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  1. Im, Eun-Ok PhD, MPH, RN, CNS
  2. Chee, Wonshik PhD


From a feminist perspective, issues in using e-mail group discussion among cancer patients are explored and discussed by analyzing a study on gender and ethnic differences in cancer pain experiences among cancer patients. First, the study is concisely described. Then, while considering the essential components of research from a feminist perspective, issues identified throughout the research process (intersubjectivity, lack of women's voices, reflexivity and contextuality, dependability, and adequacy and credibility) are discussed. Based on the discussion, implications for future feminist research using e-mail group discussion are proposed.


WITH ADVANCES in electronic communication technology, researchers are increasingly using electronic data collection methods, one of which is e-mail group discussion, the oldest, most common, and the most popular form of interaction on the Internet. 1,2 A non-face-to-face group discussion develops when people direct a series of messages and responses to the e-mail list. 3,4


An e-mail list offers several advantages for research uses. A single person or small group usually owns an e-mail list. Therefore, because all of the e-mails sent to the list must pass through a single point, an owner has significant control over who can contribute to their discussions. The list owners can review all requests to be added to a list, block contributions from someone who is not on the list, and even censor specific messages. 2,4 E-mail lists also provide a more immediate and prompt channel for communication between researchers and research participants, because people respond more promptly with e-mails. 5 Differences in time zones and geographic distance do not limit the usefulness of an e-mail list. Research participants can also ask questions and get answers by e-mail more easily than with traditional quantitative research methods, such as self-administered questionnaires. Lakeman 5,6 pointed out that the Internet and e-mail provided the most accessible means to dialogue with research participants. In their research using e-mail, Murray and Anthony 7 started interviews with structured questions, but the interviews became progressively unstructured and varied in content, depending on the interviewee's interests.


With these characteristics, e-mail lists provide an excellent medium, setting, and/or data collection method for researchers, especially for those who want to reach diverse groups of potential participants in geographically dispersed areas. Yet, critical aspects of group discussions using e-mail lists have been rarely discussed, and the feasibility of e-mail group discussions among a specific Internet population has not been determined. Moreover, it is necessary to examine the dynamics of the e-mail group discussion from a theoretical perspective to determine whether or not it fits into the theoretical framework of the research project itself.


Such theoretical considerations are especially relevant when research is used to support dominant androcentric views and interests, and as a result those who are not part of this dominant group are marginalized and their concerns are either not considered relevant for the study or not reflected accurately in the research. 8,9 Even in Internet research, women are reported to be frequently marginalized. 10 When nursing research is uncritically conducted using electronic data collection methods, including e-mail lists, and when these methods support the dominant androcentric views and interests, the resulting nursing knowledge will certainly mislead nursing practice. Therefore, it is imperative to critically explore features of e-mail group discussions from a feminist perspective so as to guide the use of electronic data collection methods at an early stage. This article discusses methodological and theoretical aspects of a study of gender and ethnic differences in cancer pain experience; that took place online. In the study, an Internet survey and e-mail group discussion were used as data collection methods to determine the feasibility of electronic data collection methods among cancer patients online. The Internet survey was used as a quantitative research method (a form of survey) that asked participants to enter their answers to the questions directly online, and e-mail group discussion was used as a qualitative research method (a form of focus group discussion) through which 9 topics were discussed, based on close interactions between researchers and research participants and among research participants themselves. In this article, only the issues raised in the e-mail group discussion are discussed from a feminist perspective. The findings from the Internet survey itself can be found elsewhere. 11