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Online forum advice for carers of people living with dementia: A discursive and conversation analytic exploration

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Online forum advice for carers of people living with dementia: A discursive and conversation analytic exploration

Abstract

Advice-giving and requesting is a complex interactional task that has been well-explored by the theoretical and analytical approaches of discursive psychology (DP) and conversation analysis (CA). However, these approaches have not previously been employed to analyse advice in the context of an online forum for carers of people living with dementia (PLWD). In this article I present how DP, with insights from both DP and CA research, can be employed to explore advice in the specific context of peer interaction on the Carers UK online forum. A single extract is presented as evidence for how a troubles-telling format can be employed to request advice in a way which places little obligation upon a potential commenter-a low-contingency request. As found in other research, this format resulted in advice being provided by commenters. The deontic and epistemic authority of the advice given by commenters will be used to display the sophistication with which commenters frame their advice to align to the indirect nature in which the advice was requested.
This is a pre-publication version of the following article: [Slocombe, F. (2021). Online forum advice for carers of people living with
dementia: A discursive and conversation analytic exploration. Qualitative Methods in Psychology Bulletin, 32, 13-23.]
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Online forum advice for carers of people living with dementia: A discursive and
conversation analytic exploration
Felicity Slocombe
Loughborough University
f.slocombe@lboro.ac.uk
U415 Brockington Building, Loughborough University, Epinal Way, Loughborough,
LE11 3TU
This is a pre-publication version of the following article: [Slocombe, F. (2021). Online forum advice for carers of people living with
dementia: A discursive and conversation analytic exploration. Qualitative Methods in Psychology Bulletin, 32, 13-23.]
2
Abstract
Advice-giving and requesting is a complex interactional task that has been well-explored by
the theoretical and analytical approaches of discursive psychology (DP) and conversation
analysis (CA). However, these approaches have not previously been employed to analyse
advice in the context of an online forum for carers of people living with dementia (PLWD).
In this article I present how DP, with insights from both DP and CA research, can be
employed to explore advice in the specific context of peer interaction on the Carers UK
online forum. A single extract is presented as evidence for how a troubles-telling format can
be employed to request advice in a way which places little obligation upon a potential
commenter a low-contingency request. As found in other research, this format resulted in
advice being provided by commenters. The deontic and epistemic authority of the advice
given by commenters will be used to display the sophistication with which commenters frame
their advice to align to the indirect nature in which the advice was requested.
Introduction
Research in this area is especially important as platforms, such as Facebook and online
forums, are increasingly used for seeking advice and information about health (Lawless et al.,
2018). This surge in use of online sources to seek health advice and information is perhaps
unsurprising as budgets are overwhelmed from demand, with the government having cut
funding to local authorities by nearly half over the last eight years (House of Commons,
2019). This also comes as the number of PLWD is increasing, with figures expected to reach
nearly one million in the UK by 2025 (Alzheimer’s Society, 2019). There are an estimated
1.7 million informal carers needed by 2050, which equates to an 140% increase in the
number of informal carers that were needed in 2014 (Lewis et al., 2014). The increasing
number of people requiring care is one of the largest economic issues facing the UK
This is a pre-publication version of the following article: [Slocombe, F. (2021). Online forum advice for carers of people living with
dementia: A discursive and conversation analytic exploration. Qualitative Methods in Psychology Bulletin, 32, 13-23.]
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(Buckner & Yeandle, 2015), with informal carers of PLWD providing the equivalent value of
£13.9 billion each year in the care they deliver (Wittenberg et al., 2019). Support for informal
carers is crucial (Lethin et al., 2019), if less support is coming from local authorities, it must
be sought from elsewhere such as online forums which have been shown to provide
emotional support for carers and PLWD alike (Johnson et al., 2020).
DP and CA
DP “is a theoretical and analytical approach to discourse which treats talk and text as
the object of study in itself, and psychological concepts as socially managed and
consequential in interaction” (Wiggins, 2016, p. 4). What this essentially means is that talk
and text ‘do things’; they are not passive. Talk and text achieve actions such as in the case of
this article, advice-giving. DP treats the interactional context as intrinsic to the interaction
for example how we communicate in an email to our boss is different from how we text a
friend. DP also views discourse as constructed (through the particular words we choose) and
constructive (what we say, or type brings certain versions of reality into being). See Wiggins
(2016) and Edwards and Potter (1992) for a thorough discussion of DP’s core principles and
theoretical underpinnings.
