Thesis Home

Conversational Analysis of Chat Room Talk PHD thesis by Dr. Terrell Neuage  University of South Australia National Library of Australia.

THESIShome ~ Abstract.html/pdf ~ Glossary.html/pdfIntroduction.html/pdf  ~ methodology.html/pdf  ~ literature review.html/pdfCase Study 1.html/pdf~ 2.html/pdf~ 3.html/pdf~  4.html/pdf~ 5.html/pdf~  6.html/pdf~  7.html/pdf~ discussion.html/pdf  ~ conclusion.html~ postscipt.html/pdf~ O*D*A*M.html/pdf~ Bibliography.html/pdf~  911~ thesis-complete.htm/~ Terrell Neuage Home Appendixes  1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.  DATA ~ Case Study   1 ~ 2 ~ 3 ~ 4 ~ 5 ~ 6 ~ 7 ~ These links are from early notes and not the final edits which are in the published version available at the University of South Australia only. Not all links are active due to changing domains. Home page see


Name and qualifications of Investigator conducting the research:


MA Literature, Deakin University, 1998

Honours Literature, Deakin University, 1996

BA Journalism, Deakin University, 1995

School and Faculty:

School of Communication and Information Studies

Division of Education, Arts and Social Sciences



Home address:

4 Tenterton Road, Christie Downs, SA 5164; ph 83265519


"Discourse Analysis in Internet Chatrooms"

Human Research Ethics

Ethics Protocol Proforma

Section 1 Purpose or aims of the research

1.1 Give information about any preliminary studies that have been conducted and the results of those studies. Describe concisely your research in a way which can be understood by someone who is not a professional in the area of your study.

The project aims to examine conversation within chat rooms in the Internet, seeking to establish how social relations are constructed in virtual environments.

I am seeking ethics approval for two parts to this research involving data collection.

1. The setting up of an on-line journal, titled SouthernExpressway

2. The use of data gathered within a particular area of the journal: chatrooms.

The journal will be available for students and staff of the University of South Australia to submit material. I will monitor material sent in order to position it within the journal sections; e.g. reviews or material for different departments and schools. There will be a standard disclaimer on the journal's front page, to dissociate the University from any problematic content inadvertently accepted and retained on the site:

"The views expressed in SouthernExpressway are those of the individual contributors and not necessarily those of its editor. The University of South Australia provides the web-space only for this journal. All material from SouthernExpressway is copyright and the copyright belongs to the contributors. Contributions to the chatrooms are archived for use in research into conversational analysis in Internet milieus for the degree of Ph.D."

1.2 Provide a succinct statement establishing the context or basis for your research and state briefly how your research contributes to current knowledge.

Despite the growing use of electronic communication, and especially the growing involvement in chatrooms, little attention has been paid to this medium in regards to its uses as social communications, or texts indicating changes in social-relational uses of electronic communications.

The methodological basis for my research borrows from Conversational Analysis, Discourse Analysis, Pragmatics and Speech Act Theory. These three theoretical techniqes have examined conversation as interaction between participants with conversation being understood as spoken communication. One primary characteristic of conversation is that it is fully interactive - at least two people must participate in it, and they exchange messages in a real-time basis. Participants take turns in exchanging these messages, so conversation is fundamentally a sequential activity (Nofsinger 1991: p.3). I am extending 'speech' to include on-line dialogue as it exists in chatrooms. On-line interactivity has similarities to speech in its notion of immediate turn taking and therefore differs from other written forms of communication such as e-mails, letter writing etc. There is a sense of virtual speech and especially of regulated turn taking between participants. There are also however significant differences, which this research aims to isolate, and analyse.

1. Conversational Analysis is the study of casual conversation. Casual conversation is the turn-taking-talk between individuals. Current Conversational Analysis (CA) is based on the techniques of the American sociological movement of the1970s, most notably from the works of Sacks, Schegloff and Jefferson, in their work in ethnomethodology. The central concern was to determine how individuals experience, make sense of, and report their interactions. In CA, the data thus consists of tape recordings of natural conversation, and their associated transcriptions. These are then systematically analysed to determine what properties govern the ways in which a conversation proceeds. The approach emphasizes the need for empirical, inductive work, and in this it is sometimes contrasted with 'discourse analysis', which has often been more concerned with formal methods of analysis, such as the nature of the rules governing the structure of texts.

Earlier studies into verbal communication were done by sociologist G. H. Mead (1934) and philosophers John Austin (1962) and J. R. Searle (1969). Whilst Mead looked at conversation from a sociological perspective, Austin and Searle drew attention to the many functions performed by utterances as part of interpersonal communication.

2. Austin and Searle's Speech Act Theory studies the exchange of messages in real-time between participants. My focus too is on the "speech-act", and the effects of "written conversation" and how dialogue is structured within the new formats available through the World Wide Web.

