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Online Research

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Online Research

We all know that, with the invention of the internet, quick access to answers and information is constantly at our fingertips. We can benefit from finding exactly what we are looking for in seconds. This kind of accessibility is advantageous for psychological research, too - it provides researchers with a plethora of opportunities to gather and share data.

Online research methods in psychology are ways in which researchers can accumulate data through the internet. This enables drawing more extensive, diverse samples.

online reseach, research, StuduSmarterOnline research, istockphoto.com

The feasibility of the internet has overshadowed traditional pen-and-paper methods of research. The initial use of the web to collect data only traces back to the mid-1990s.

Online research methods and examples

Researchers collect data from the internet using different methods explained in the following text.

Types of online research methods

Below are the types of online research methods:

Online qualitative research

Qualitative research is a methodology that seeks to develop an understanding of the human experience and various social phenomena through collecting and analysing non-numerical data.

Online qualitative research involves collecting and analysing data in the form of language, concepts, and experiences via the internet. It provides subjective information regarding an individual's perception of reality.

What is particularly useful for psychological research is that there is such a range of this content provided through the internet from people all over the world living in different environments and thus with differing circumstances.

Online focus groups

Online focus groups enable the person researching to host a dialogue between various respondents via a platform accessed with the internet. This kind of online verbal interaction aids the researcher to understand a topic better and delves deeper into the specific attitudes of the individuals involved. It helps gather a broader insight into issues perhaps previously recognised through statistics.

A focus group may be set up if a researcher wishes to find out more about the experience of different mothers postpartum (after childbirth). It would enable qualitative data to be collected about common themes that the women address and more particular impressions.

Online research, focus group, StudySmarterFocus group, istockphoto.com

Online interviews

These may be conducted online via synchronous chat forums and software. They enable a more conversational style of collecting data and allow the respondent to expand on their experience or situation to ensure that someone is listening in real-time.

Interviews via the internet can also be programmed to be asynchronous. This means that qualitative data can be transferred to the research intermittently instead of instantly. This enables information to be collected over time and could be helpful in certain studies which require a longer time frame (longitudinal studies).

If we use the same idea of postpartum that was used above, imagine a case study surrounding a mother who has just given birth that aims to track her emotive responses to questions for a year. An asynchronous interview type could be used to gather details each month.

Online quantitative research

Quantitative research involves collecting numerical data which can be statistically analysed.

Online surveys, questionnaires, and polls

Various types of online research tools, such as surveys, use interactive methods to collect data from people for psychological studies. Surveys can focus on collected factual information from people, or they can record opinions which can then be analysed statistically.

Online cross-sectional surveys are an example of surveys that aims to collect data from a specific population at a point in time. It is designed to highlight particular characterises of a small or large population.

  • Between 2011 and 2015, Chekroud et al. (2018) conducted a cross-sectional survey to collect data over the internet from 1.2 million Americans to assess the association between exercise and mental health. The data was collected and published online. They found that those who exercised had 43.2% fewer days of poor mental health than those who did not exercise within the last month.

Online social network analysis

Social network analysis is a tool through which online patterns and behaviours between groups and systems can be tracked and examined. They point out the interdependency of structures and organisations online through utilising network and graph theory.

Brian S. Butler (2001) studied the impact of participation on the attraction and retention of group members by creating an archive of all messages sent to 206 online groups over three months.

This kind of online study tool is helpful for psychologists studying online social communication, a topic that will be even more prevalent in the years to come as we spend more time online.

Social Network Analysis Research StudySmarterSocial media use, freepik.com/pch.vector

Advantages of online research

There are several advantages of conducting research online through media and the web.

Lower costs and more accessibility

The internet has made a positive impact on how psychological research is conducted. Not only is it more economical, but it also makes visible psychological phenomena that traditional research settings may be lacking.

Economic benefits

Using the internet to conduct psychological research saves an organisation the time and money they may have spent recruiting specific samples of participants for experiments and surveys.

Researchers will not have to enter their findings into a database and hence use this time more wisely.

Democratising information

The internet has provided an intangible platform for conducting and collecting psychological research for those with limited access to physical resources.

It is a decentralised pool of data where individuals can access an infinite number of studies.

It also provides social psychologists with various communication archives, such as questionnaires and online groups, which remain discursive evidence. Studies can then be edited or added to further research.

Targeting demographics

The internet can target more extensive and more diverse demographics of people. It can also target specific individuals by using data-driven methods to target the kinds of individuals the study requires. This also makes observational research much easier to carry out.