CA is a methodological approach to studying naturalistic social interaction, paying
particular attention to the sequential order of talk (Lester & O’Reilly, 2019). In CA structural
preference is also integral. There are culturally embedded structural preference principles.
For example, the preferred response to an invitation is an acceptance rather than a rejection
(Pomerantz & Heritage, 2012) would you like to go into town with me today?.
Conversation analysts have studied the orderly ways of interacting produced in line with
principles of structural preference (Pomerantz & Heritage, 2012). For example, that rejections
to invitations feature a delay in response, followed by prefaces and accounts (Pomerantz &
This is a pre-publication version of the following article: [Slocombe, F. (2021). Online forum advice for carers of people living with
dementia: A discursive and conversation analytic exploration. Qualitative Methods in Psychology Bulletin, 32, 13-23.]
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Heritage, 2012) ‘…oh that would be great, unfortunately I’m seeing my partner then. This
response constitutes a dispreferred response as the request is designed for a “yes” as the
structural preference (Pomerantz, 1984). See ten Have (2007) for elaboration of CA’s
foundations. This article follows the process for DP analysis (Wiggins, 2016) whilst also
drawing on insights from both DP and CA research.
Originally developed for synchronous environments such as face-to-face
conversations and telephone calls, the methodological approaches of DP and CA have been
adapted for use with asynchronous environments such as online forums (see Meredith (2016,
2019) for a discussion of the benefits of using DP and CA to analyse online data, as well as
the differing things they have commonly focused on in research). The approaches of DP and
CA have subsequently been established in studying advice in online environments (e.g.,
Lawless et al., 2018; Smithson et al., 2011; Vayreda & Antaki, 2009). DP was used as the
approach for analysing the data in this study as I focused on the rhetorical organisation of talk
(how the talk is designed, for example, to construct meanings, or convey knowledge),
whereas CA, as previously mentioned, focuses more on the sequential order of talk and text
(Meredith, 2016). DP is also more commonly used in studying online interaction as it lends
itself more to analysing written text (Potter & Edwards, 2012). Few studies have focused on
online advice interaction for carers of PLWD using discursive or interactional approaches (cf.
Lawless et al., 2018). Lawless et al. (2018) examined Facebook interactions to demonstrate
how DP can be used to analyse requests and offers of advice and information about dementia.
They found a DP approach resulted in developing an understanding about the “systematic
ways in which people request and deliver advice about health and illness” (p. 49) in this
interactional context.
Advice-giving in DP and CA
This is a pre-publication version of the following article: [Slocombe, F. (2021). Online forum advice for carers of people living with
dementia: A discursive and conversation analytic exploration. Qualitative Methods in Psychology Bulletin, 32, 13-23.]
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Advice is defined here as discourse which describes, recommends, or otherwise forwards a
preferred course of future action” (Heritage & Sefi, 1992, p. 368). There are other
considerations to include when defining advice: the normative and asymmetric functions of
advice; and epistemic and deontic authority. Advice is normative in that it proposes a future
action as standard, appropriate, or beneficial (Shaw et al., 2015). Advice is asymmetric in that
the advice giver is proposed as more knowledgeable or experienced than the advice recipient
(Hepburn & Potter, 2011). Epistemic authority refers to “knowledge claims that interactants
register, assert, and defend in and through turns at talk and sequences of interaction”
(Heritage, 2013a, pp. 555-556). For example, someone can express themselves as
knowledgeable about caring for a PLWD through detailing their level of experience, I have
cared for my mother for ten years now, I know all there is to know about it. People position
themselves along a varying gradient of knowing (K+/plus: more knowledgeable) or not
knowing (K-/minus: less knowledgeable) known as the epistemic gradient (Heritage, 2013b).
