I am studying the impact of the internet on a cultural practice in my country. I have been working on this project for months. I have already started data collection and analysis. However, lately I've become unsure of my principal research question. So, I'm studying an online community through online ethnography.

I am sure it is only a problem with the wording of the question.

What is the impact of the internet on ...?

I wonder if this is a qualitative question because I've read that qualitative questions should not start with 'what'. Is studying the impact of the internet on a phenomenon consistent with my methodology?

Thank you

  • For ethnography, you will need an overarching question; say, how the internet shapes the cultural practices of CountryA. However, do keep in mind that you need a lot to say about motivation of the research. And, what do you mean by cultural practice - which itself assumes that in CountryA has specific cultural practices. I think you get the idea where it is heading. – OK- Apr 6 '15 at 5:23

For any decent research question, I try to test it with all these criteria. Some of these sound very simple, but as I try to answer them, there isn't one of them that I find consistently simple. That might just be an indicator of my own limitations, though.

  • Does it look like the sort of question that gets answered in the journals (/ conferences / predominant outlet in my specialism) I want to publish in? In your case: are there impact studies in the literature that use qualitative ethnography?
  • Does it tell me who, what, when, where, why, and how? e.g. What sort of impacts? How will the impact be studied? Over what time period? Impact by whom, on whom? and so on.
  • How will I know when it has been answered well?
  • Is this a definite gap the literature?
  • Will answering it make the world a better place (in however small a way, but at least in a net positive way)?
  • Is this answerable with the resources (time, human, material) that I have available?

It's worth putting a lot of effort into getting the research question right. John Dewey is credited with saying something to the effect of "A question well put is half solved". Richard Feynman described research as being along the lines of: "write down the question; think hard about it; write down the answer"; and it's too easy to assume that the middle part deserves all the effort, but the first part and the last part repay effort too.

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  • They are all good suggestions. However, I will add that take them with a big pinch of salt. The question is about ethnographic inquiry and the answer invokes scientific rationality. With all due respect (and some more) to Feynman, I think better guidance can be sought from Anthropologist such as Clifford Geertz and sociologists such as Erving Goffman. – OK- Apr 6 '15 at 5:27

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