3. The term Discourse Analysis does not refer to a particular method of analysis. It does not describe a theoretical perspective or methodological framework but instead describes the object of study: language beyond the sentence. (Tannen, 1989, p6). Discourse Analysis studies complete text (both written and spoken), giving attention to textual form, structure and organization at all levels; phonological, grammatical, lexical and higher levels of textual organization in terms of exchange systems, structures of argumentation, and generic structures: within social, political and institutional practices of dialogue (see Fairclough 1982, 1989, 1995). Its analysis then extends out to its social and cultural context - a feature which my own research will pick up.

4. Pragmatics is the study of linguistic communication, of actual language use in specific situations. It studies the factors that govern our choice of language in social interaction and the effects of our choice on others (Levinson, 1983; Nofsinger, 1991). Amongst the areas of linguistic inquiry, several main areas overlap. Pragmatics and semantics both take into account such notions as the intentions of the speaker, the effects of an utterance on listeners, the implications that follow from expressing something in a certain way, and the knowledge, beliefs, and presuppositions about the world upon which speakers and listeners rely when they interact. Pragmatics also overlaps with stylistics and sociolinguistics, and psycholinguistics, as well as discourse analysis. These areas are all concerned with the analysis of conversation and will be translated across to the study of conversation in chatrooms.

My research will add to current knowledge by taking conversational analysis into electronic environments. Previously conversational analysis was based on person to person dialogue which relied on the physical cues of body language or/and the voice. With increasing amounts of "conversation" occurring electronically, new and compensatory systems are evolving. This research examines what is lost, what is gained, and what is new.

1.3 List the aim, research questions or hypothises for your research.

AIM: To study how the process of exchanging meaning is functionally motivated within electronic 'talk'.


* How is turn-taking negotiated within chatrooms?

* With the taking away of many identifying cues of participants (gender, nationality, age etc.) are issues of sexism and political correctness as prevalent as in face-to-face talk?


Research Hypotheses:

The research project is built around the following hypotheses:

* that people create a different 'textual self' for each electronic environment they are in, and that we should not continue to regard all electronic textual practices as equal.

* that conversation within chatrooms, without all the cues of previous forms of conversation (physical or phone meeting and dialogues) will change how we come to know others and new cues based on written conversation will become more important than the physical ones which we rely on now.

* that observational study of chatroom conversation can capture some of the adaptations of conversational behaviours

* that this work will assist in understanding of how, and why, chatrooms are an important area in which to create a new conversational research theory.

Of particular study will be the references in appendix 1, Among them the most important research comes from Discourse Analysis: Halliday, 1978; Kristeva, 1980; Bakhtin, 1981; Casual Conversation: Eggins and Slade, 1997; Sacks, Schegloff and Jefferson, 1974; and Speech Act Theory: Austin, 1962; Searle, 1965. and Habermas, 1989; Pragmatics: Levinson, 1983; Nofsinger, 1987 and Hypertext: Landow, 1992.

1.4 Indicate briefly the implications of the research.

1. As there has been little study done on Internet communication this study seeks to utilize and extend a rigorous research methodology which was begun by Landow, 1992; Cicognani, 1998; Hamman, 1996; Turkle, 1995. To do this I will develop a transcription system to accommodate and "capture" IRC multilogue. I will use symbols, for instance, to indicate interaction between participants, change of topic, and introduction. Interaction between participants will also need to indicate retrograde speech referencing. "Speakers" can refer to what has already been said, but in electronic conversation the capacity exists to "recall" exchanges several layers down. The transcription and coding protocols therefore used in CA and CDA require careful re-development.

2. This study seeks to enhance understanding of communications within electronic textual sites. There have been several attempts at discussing the Internet and communications within electronic sites (see Rheingold, 1985, 1991, 1994; Poster, 1988, 1990; Mattelart, 1996; Woolley, 1992; Eco, 1987; Gibson, 1986; Turkle, 1995) as well as by an increasing number of Internet based academics, such as Chandler, Landow and Cicognani. The French philosopher and social critic (hyperrealistic reporter), Jean Baudrillard is continuing his work in cyberspace, and is currently listed as an editor in CTHEORY, a weekly international journal of cultural theory, technology and philosophy.

3. One of the aims of this project is a contribution to improved program design on Internet text-talk sites. There are thousands of chatrooms available through Internet Relay Chat on the World Wide Web. For example, 'talkcity' (, has hundreds of chatrooms listed in categories such as Family which is broken down into 'Cuisine', 'Education', 'Health and Recovery', 'Home and Family', 'Home Improvement', 'Home Arts', 'Pets', 'Shopping', 'Well-Being' and 'Women'. Yahoo has multiple chatrooms (, and Geocities has hundreds of chatrooms ( As technology continues to improve chatrooms will include sight and sound. Currently most chats are done textually. This study will be constructed during the changeover from text conversation to voice and visual chat. The biggest advantage in text chatrooms is that several people can speak at the same time - how this will translate with voice remains to be seen. One of the drawbacks with the three chat servers mentioned above is that it is difficult to 'capture' the dialogue. Because the chatrooms uses frames they can not be printed, saved or copied. By having chatrooms in the on-line journal I will establish, I will be able to 'capture' conversation to analyse, and overcome this problem.