Deontic authority is a person’s legitimate power to determine someone else’s future actions:
what should be, what is not allowed (Stevanovic & Peräkylä, 2012; Stevanovic, 2013). There
is also a gradient of deontic authority: low deontic authority can be claimed through
expressions of possibility, you can try contacting social services to high deontic authority,
through claims of necessity, you have to put your own health first (Stevanovic, 2013).
Claims along this gradient are referred to as a deontic stance (Landmark et al., 2015).
Stevanovic (2013) dichotomises that “epistemic authority is about knowing what is true” and
“deontic authority is about determining what “ought-to-be” – what will be forbidden,
obligatory, or permissible” (p. 19).
Furthermore, the social action of giving advice can threaten face or self-image of
those receiving the advice (Goldsmith, 2000; Morrow, 2006). In asking for advice, the
advice-seeker presents themselves as less competent or knowledgeable than the advice-giver
This is a pre-publication version of the following article: [Slocombe, F. (2021). Online forum advice for carers of people living with
dementia: A discursive and conversation analytic exploration. Qualitative Methods in Psychology Bulletin, 32, 13-23.]
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(asymmetry of advice; epistemic authority), who must then demonstrate that their advice is
worth sharing and following (normativity of advice; deontic authority) (Sillence, 2013). By
not requesting advice and doing a troubles-telling (presenting a problem) instead,
interlocuters place less demand on any potential responder, and this may make a response
more likely (Vayreda & Antaki, 2009). This is referred to as a low-contingency request (Curl
& Drew, 2008). Hutchby and Wooffitt (1998) found in face-to-face interaction that when
advice is not requested, it features high levels of hedging (tentative talk). This could be
because the advice-giver is aligning to the dispreferred response of giving advice when it was
not requested (Smithson et al., 2011). This article will analyse an instance where advice is
requested in the title of the post, but not in the main text of the post, demonstrating how
commenters do and do not align to the indirect nature in which the advice was requested
through the epistemic and deontic authority of their comments.
Methodology
Data collection
The Dementia section of the Carers UK forum was used, accessed through their website
(https://www.carersuk.org/forum/specific-disabilities-conditions/dementia). Carers UK is a
charity that provides information, support, and advice to carers throughout the UK. The
forum is public to view, but an account needs to be made to post to the forum. The forum was
chosen due to its popularity, with many active members and recent postings. Online forums
provide a naturalistic environment where the researcher has no influence over what is
discussed (Seale et al., 2010) and aligns with the preference within DP and CA research for
using naturally occurring data (Potter & Hepburn, 2005; Schegloff, 1987). Forum users were
either past or present carers for PLWD. Comment threads were on various subjects including
accessing support/funding, difficult behaviours and care home suitability.
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dementia: A discursive and conversation analytic exploration. Qualitative Methods in Psychology Bulletin, 32, 13-23.]
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This research was approved by the university’s ethics approval (human participants)
sub-committee. The personal details of forum users were redacted, and names replaced with
pseudonyms. References to place names, profile photographs and location tags were
removed. The number of times each forum user had posted, and the time and date of each
comment was left visible on the data screenshots to indicate how active each forum user was
and to display the timespan of the interaction.
Ethical considerations
As a public online forum, Carers UK can be accessed by anyone, and the data used
here can be found online. To anonymise the data any further would have involved changing
the wording of comments which would have gone against the study of naturally occurring
data which is highly valued in DP and CA research (Potter & Hepburn, 2005; Schegloff,
1987). Forum users posted about personal issues in their lives. To protect forum users from
harm, Carers UK has moderators who check the content posted and forward anything
worrying onto the Carers UK staff team who will then follow the safeguarding procedure.
Additionally, if I had personally seen a post that worried me about a forum user’s physical or
mental health, I could have reported this to the staff team.
Single case analysis
The dataset comprised of five comment threads from the Carers UK online forum, taken from
a larger corpus of 20 threads collected over UK summertime 2019. The dataset featured three
original posts that performed a troubles-telling (where there is no request in the original post
for potential commenters to provide advice, information or help). Instead, a trouble is
presented, such as dealing with difficult behaviour and the focus is on the “teller and his
experiences” (Jefferson & Lee, 1981, p. 411). The two other original posts featured a request
for advice/help in the title, but within the main text of the original post, a troubles-telling
This is a pre-publication version of the following article: [Slocombe, F. (2021). Online forum advice for carers of people living with
dementia: A discursive and conversation analytic exploration. Qualitative Methods in Psychology Bulletin, 32, 13-23.]
