Our anonymous online research participants are not always anonymous: Is this a problem?

Phillip Dawson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

34 Citations (Scopus)


When educational research is conducted online, we sometimes promise our participants that they will be anonymous - but do we deliver on this promise? We have been warned since 1996 to be careful when using direct quotes in Internet research, as full-text web search engines make it easy to find chunks of text online. This paper details an empirical study into the prevalence of direct quotes from participants in a subset of the educational technology literature. Using basic web search techniques, the source of direct quotes could be found in 10 of 112 articles. Analysis of the articles revealed previously undiscussed threats from data triangulation and expert analysis/diagnosis. Issues of ethical obliviousness, obscurity and concern for future privacy-invasive technologies are also discussed. Recommendations for researchers, journals and institutional ethics review boards are made for how to better protect participants anonymity against current and future threats.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)428 - 437
Number of pages10
JournalBritish Journal of Educational Technology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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