Research Methods for Studying Virtual Communities

Research Methods for Studying Virtual Communities

Nana Adu-Pipim Boaduo (University of the Free State, South Africa)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-040-2.ch036
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Very often virtual community student researchers find it difficult to decide on methodological paradigms, the choice for methods and their application to use in a given research study. They may stay thousands of kilometres from their study supervisors. Some of them might not have had the opportunity to acquire basic research knowledge and skills while other must have trained in advance research methods. This chapter caters for both these group of virtual community readers. In many instances the possible means of contact may either be by phone or by the Internet. The problems of distance and non-physical contact with their supervisors may deter virtual community researchers from engaging in regular research activities. To complicate the problem of virtual community students are the provisions of authors who write research books who rarely discuss:

  • The philosophical underpinnings of both qualitative and quantitative methods,

  • How qualitative and quantitative methods can be applied in a research study,

  • Where they can be applied in the study,

  • When to apply them in the study, and

  • What to do to enable the virtual researcher make informed professional decision about the choice of methodology.

Coupled with these dilemmas are the virtual community researchers’ choices of framework for data collection, treatment, analysis and interpretation to make the study report a professional masterpiece. This chapter discusses basic research methodologies to place the virtual community researchers in a comfortable position and clarifies the dilemma inherent in the virtual community research fraternity. Later in the chapter advanced discussion of systematic methodological application where data collected for a research study can be conveniently treated, analysed and interpreted to be able to write a professional masterpiece of a research report as a contribution to the knowledge data base.



Practically, any research textbook will advise on the concept of research: what it is and what it is not (Bryman, 2004; Vos, et all, 2005; Leedy, 1980; Tuckman, 1988; Ary & Razavieh, 1972; Gay, 1976; Nachmias & Nachmias 1981; Barzun & Graff, 1977; Bell, 2004; Anderson, Herr, Nihlen, 1994; Bless & Higson-Smith, 2004; Baker, 1999; Miles & Huberman, 1994). Some may provide a list of criteria with which to comply. Others may give some tentative guide as to how to approach a research study. At the beginning of a research study the following are required: research topic, statement of the main research problem, sub-problems, rationale, and literature review, methodological choice that will guide the study, limitation and delimitation of the chosen topic, chapter outline, appendices and list of references.

Furthermore, it will be important to be familiar with the following to be able to situate the study professionally:

  • Sketch of the need for the research topic which the researcher feels comfortable and knowledgeable to undertake.

  • Discussion of the need to know and clearly understand the philosophical underpinnings of both qualitative and quantitative methods so as to be able to select and apply them professionally.

  • Elaboration of the need for the choice of applicable methods and relevant instruments and techniques for the collection, treatment, analysis and interpretation of data; and

  • Identification of how it is necessary to interweave the processes listed to expose the relevance of knowing what to do, how to do it and why to be able to address a research problem professionally.

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