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format is followed with no request for advice. This analysis presents one of these instances,
an extract titled “Help!”, as evidence for troubles-telling formats achieving a low-
contingency request (Curl & Drew, 2008). By not requesting advice in the main text of their
original post, forum users place less imposition on any potential commenters, which has been
shown to increase the likelihood of others commenting (Vayreda & Antaki, 2009). The
evidence of the low-contingency request is seen in the responding comments to the original
post: advice was given, even though it was not specifically requested in the main text of the
original post.
The analysis of one extract is known as a single case analysis, and is commonly
employed in interactional research (Schegloff, 1993). This form of analysis demonstrates the
analytical effectiveness of interactional approaches in examining the details of a single
episode of interaction (Hutchby & Wooffitt, 1998; Schegloff, 1987). The extract was chosen
as the title of the opening post features an explicit request and the main text features a
troubles-telling format with no requests. This mismatch makes the extract analytically
interesting as it displays the author of the original post requests ‘help’, even though the
content of their original post follows the same format as the other three troubles-telling
original posts that did not feature any requests. The comments responding to the original post
will be the focus, discussing how the epistemic and deontic authority of commenter’s advice
provides evidence that troubles-telling formats perform a low-contingency request.
Analytic method
The analysis I undertook followed the six stages of a DP analysis outlined by Wiggins
(2016), with insights from DP and CA research. I began by (1) reading through the dataset to
become familiar with the text, noting recurring features, such as use of imperative
formulations. I then (2) described the data, making initial detailed and descriptive notes of
This is a pre-publication version of the following article: [Slocombe, F. (2021). Online forum advice for carers of people living with
dementia: A discursive and conversation analytic exploration. Qualitative Methods in Psychology Bulletin, 32, 13-23.]
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what is happening in the text. This helps base descriptions in the content of the text. (3)
Identifying social actions and psychological constructs is the crucial stage that most
characterises a DP analysis. This stage looks at the three core principles of DP: how discourse
is constructed and constructive of the world, how it is situated, and the action-orientation of
discourse. In this stage, I detailed how social actions (e.g., advising) are achieved through
discursive practices/devices. I then (4) focused on the comments that exemplified instances of
a variety of epistemic gradients and deontic stances. This involved reorganising my notes into
documents containing categories relating to high and low deontic and epistemic authority. I
then (5) collected all instances of the analytical focus by searching systematically through the
dataset and compiling them in a document. The final stage is to (6) focus and refine the
analysis: going back to the third stage of identifying social actions and psychological
constructs, identifying patterns and deviant cases in my selected analytical issues.
Analysis
Original post features
The opening post in the data extract below exemplifies common features across the five
extracts in the dataset. This included the use of; narrative structures (e.g., “I last posted 4
years ago”, “today I visited” and “years and years”), dispositional formulations (e.g., “my 90
year old capable, but can’t stop complaining Mum”), extreme case formulations (ECFs)
(“Total stress”) and first-person pronouns (“I feel pressure from them all to be this daughter I
can no longer be”). These discursive features and devices function to build accountability and
defend decisions original posters have already made (narrative structures, Andersen, 2017),
construct behaviours as if predictable and routine (dispositional formulations; Wiggins, 2016)
and present troubles as legitimate (ECFs; Pomerantz, 1986). The use of first-person pronouns
presents the discourse as something experienced personally (Goffman, 1979), something an
This is a pre-publication version of the following article: [Slocombe, F. (2021). Online forum advice for carers of people living with
dementia: A discursive and conversation analytic exploration. Qualitative Methods in Psychology Bulletin, 32, 13-23.]
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original poster has an epistemic right to know about: they have experienced it and no one else
has (Heritage, 2013a).
Alex asks for ‘Help!’ in the title of the opening post below, but similarly to research
findings from Vayreda and Antaki (2009), this is not framed as a request for advice within
the main text of the comment. Vayreda and Antaki’s (2009) research into an online forum for
people with bipolar disorder found forum user’s requests tended to be undemanding or vague,
requesting little from a potential responder such as “I’d like to learn about this illness” (p.
936). Unlike Vayreda and Antaki’s (2009) research, the extract analysed here features no
requests within the main text of the opening post. This creates a low bar, by which Alex is
not asking for potential commenters to solve all their problems, for example, by saying ‘How
can I sort this out? Should I stop caring for my mum?’. The low-contingency request (Curl &
Drew, 2008) that Alex’s opening post produces allows the following commenters to construct
the authority of their advice in a way that aligns to both the explicit call for ‘Help!’ from the
title, and the troubles-telling which does not feature a request of any kind.
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dementia: A discursive and conversation analytic exploration. Qualitative Methods in Psychology Bulletin, 32, 13-23.]
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Data extract. Original post titled ‘Help!’ by Alex and the subsequent comment thread.
This is a pre-publication version of the following article: [Slocombe, F. (2021). Online forum advice for carers of people living with
dementia: A discursive and conversation analytic exploration. Qualitative Methods in Psychology Bulletin, 32, 13-23.]
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Epistemic and deontic authority of comments
In the subsequent comments to Alex’s original post, advice was given. The advice varied in
its content, but also in its epistemic gradient (where the epistemic stances of interactants
positions them along a gradient of knowing about the topic in question; Heritage, 2013b) and
deontic stance (the right or power someone has to propose, decide or announce the future
actions that others take; Stevanovic, 2013). The epistemic gradient and deontic stance of
commenter’s advice will be used as evidence that Alex’s original post featuring a request in
the title and a troubles-telling format in the main text of the post produced a low-contingency
request. For reasons of space, not all comments are discussed.
High epistemic and deontic authority
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dementia: A discursive and conversation analytic exploration. Qualitative Methods in Psychology Bulletin, 32, 13-23.]
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Charlie makes a strong deontic claim about something that “won’t work”: “Trying to argue or
discuss things with a person who has dementia won’t work as the mental ability to do
‘reason’ gets lost”. The advice from Charlie is imperative (“won’t work”), indicative of a
strong deontic gradient (Stevanovic, 2013). This presents the approach Alex has taken in
combating their mother’s accusatory behaviour is not a normative course of action. This
deontic stance is evidenced by the following epistemic stance in Charlie’s advice-giving, that
“the mental ability to do ‘reason’ gets lost” and that PLWD “may fixate on someone as being
the reason for all their ills and confusion” which can lead to accusations. The advice is
presented in a factual and objective manner, indicative of a high epistemic gradient.
The advice given by Charlie is unusual in that advice usually refers to something the
recipient should do (Shaw et al., 2015) and not something the recipient should not do.
Charlie’s comment also functions to reject the normativity of the advice Taylor has given in
the previous comment suggesting that Alex record their mother’s behaviour and play it back
to her. Charlie displays that Taylor’s advice will not be possible as Alex’s mother will not be
able to “reason” and she may be ‘fixated’ because of her dementia. This functions to
foreground the normativity of the advice that Charlie then suggests following the first two
paragraphs. Charlie also makes an epistemic claim, that Alex did not know that PLWD can
become fixated on one person as “being the reason for all their ills and confusion”. This
presents an asymmetry where Charlie presents themselves as K+ (more knowledgeable) and
Alex as K- (less knowledgeable; Heritage, 2013b). In instances of high epistemic and deontic
stance such as the first three sentences in Charlie’s comment, there is little displayed
acknowledgement of the possibility that the advice may not be wanted, owing to it not being
requested by Alex in the main text of their comment. This suggests commenters viewed
Alex’s troubles-telling as request for advice, and they could have used the title of ‘Help!’ as
evidence for this in face of the lack of a request from the main text of Alex’s post. If
This is a pre-publication version of the following article: [Slocombe, F. (2021). Online forum advice for carers of people living with
dementia: A discursive and conversation analytic exploration. Qualitative Methods in Psychology Bulletin, 32, 13-23.]
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commenters did not view Alex’s troubles-telling as a request for advice, they may have
provided something else, for example, sympathy.
