dialogue. We look at the role of emoticons as a form of paralinguistic expression. We consider what it means to be conducting an interview with someone who, in keeping with online conversational etiquette, is quite happy to pop off without warning to make a cup of tea or answer the door, and who may be running several simultaneous chat windows along with your ow

Topics: BF76.5, QA76.9C66, TK5105.73
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