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2. Web forum

The investigator posts questions on a web forum for members to respond to or reads existing posts that people have already written.

Man typing on a laptop


Used during the formative phases or to target specific user groups.


  • Decide whether you want people to respond privately to you or publicly to the rest of the forum
  • Make sure your questions are appropriate for the forum and within the rules of conduct. Get permission for any activities you perform or any information that you use
  • Decide whether you require anecdotal responses or a survey with “yes” or “no” answers


  • A relatively quick and low-cost way of reaching many people within a community that may already be interested in your topic
  • People are likely to engage and respond to your questions, as web forums are already there for discussion
  • You can ask targeted questions and find a rich supply of information on a specific topic


  • No opportunity to observe behaviour or context at first hand
  • Users are anonymous and responses cannot be verified
  • Over-enthusiastic forum members may lead the discussion away from your topic
  • Impossible to gauge the response rate, and it might take some time for people to get back to you
  • Knowledge of user is limited to answers on a specific theme unless further information is sought privately


  1. Search for forums online that deal with your subject of interest. Be sure to read existing threads on similar topics first. This can help to find out the information currently available and prevent you posting the same questions again.
  2. Get permission from the forum administrator where necessary and adhere to forum rules.
  3. Be honest about your presence. For example, do not pretend to be over 65 if you are not.
  4. Forums are well suited to qualitative responses so try to ask questions such as “does anyone have a problem with...” or “what do you think about...”
  5. If appropriate, post pictures relevant to the subject matter to help drive the discussion.
  6. Only cover a few topics within the general forum. If people are interested in the discussion, start a new thread.
  7. If people are willing, it can be useful to contact them privately and explore their answers in greater depth. People may also be more willing to provide photographs and better contextual information.
  8. Record the discussions and responses along with any photographs.


  • Finding out specific information at the early stages to understand the issues before going out into the field
  • Gathering real-world insights and personal stories from people to build an evidence base for your approach
  • Making use of established expertise and experience and talking to many individuals at the same time