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A practical guide to analysing online support forums

Smedley, Richard; Coulson, Neil S.

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Richard Smedley


As the number of online support forums continues to grow and the amount of user-generated content increases, analysing forum messages can provide researchers and others working in health-related fields with important new insights into the needs, opinions and experiences of individuals who use them. There has been a lack of guidance regarding how to make the best use of user-generated content within forums as a data source in research studies, so this paper explains the practical, ethical and methodological issues associated with this type of research. It describes the benefits of forum research, the organisational structure of forums, how forums are selected for research, approaches to sampling, preparing data for analysis, and methods of analysis that can be used. The decisions that researchers need to make during each stage of the research process are explained, describing the options available and the ethical dilemmas that need to be considered to successfully develop, carry out and complete a research project.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Apr 25, 2018
Online Publication Date May 30, 2018
Deposit Date Apr 26, 2018
Publicly Available Date May 31, 2019
Journal Qualitative Research in Psychology
Print ISSN 1478-0887
Electronic ISSN 1478-0895
Publisher Routledge
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Keywords Online support communities; Forum; Sampling typology; Research methods; Ethics
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Qualitative Research in Psychology on 30.05.2018, available online: