WATW by the Numbers

As most of you know, I'm writing a dissertation about rhetoric, gender, and blogging using where are the women? as a case study. I should say that I'm not looking at every post on the list I compiled, only the spikes of activity: August 2002, September 2002, March through August of 2004, December 2004, and February 2005. So here are the numbers:

Total number of posts: 102
Total number of comments: 2243 (not counting spam or those accidental duplicate comments)
Total number of trackbacks: 171

Total number of posts by men: 33
Total number of posts by women: 69

Total number of comments by men: 885
Total number of comments by women: 1059
Total number of comments by gender-free: 349

Total number of trackbacks by men: 60
Total number of trackbacks by women: 105
Total number of trackbacks by gender-free: 6

Total number of posts by men that allowed comments: 30
Total number of posts by women that allowed comments: 53

Total number of comments under posts by men: 1374
Total number of comments under posts by women: 869

Average number of comments readers left under a post written by a man: 46
Average number of comments readers left under a post written by a woman: 16

Now here's my problem. I think these numbers are kind of interesting -- they help provide a tie-in to findings in previous research in gender and computer-mediated communication, especially that of Susan Herring, that show that men's online postings get more replies than women's, etc. These numbers certainly corroborate that. I'm interested in the implications of the numbers: The fact, for example, that there are more than twice as many posts by women than by men speaks to how important this question is to this particular group of women. These women took the time and expended the effort to write all these posts; despite the fact that some of the posts are flippant and parodic, obviously they care about the issue. And, taking into account the context and patterns of online interaction, the numbers arguably reveal something about how heated these discussions are.

But: In my experience, when I even think about counting something, everyone giving me feedback on the given project gets a little too excited and wants me to go whole-hog to the empirical and quantitative approach. (Why don't you count the number of words per post?! Devise a coding scheme and code everything!) I'm not necessarily talking about my committee, just scholars in general. Although that's very valuable and interesting research, it's not what I'm interested in doing. I'm taking a naturalistic approach, mostly consisting of interpretive close intertextual reading. So far that's okay with my committee -- they seem fine with whatever approach I choose as long as I can define/articulate/defend it -- but I'm thinking about not even putting these numbers in my dissertation anywhere, lest they be held against me. What do the rest of you think? If you can give me some language to use to introduce and explain the numbers and my choice to include them, that would be especially helpful.

Edited to add: By "men" and "women," I mean people presenting online as men and women. For the purposes of my dissertation research, I'm thinking of gender as a rhetorical position (i.e., positioning oneself as...). This is because someone might strategically present hirself as a man or woman because ze knows that the audience will respond to hir in a certain way. In this sense I'm thinking of gender as performative.


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It seems worthwhile to

It seems worthwhile to include the numbers since, as you note, they put you in conversation with previous research. As for not going completely quantitative, that seems to me those analyses are something that could be left for future research (either by you, or by some other more quantitatively inclined researcher) since the data would be available for such analyses in the future.

Would you say that your diss is a balance between qualitative and quantitative, thus falling under the label of mixed-methods? It seems to me that it is also somewhat a matter of training. You are trained (and thus have expertise) in rhetorical methods. That expertise is valuable and something that only *you* are applying to this data at this time. Your current research is valuable in and of itself.

I'd suggest taking the enthusiasm for hoped for quantitative analyses of your data as enthusiasm for your project more generally, and (subsets of) your audience are identifying with your research in the way they know best (have training/expertise).


C, I'd be very very wary of including numbers. I think that you've made a good choice in focusing exclusively on the spikes (I also think it's worth including some discussion of this choice, how you made it, etc., in your methodology section), because that's where the most "rhetorical action" is going to be.

But by choosing the spikes, which makes sense for a more rhetorical project, you've affected your data in a way which makes those larger quantitative patterns difficult to defend or demonstrate in anything other than an anecdotal fashion. Not that those patterns don't exist--far from it--but you'd need a defensible cross-section, rather than a motivated selection, to be able to really offer any proof.

For instance, one of the things that makes a difference in these numbers is the set of different ways that people comment. Many of these comments may be responding to the posts, but certainly some of them respond to other comments, in cases where they otherwise wouldn't have commented. Trackback numbers are always going to be affected by platform, since certain platforms make it much harder (if not impossible) to trackback. And so forth.

My advice would be that, if you decide to include the numbers, do it in an appendix and raise them only under the auspices of future directions for study. I hope this doesn't sound critical, bc I don't mean it to--I think that your study will be valuable enough without them...


I knew I'd get good advice

Thanks, Lianzi and Collin. Lianzi, I think you're right about how I should take those comments.

To answer your question, Lianzi, I'm just doing qualitative research, but I was curious about counting this stuff up. To me it's not really different from a literary scholar who says, "This dissertation is an analysis of four novels." Instead of saying "I analyze some blog posts and some comments," I think it's nice to be more precise and give the numbers.

Collin, that's just the kind of advice I was hoping to get. I think that's what I'll do -- put them in an appendix if at all. There are actually good reasons I'm dealing only with the spikes: When I first posted the list of links to posts about gender in the blogosphere, I asked people to leave links to other posts in the comments. Some posters interpreted that broadly and left links to posts that addressed the fact that conferences about blogging rarely feature women speakers, the underrepresentation of women in technology in general, etc.--which are important topics, but indirect. Also, the spikes tend to have more participation by men and interaction between women and men.

IIRC the numbers from

IIRC the numbers from Herring's (1993) research was from a similar type of study - contentious posts on listservs (instead of blogs). The caution is not to make too much of the numbers or over-generalize from them, which I don't think you do. However, you seem to have somewhat unruly audiences ;-). Maybe another option would be to add additional text specifying the limited ways in which you are reporting the numbers. IMHO, it seems that since your numbers are the result of a similar methodological approach, reporting the numbers in your study strengthens both the previous research as well as your own results. At least they enable a comparison (however limited) that is provocative, and maybe even useful. Makes me want to read more qualitatiave researchers reporting on their use of numbers!

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