Virtual Methods: Issues in Social Research on the Internet

By Christine Hine | Go to book overview

3
Online Interviewing
and the Research Relationship

Joëlle Kivits

Opting for the email interview as the main method for qualitative data collection requires the researcher to accept that she or he is undertaking a tentative interview project. At first sight a method free of cost, travel and transcription concerns, email interviewing is an interpersonal journey that demands from both the interviewer and interviewees a strong commitment towards the subject under study and the interviewing process, lasting long after the first email exchange. Each email interview is unique in terms of the personal contact between the researcher and the respondent and of the final quality of data. Often opted for in situations where populations are not easily accessible in an offline context (Coomber 1997), the convenient and attractive practicalities of interviewing by email generally determine its use in a research project. However, the researcher wishing to conduct interviews online needs to be aware of, and anticipate, the unusual, even sometimes troubling, research relationship.

Email interviewing is an asynchronous mode of online interviewing. The oneto-one relationship between the researcher and the respondent, as well as the repetitive email exchanges, make interviewing by email a personal and thoughtful form of communication (Mann and Stewart 2000). The technical prerequisites are for the researcher and participants to be competent and comfortable in using email. The unfamiliarity of the field (Markham 2004) comes from the necessity for the online interviewer to create a personal relationship in order to achieve the interview’s purpose of collecting qualitative data. That implies a constant negotiation of the email communication where motivations waver between establishing and keeping up an interpersonal and enjoyable talk with respondents and simultaneously installing a delineated research interview situation.

Based on my novice experience as an online researcher taken by surprise by the challenging and demanding nature of email interviewing, this chapter first presents the background of the study and then discusses two interconnected aspects of the interviewer–interviewee relationship and its necessary adaptation to email

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