4. As more people study Internet communication and more people go online there will be a need to develop protocols for managing social relations in electronic settings. The dilemma is how to produce these without a Panoptic culture of constant surveillance. In relation to a system of watching and controlling people who chat, a protocol of permission to observe is needed, which is acceptable to those who are chatting. The proposed research, like all current work on 'Internt talk,' must struggle with this dilemma.

1.5 Describe any ecological implications of the research - not applicable.

1.6 Describe any implications for your safety, as you conduct the research -- not applicable.

1.7 This is not intended to be a pilot study.

Section 2 Research Method and project design considerations

2.1 PROJECT DESIGN: This is the data collection section of the proposed research program. This research is based on the setting up of an on-line journal, "SouthernExpressway". A "zine" (a contemporary term for an on-line print magazine) it will be "open" to its own users, i.e., a participant interactive magazine for students and staff of the university and the broader Adelaide community. Three areas indicated in the example seek texts on: TEXTUALITY, ART and REVIEWS.

The URL for southernexpressway will be: and it will be on the university's infotrain server.

The project will be promoted to students and staff at during the second semester of 1999, and their contribution sought.


The investigation section of the project traces communicative competence and styles from Oral to On-line, examining the changing rules of engagement within the "speech act".

The methodology combines several approaches to linguistic studies, as explained above (Conversational Analysis, Discourse Analysis, Pragmatics and Speech Act Theory).

The steps taken in the project will be:

* selection of "text-talk" examples taken from chatrooms within the on-line journal SouthernExpressway

* establishment of an extended and modified transcription protocol to capture the flow of "text-talk".

* application of analytical tools from within the linguistic methodologies outlined above

* isolation of major recurrent features characterising "talk-text" forms, and comparison across varying sites.

* summary of major categories for "capture" and analysis of "talk-text" practices and behaviours.

* establishment of a set of procedures and models for further study of electronic talk

Section 3 Subject considerations

3.1 List the selection and exclusion criteria for subjects - there are none.

3.2 How volunteers will be recruited.

Volunteers will be recruited by engaging in conversation within the venue I am researching. As there will be a notification within each area being analysed it will be up to participants to dialogue or not.

At no stage will I be commenting on the content, or ideas or opinions, of contributors. My analysis involves the forms of electronic conversations, and works comparatively across site-types.

Conversation within other chatrooms will be observed and noted. Such chat is both textually formatted, and is in the public domain. Only its limitations in relation to collection of extended talk sequences have made the establishment of a purpose-designed site (southernexpressway) necessary.

3.3. Access to subjects through referral by, or cooperation with, another person, institution or organisation - not applicable.

3.4 Subject membership of dependent group - not applicable.

3.5 Notification of special interest groups - not applicable.

3.6 Informing potential subjects about this research project. - see appendix 3.

3.7 Consent to participate.

In order to enter southernexpressway a participant must click on an "I accept" button, See appendix 3. This will inform the participant that their conversation is being saved for research analysis.


3.8 Measures taken to ensure the subject's well being -The study contains no research techniques or content areas likely to impinge upon subjects' well-being.

Section 4 Recording, reporting, storage and access to the research data and results.

4.1 Research data will be recorded and saved on CD and/or other electronic retrieval system. It will be stored in the library of The School of Communication and Information Studies at Magill Campus.

4.2 The research will be reported as a Ph.D. thesis and in related journal articles and conference/seminar presentations - including on-line presentations.

4.3 Unless the 'username' is significant, because it is unusual or indicative within the conversational analysis, numbers will be used in place of names. What I am researching is not the individual participants but pieces of dialogue. In any published articles which uses chat extracts I will edit any aspects likely to identify any individuals which can be modified without loss of meaning of their chat.

4.4 As the texts will already be available on the Internet there will be no restrictions to access of data.

4.5 Data will be stored on disc and will be kept at a nominated place by the University of South Australia. It will also be kept on the Internet server of the University.

Section 5 Ownership of the Research

5.1 I will hold the copyright on the results of the research. The complete data which the research will be from will be available to the public, through the Internet Journal.


5.2 Ownership of intellectual property arising from research - The full research report and extracted sections (see 5.1) will be owned by me.

Section 6 Other organisations involved in the research

6.1 This research does not involve any significant interaction with Aboriginal or Torrens Strait Islander individuals of communities or artifacts of cultural and spiritual significance.

6.2 Overseas institutions involvement - not applicable.

6.3 Assistance from other organisations - not applicable.