Tag Archives: anonymity

Qualitative research: pseudonyms or no pseudonyms?

27 Mar

As I prepared my focus group and interview transcripts for entering onto NVivo, ready to being my data analysis, it occurred just how many participants I had (82 in total – members of the public, healthcare professionals and media professionals). I started to think about how my participants would be represented in my thesis. Obviously to maintain the principle of beneficence, they had to remain anonymous. The use of pseudonyms is as we know recommended, but I wondered if this was a unified strategy or if anyone had other thoughts. So I posed this question on twitter to explore further:Picture1

Some interesting discussions followed and some issues arose that I hadn’t previously considered.

There was a general consensus from the responses (PhD students, researchers and a PhD supervisor) that using pseudonyms was a good idea as it allowed participants to feel like real people.  Consequently, it helped researchers portray their story effectively and maintain that human element.  This of course is key in qualitative research.

However, there were some important considerations raised.  Not everyone used pseudonyms and someone felt that codes were easier for the reader to track and relate to, whereas names could perhaps be easily forgotten.  Others stated that it was important to use both – the pseudonym for the human element, but also codes to differentiate between groups of people.

namesSo how do people choose their pseudonyms? Suggestions included using a random baby name generator from the internet or Google the most common baby names which related to their date of birth (I can see why allocating a ‘Chantelle’ to an 80 year old lady probably wouldn’t be the best choice!). Someone also suggested choosing similar sounding names to their own. I know others have asked their participants to choose their pseudonym, but this can be challenging if the same name is chosen by a number of participants. I also wonder what the implications of this are if that participant is able to identify him or herself in the research findings?

So the outcome of this twitter conversation in relation to my study is that I am using pseudonyms, in addition to codes (which is also what one of my supervisors did). This is because I really want to keep the human element, but as I am analysing my public, healthcare professional and media professional data together and will be reporting my findings in one chapter, it is imperative that the groups are differentiated.

Another critical aspect that needs to be considered is that even when using pseudonyms, participants can still be identifiable, especially if they are from small communities. This is something that I need to be mindful of as some of my participants live in a small community which had experienced a traumatic event and some are journalists working for specific newspapers. Just because I have given them different names, I need to ensure that no one can be personally identifiable (or connected with a professional organisation)  in any way.

A special thank you to @strictlykaren , @Acrobat13, @merry30, @SarahLaneCawte, @gtombs, @Paully232000, @AbigailLocke, @VickiMcDermott and @CET47 for their insightful twitter comments and feedback 🙂

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