Researching tenant activism by using an uncommon method: the online written interview

This article was written for SAGE Research Methods: Doing Research Online, and a new multimedia collection will be designed to support novice or experienced social science researchers who are conducting research online.


Under constrained resources, when costs of interview transcription were prohibitive and my time for data collection was limited, I ventured to take online an uncommon method, the qualitative questionnaire. It was my first attempt. The research was conducted in 2020 in the UK with private renters engaged or interested in tenant activism. I explored private tenants’ renting experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic; modalities of activist engagement; and their demands to the government. As a qualitative researcher, I worried for low take-up and poor data. I should not have! The online qualitative questionnaire collected data of extraordinary breadth and depth. It is this richness of answers to open-ended questions, which we tend to associate with interviews, that makes an online questionnaire better described as an, henceforth, online written interview. Drawing on my positive experience, this case study aims to raise awareness of this valuable method and give practical advice on designing and promoting it online. Through participant quotes and data quantification, I illustrate the method’s potential to collect rich data. Importantly, I reflect on the challenges posed by participant self-selection in online research and related limitations, and consider the ways in which these can be overcome or interpreted. Briefly I also open a window on data analysis and creative ways to combine the method with other approaches. My final word: go for it, you will be pleasantly surprised. 

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Author: Dr Adriana Mihaela Soaita


Date: September 1, 2021 12:27 pm


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