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New Media and Participant Observation

Participant observation is a qualitative research method that researchers use to study naturally occurring behavior (i.e., the way people in a particular culture communicate) by immersing themselves in the setting where the behavior is taking place. Increasingly, people communicate using new media such as online support groups, multiplayer online games (e.g., World of Warcraft), virtual reality (e.g., Second Life), and other online communities. Participant observation can help researchers understand how and why people communicate online. For example, a researcher might participate in an online support group with the goal of developing an understanding of the types of issues group members talk about and the ways in which they talk about them.

The extent of researchers’ involvement can range from complete participation to complete observation (without ...

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