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Guide to remote research

Advice on remote research for staff, Masters by Research students, and doctoral researchers. Covers finding and accessing literature, data collection, and data security.

Remote methods: What to consider

Please bear in mind the following policies and guidance when doing remote data collection:

Research ethics and Covid-19

Ethics guidelines for internet mediated research

Safeguarding children in research contexts

Working with vulnerable populations

If you are writing a data management plan there is in depth guidance available.

Use this checklist when considering remote data collection:

 

  • Are there any data sets available that you could re-use instead of collecting new data yourself? We have created a list of data sources which you can search.
  • Is there a like-for-like replacement for your face-to-face data collection method? For example interviews could also be conducted via telephone or video conferencing, as could focus groups. Or do you need to be inventive and change the type of data you are collecting? 
  • Think carefully about the repercussions this may have for your research question - can you still answer your original research question –? Can you still do the analysis you intended to do, or does your analysis need to adapt as well?
  • ‚ÄčDo you have the correct equipment and software to carry out your new form of data collection?
  • Are you happy that your collection method is secure and that personal sensitive information will not be at risk? JISC have some useful guidance on security when using collaborative and communication tools.
  • How will you find participants and approach sampling? What are the implications of using technology for you potential respondents?
  • How are you going to get informed consent remotely?
  • Will respondents have a private and uninterrupted space for discussions?
  • How will you deal with sensitive or upsetting issues?

Ethical approval

Please see this document for guidance on how Covid-19 affects ethical approval of research projects. This includes guidance on:

  • switching to remote data collection

  • suspending research

  • research in prison, probation, and healthcare settings

If you are switching to remote data collection and have ethical approval and a data management plan for your original collection method please write a new data management plan and submit it with your new ethics application.

If you are writing a new or revised ethics application ensure that your data management plan and ethics application address the issues of remote data collection.

Research in the NHS

For NHS related research please see the HRA Guidance about COVID-19 for sponsors, sites and researchers.

Recruiting participants

The same principles of participant recruitment that apply to face-to-face research should be considered when recruiting and expanding your participant base remotely. Contacting people by email or phone will always be a longer process than communicating face-to-face, so be patient if communication is slower than you would like. Think about how to be effective in communicating information about the project to potential participants, and at every stage consider how you will protect their data in an online environment.

 

Bear in mind the impact of the current situation, particularly if you are researching health or social care issues.

 

Here are some key points to consider:


  • Start with the existing literature. If you are yet to recruit your participants, start by making notes on existing studies that have used remote data collection methods, and talk to your supervisor about where you might recruit your participants (and how many you need for a viable project).
  • Draw on your networks. Be practical, thinking about potential participants that you can easily access and engage with in your project. These might be coursemates, other university students, or communities you have worked with on placement. If you already know your participants, or belong to the group yourself, be sure to consider your positionality and think about the potential for research bias.

  • Be realistic about ethical approval. It is important to balance your ambitions for the project with practical considerations, and to be realistic about who you will be able to involve in your research. For example, for PGT projects, it is unlikely that you will have time to gain ethics approval for working with vulnerable communities or involving participants in sensitive topics. Similarly, by working remotely, it may be difficult to access certain groups to share their perceptions, particularly if you are interested in a group of participants based on their profession (for example, teachers). 

    You may also want to consider switching to a secondary data set for your research, and focus instead on writing an extended literature review in your chosen area, rather than running a small-scale pilot with primary data collection. You can access a wide range of existing data sets and find information on how to write an extended literature review from the Skills Centre.

  • Read up on selection and sampling techniques. Familiarise yourself with the different ways you can recruit participants remotely to ensure a representative sample. For more information on sampling techniques, and their relative advantages and limitations, visit our SAGE Research Methods resource via the library.

  • Think about the logistics of recruiting and gathering data from participants. How will you reach out to participants and are you using multiple methods of communication, or relying entirely on a single point of contact, such as an online survey? Some communication methods may be easier for your participants to engage with than others - try to build this into your research design. You will also need to think about how you ensure data is anonymised and how you will keep track of the number of participants involved in your project if they are participating remotely.

  • Have a contingency plan. Reflect on the possible points of failure in your project and possible solutions for these. If your online survey fails to attract enough participants, can you run a second phase of data collection using focus groups? What is your minimum number of participants needed to meet your research aims.

  • Set yourself a goal. Set an ideal sample size as well as a lower limit. Aim for the minimum in the time you have available - any extra participants would then be a bonus!

  • Share your findings. You will need to let your participants know how their data will be stored and how they can access the results of your project once it is completed. You can find guidance on this, and wider GDPR considerations, on the university's ethics pages.

Data collection tools

There are various ways in which you can conduct interviews or focus groups remotely. Which one you use depends on a number of factors, in particular the technology which is available to you and your respondents.

 

Phone or video calls:

 

When carrying out phone or video calls, please bear in mind your respondent's home situation. For example they may not be able to find a private space for the call. Discuss with respondents how you can manage these issues, for example by not using cameras.
Some services will require the respondent to set up an account and / or download software - it is important to include such details in your recruitment and information documents.

 

  • You can conduct voice interviews via phone. This is the simplest method, but there may be issues with the quality of the recordings. Members of staff can use Jabber to sign in to their SHU number, and can use software such as Audacity to record the call.
  • Students and staff can use their SHU details to login to Zoom and set up a meeting. If you are using Zoom please look at the SHU guidance document below.
  • Students and staff can use Teams
  • Staff can use Blackboard Collaborate. In a Blackboard module site go to 'Site tools' where you will find a link to 'Blackboard Collaborate Ultra.' Set up an ‘interview room’ and send respondents the guest access link.

 

Interview via e-mail or documents:

 

You may be able to conduct an interview via an e-mail exchange. It is best to use an encrypted email service. If instead you would like to use documents for the interactions, it is best to use a secure drop-off service such as https://zendto.shu.ac.uk using an agreed password, or sending an encrypted document. You should also scan documents for viruses.

The following tools can be used for qualitative and quantitative data gathering such as surveys and questionnaires.

In all cases please transfer the data to the Research Store as soon as possible.

 

We recommend against using other tools such as SurveyMonkey. Free accounts on such services are limited, for example they may offer a small number of questions, and there are concerns about where the data is stored.

 

There may be a data set which you can use instead of remote data collection: explore our list of data sources.

If you are going to use existing data, consider how this may affect your methodology.
Please check the conditions of use for the dataset  that you are interested in. Make sure that the data is licensed for re-use.

 

Useful sources