Research:Qualitative research for an undergraduate dissertation

From Meta, a Wikimedia project coordination wiki

This page documents a planned research project.
Information may be incomplete and change before the project starts.

Key Personnel[edit]

Project Summary[edit]

This research is being conducted over several months as part of an undergraduate course at the University of Cambridge. It will form the basis of a 10,000 word dissertation that will be submitted in March or April 2012 to my course organisers. The research's scope is broad and more than a little vague. I do not have a specific quantitative goal. Rather, my work is braodly ethnographic. I am interested in Wikipedia's culture, social structure and norms, the behaviour and motivation of Wikipedians, the concept of "openness" (more socially than philosophically), the way participants interact and feel about their community, as well as their social identity, if they have one. I am also very interested in destructive editing practices on Wikipedia, and how they impact all of the above. I am attempting to identify particularly interesting social phenomena in a specific online environment and see if I can make any interesting ethnographic or theoretical observations.


The main part of my research is simply reading through existing literature, and also a lot of time spent reviewing and observing work on Wikipedia. Most of what I observe are talk pages, user pages, policy pages and so on - where social activity occurs - rather than article editing itself.

However, I am also trying to conduct an informal written questionnaire, to add ethnographic depth. I aim to get about 20-30 responses to the questionnaire, though I may increase this number if I have time and/or I need more data. I may also conduct 'real world' interviews with Wikipedians if I can meet them at meetups and so on, though again this depends on how my research progresses and whether I need such interviews.

I do not have a suggested recruitment method for finding respondents for the questionnaire - I do not know the best way to do this on Wikipedia. If the RComm has no suggestions I will probably post messages on user talk pages asking if they would be interested in taking the survey. I am ideally looking for respondents who are very active (edit at least a few times a week; every day if possible), and a mix of admins and non-admins.


I do not have any plans to share my findings - as an undergraduate student I think they are not considered properly academic or legitimate. However, there is no secrecy - if anyone is interested in reading them then I am happy to share them. It is possible, as mentioned above, that my dissertation will be submitted to an academic journal if it is deemed exceptional. This is unlikely.

Wikimedia Policies, Ethics, and Human Subjects Protection[edit]

There is no ethics committee that my research needs to go through, as it is considered informal undergraduate work. However, I will make every attempt to inform those with whom I interact about the nature and purpose of my study, and will strike them from my data if they give any indication that they do not wish to participate. My questionnaire includes a question about whether respondents are happy for their answers to be quoted verbatim, and if they wish to remain anonymous or not (in terms of user name - I will never use any real names). I will not interfere with or quote any live discussions on Wikipedia, though I will observe old ones and use them in my research.

Benefits for the Wikimedia community[edit]

The project may help improve understanding of social dynamics in Wikipedia.

Time Line[edit]

I will start seeking respondents to my questionnaire immediately - depending on how long it takes to get them, I may cease seeking respondents in October or November. After that I will be working on writing the dissertation until about March or April 2012.


I have no funding and no expenses.


Reagle, J.M. 2010. Good Faith Collaboration - my project will have a different scope and likely different conclusions but it will work in a similar ethnographic vein to Reagle's.

External links[edit]

Software - Atlas.ti Writing services -