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PhD Dreams: The Research

My PhD is concerned with the role of online information in the building, maintenance, and evaluation of personal reputations. In this context, the term “personal reputation” refers to the reputation of private individuals rather than corporate identity and brand.

Two broad research themes are being investigated:

(1) the means by which people evaluate or assess the personal reputations of others from the online evidence available to them

(2) how people manage their own personal reputations through their use of online information, and to what extent those behaviours are intentional.

These themes are addressed with reference to the broader information science literature on information behaviour and use, including aspects of bibliometric research that focuses on citation practice and citation analysis and prior work on everyday life information seeking (ELIS).

The interdisciplinary nature of the research themes means that much of the relevant academic literature has been found to be dispersed across a number of other subject domains. Included in this are articles from computing, employment research, human-computer interaction, human resources management, information systems, management and organisational studies, marketing, media and communication studies, and physical and mental health. These themes and concepts are also researched in the domain of information science through citation analysis. Citations can help to build a researcher’s own identity and reputation as well as the identity and reputations of others, and can increase their visibility among peers. These citations can impact both the researchers giving the citation and the researchers receiving the citation.

In addition to traditional academic literature, an examination of non-academic sources—for example, current news stories, as well as reported trends in social media use—has been undertaken. These non-academic sources indicate that topics related to information seeking behaviour, as related to personal reputation management, are also of interest to professionals in human resources and reputation management fields, social media practitioners and owners, and managers of online platforms and social networking sites, as well as a large portion of society as a whole.

The research approach adopted for this study involves the use of participant diaries and in-depth, semi-structured interviews, as is common in ELIS studies. A multi-step data collection process has been undertaken where participants were asked to keep a diary over the course of one week as they engaged with their social media accounts. Following the completion of the diaries, participants took part in hour-long, semi-structured interviews. Short participant surveys were also conducted prior to the diary exercise to collect demographic and social media use data.

* It should be recognised that it is possible to find information online for even those who have actively elected not to maintain an online presence.