Collecting Qualitative Online Data

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Dr Whiting and Prof Pritchard will be discussing their approach to qualitative online data collection and analysis.

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Collecting qualitative online data: Our methodological journey since 2012

Dr Rebecca Whiting, Birkbeck, University of London & Professor Katrina Pritchard, Swansea University


In this session, we consider our methodological journey in using qualitative online data in a project that set out to map the language of age at work using Web 2.0 data. We explain how and why we developed a methodology to enable our empirical examination (e.g. of how age, age identities and related concepts such as generations are socially constructed in relation to issues of work). We introduce and explain two related and flexible approaches that we term ‘tracking’ and ‘trawling’. These approaches, at either end of a methodological spectrum, use a variety of digital (often proprietary) means to collect selected material from the Internet.

Like interviews, these digital methods are flexible and can be used to investigate a wide range of topics, within different research paradigms, and produce data that can be analysed using various methods. However, whereas interviews are well-established methods of data collection, these technology-enabled approaches are much less developed in terms of what they are, when and where they can be used and how to carry them out. We outline the generic steps in collecting online qualitative data, illustrated with examples from our own and others work.

At the heart of this journey has been a reflexive approach to examining the fundamental assumptions we have as researchers, such as what constitutes data and participants and how to apply ethical frameworks to the Internet context. We unpack these and how we addressed challenges encountered along the way, for example, through piloting. We conclude by looking to future developments in the use of qualitative online data in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic and given the evolving and ephemeral nature of multi-modal digital material.


Rebecca Whiting is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Organizational Psychology at Birkbeck, University of London where she leads the Department’s Qualitative Research Group. She is interested in a wide range of qualitative methodologies, including the use of digital and visual data, and research ethics. She has published journal articles and book chapters on aspects of qualitative methods, including in The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Business and Management Research Methods and the OUP volume, Unconventional Methodology in Organization and Management Research. Her research topics include the discursive construction of work identities, work-life boundaries, diversity (particularly age, gender and class and how they are socially constructed) and invisible work.

Katrina Pritchard is a Professor in the School of Management, Swansea University. She has published journal articles and book chapters on aspects of qualitative methods, including in The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Business and Management Research Methods and Symon and Cassell’s Qualitative Organizational Research: Core Methods and Current Challenges (2012). Katrina’s methodological interests extend from traditional to creative qualitative methods, including visual and object-based, in addition to digital methods. She researches a range of topics related to issues of identity at work.

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