Research method option 1: Discourse analysis (SOCRMx)

wooden cubes with litters on each side

This post is part of a task on the SOCRMx course.

Think of three good research questions that could be answered using this approach.

  • Comparing the personal statements of first and third generation university applicants, does their use of language reflect any difference in their sense of identity during this educational transition?
  • How does online disability awareness training affect the language used by academic staff when discussing disabled student experiences? (mixed method?)
  • What does the language used by lecturers reveal about their relationship with learning technology?

What assumptions about the nature of knowledge (epistemology) seem to be associated with this approach?

The researcher will have a personal or discipline-based view of what discourse and discourse analysis means. They will draw upon theory underpinning the method or approach associated with their particular epistemological stance to frame their findings. My research question examples above explore human perceptions of self, others, and the world around them. They are constructivist, subjectivist and relativist, not seeking objective truth as such, and they depend on qualitative data. Discourse itself, the object of study, tends to present more opportunities to gather qualitative data than quantitative, although I can think of some ways to adapt the questions above to produce quantitative output, with a more objective approach.

What kinds of ethical issues arise?

Where the topic involves sensitive subjects, participants may need to be anonymised or their statements paraphrased. Interventions, like interviews or activities could create risks for vulnerable individuals, e.g. trigger topics for mental health conditions.

The findings of the research may have an adverse impact on the individuals or community being studied, e.g. by informing policy, or gaining media attention. Individuals or communities may challenge the findings and might want their contributions to be anonymised or withdrawn after publication.

Where discourses are gathered from public online sources, direct quotes can be traced back to individuals. In private online spaces, the presence of the researcher may need ethical consideration; are they a guest observer, or a participating member of the community?

What would “validity” imply in a project that used this approach?

Positivist definitions of validity are not particularly helpful in highly qualitative research, like discourse analysis. Some suggestions of alternative validity criteria include credibility and authenticity. While quantitative validity might examine whether the research effectively measures what was intended, qualitative validity might be more about how meaningful the output and conclusions are… and impact perhaps?

According to Coe (2017):

‘there is a core idea – that interpreting data in particular ways should be explicitly justified – which is essentially common to both traditions and a requirement for any good research, whatever its paradigmatic stance.’

What are some practical issues that would need to be considered?

  • Access to participants and environments being studied (geographical, legal, social connection)
  • Sufficient time available to gather the data sets needed to analyse the scope of the question
  • Technical ability and understanding of any technologies being used


Coe, R.J. (2017) Inference and interpretation in research. In Arthur, J. Waring,M. Coe, R.J. and L. Hedges (eds) Research Methods and Methodologies in Education. London: Sage. pp.44-56

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  1. #SOCRMx: Week 4 – Discourse Analysis – Jenny Connected

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