Recommendations for performing internet-based research on sensitive subject matter with "Hidden" or difficult-to-reach populations

Hugh Klein*, Thomas P. Lambing, David A. Moskowitz, Alex Washington Thomas, Lisa K. Gilbert

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Since the mid-1990s, the rapidly increasing popularity of the Internet has contributed to a situation in which many men turn to Web sites to find sex partners with whom they can engage in risky behaviors. Scholars only recently began to examine the role of the Internet in harm-seeking and help-seeking behaviors. They are just now beginning to study and understand how to apply public health promotion principles to people using the Internet. Due in part to the relative newness of the Internet on the public health landscape, scholars wishing to conduct research or to implement health pro-motion programs online should consider a variety of challenges to doing such work-challenges that differ from those typically faced when undertaking similar work in other types of venues offline. The purpose of this article is to address several of these research considerations. In particular, the present authors wish to provide re-searchers and health care specialists with key considerations when developing their own Internet-based research or health promotion programs. We also wish to furbish readers with some experience-based suggestions about how to avoid the potential pitfalls of con-ducting Internet-based studies. Moreover, our emphasis is on how to develop such programs when they are targeting hard-to-reach or "Hidden" populations and/or when they deal with sensitive subject matter. Recommendations pertaining to the planning, recruitment, implementation, and evaluation stages of doing professional work online are provided.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)371-398
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Gay and Lesbian Social Services
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2010


  • Hard-to-reach populations
  • Hidden populations
  • Internet
  • Online
  • Research methods

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Sociology and Political Science

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