Disadvantages of online research

Issues lie in all types of data collection, especially regarding people.

Ethical issues

Informed consent and participant identity are essential aspects to consider when collecting data online. It is susceptible to a lack of anonymity and an inability to give fully informed consent.

Social desirability bias and honesty issues

People may not answer honestly to appear better or under the fear of judgment when giving answers to these surveys, etc. This affects the reliability and validity of the data.

The importance of online research

Online research is now a crucial part of research methods for psychology. It provides a platform for empirical researchers to observe human patterns of behaviour.

The role of the internet for social and behavioural psychology

Carrying out behavioural research online is significant for providing a certain standard of external validity. This is achieved as the data collected is more ecologically representative and varied because of a large pool of participants and thus diverse samples.

Data collection is fast and, in some cases, nearly immediate. Information can be accumulated from individuals no matter their geographical location.

Online research is important because it allows researchers to be more inclusive. The internet provides a medium for topics that traditional research methods may not have addressed. This is because psychologists have access to groups and populations of people who may have been under-represented by previous studies via the internet.

The internet has provided a platform for both quantitative and qualitative studies to carry more weight through their empirical and statistical validity.

Online Research - Key takeaways

  • Online research methods in psychology are ways in which researchers can accumulate data through the internet, enabling more diverse samples
  • Online qualitative data can be collected through virtual focus groups and chat system interviews. These are particularly useful in gathering observational data via more personal and conversational research styles.
  • Online quantitative data is accumulated and presented through various types of surveying
  • The internet provides researchers with archives of material to study the history of human communication methods and gives them quick access to past studies.
  • The key advantages of online research are that it is cost-effective, data is more accessible through a pool of mass information, and it can target more diverse groups of people.
  • However, ethical issues with informed consent and anonymity exist, and people may not be honest in their answers.
  • Conducting research online overall increases the external validity of the data.
  • Online research is important because it caters to subjects that traditional research methods perhaps neglected. It suddenly provides a platform for groups of people who may have been underrepresented in psychological research.

Frequently Asked Questions about Online Research

Online research is the method through which data and information is collected for further use via the internet.

The purpose of online research is to broaden the horizon through which information is collected so that it can be as varied and representable as possible. It allows researches to collect data which may not have been recorded from traditional research methods. 

Researching effectively online involves knowing your target demographic and knowing the method which you want to use to collect your data. If you wish to collect qualitative data, you should consider methods such as online focus groups which create a dialogue between researcher and respondents. Surveys and polls may be more effective for the collection of quantitative data. 

The four main types of online research are online focus groups/interviews, surveys, polls and questionnaires. 

Online research is a crucial method of empirical data collection. It allows researches to understand patterns of behaviour which are far more representative and diverse than traditional research methods may account for. It allows quick access to information for people no matter where they are situated in the world. Crucially, it provides a platform for communication between researches and a dialogue between studies to exist. 

Final Online Research Quiz

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Online research enables...

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more diverse samples 

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The initial use of the web to collect data traces back to...

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the mid 1990s

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What is qualitative research?


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Qualitative research is a method of collecting and analysing non-numerical  data in order to understand social phenomena and personal experience.

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Why can online qualitative research end up providing psychologists with diverse information?

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Because the internet provides a diverse research platform which can reach out to all different types of people with differing experiences.

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What are online focus groups?

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Online focus groups are a type of online research method  which allows a researcher to create a dialogue with various respondents in order to collect data from them. 

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What is meant by an asynchronous online interview?

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An asynchronous online interview is one where data is collected intermittently from an individual instead of instantly. 

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Why might asynchronous interviews be useful for researchers?

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They may be helpful because they provide a wider time frame for data to be collected in. 

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Why might synchronous interviews be useful for researchers?


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They might be helpful because they provide them with instant information. 

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What is quantitative research?

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Quantitative research involves collecting numerical data which can be statistically analysed.

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What are online cross-sectional surveys?


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They are a type of survey that aims to collect data from a certain population at a point in time. It highlights characteristics of a chosen population of people. 

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What kind of theory does online social network analysis use?

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Network and graph theory 

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Social network analysis is useful for those studying...

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online social communication patterns 

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Why does using online surveys save effort for psychologists?


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It saves effort by reducing the time and resources put into recruiting samples of participants. 

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Select two reasons why conducting research online increases its external validity. 

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Data collected is more ecologically representative. 

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​Why might online research be more inclusive than other research methods?


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It is more inclusive because it provides a medium for topic subjects that may not have been addressed by traditional research methods by giving access to under-represented groups in the past. 

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