Low epistemic and deontic authority
The deontic stance of Charlie’s text is lessened in their advice using hedging (Wiggins,
2016): “If you do, and through use of the modal verb (Locher, 2006) ‘may’ in “that may be
useful to you”. This indicates Charlie recognises Alex’s epistemic rights to know what is
“useful” to them. Conversely to Charlie’s earlier text, this demonstrates an alignment to the
possible face-threatening nature of the advice and of giving advice when there is the
possibility that it is unwanted.
Advice-implicative interrogatives (Butler et al., 2010) used by commenters display
their awareness of Alex’s epistemic rights. Advice-implicative interrogatives are questions
the advice-giver asks the advice-seeker to establish the applicability of an advice suggestion
(e.g., ‘do you have a support group nearby?’ may be asked before advising joining a support
group; Butler et al., 2010). Advice-implicative interrogatives therefore soften the asymmetry
and normativity of advice-giving (Butler et al., 2010). The advice-giver cannot know whether
their suggestion is relevant or worthwhile to the advice-seeker’s situation, whether the advice
has already been tried or whether the advice-seeker has the capacity or possibility to employ
the advice (Butler et al., 2010).
An advice-implicative interrogative is seen again in Robin’s comment: “May I
suggest one practical thing if you do want to keep visiting?”. This text shows the advice is
contingent upon Alex still wanting to visit their mother: “if you do want to keep visiting?”,
displaying Robin’s epistemic gradient as low. Robin cannot claim to know something in
which Alex holds primary knowledge: their own wants and feelings. Robin therefore reduces
the asymmetry of their advice by treating Alex as K+ (Heritage, 2013b). This functions to
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dementia: A discursive and conversation analytic exploration. Qualitative Methods in Psychology Bulletin, 32, 13-23.]
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reduce the face-threatening nature of advising someone what to do (Locher, 2006), especially
using the word “suggest”, the following advice is less imposing and instructive than that
which is given earlier by Taylor. Robin’s advice-implicative interrogative features more
hedging displayed using the modal verb “May” than the imperative format used by Taylor in
“Do you have a phone that can record mum?”. The mitigated construction of Robin’s advice
continues with the repeated use of “if” as a hypothetical case (Madill et al., 2001). This
displays Robin’s text is constructed with alignment to the possible unwantedness of the
advice they are giving.
Although Taylor’s advice is more imperative in its format, there is still evidence that
they orient to the face-threatening nature of giving advice and of ‘telling someone what to do’
(Locher, 2006) through the text “I’d do this a few times, and make her aware of what you are
doing, then play it back to her, and ask if she thought it was acceptable behaviour? Or play it
to your sisters, or her GP”. The advice is imperative in its format (“I’d do”, “make her aware”
and “then play it back”) indicative of a strong deontic stance. However, the advice is framed
as an advice-implicative interrogative, acknowledging Alex’s epistemic rights to know the
normativity of the advice to their personal situation. This is further evidenced by the or-
prefaced repair in “Or play it to your sisters, or her GP”. The use of constructing alternatives
can digress from the previous text without an explicit rejection of it (Jefferson, 1986). This
could display Taylor’s acknowledgement that it may not be appropriate for Alex to play the
recording back to their mother, as it could cause further argumentation and upset. The advice
Taylor gives here shows the balance achieved between ‘telling someone what to do’ but in a
way that is not assuming Taylor knows the best course of action for Alex’s personal situation
and could be designed in this way to align to the tentative nature in which the advice was
requested through the troubles-telling.
Discussion
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dementia: A discursive and conversation analytic exploration. Qualitative Methods in Psychology Bulletin, 32, 13-23.]
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This article utilised a DP approach to analysis, drawing on research findings from DP and CA
to study advice in an online forum for carers of PLWD, contributing to more general
understanding of social practices within online platforms. The analysis presented a single
extract as evidence of how a troubles-telling format can be used to request advice in a way
that does not impose upon potential commenters. By presenting a trouble as opposed to
asking for others to solve your trouble, forum users can increase the likelihood that others
will comment on their original post (Vayreda & Antaki, 2009). Additionally, troubles-telling
formats reduce the asymmetrical aspects of advice: where directly asking for advice can
threaten face and competence of the advice-seeker (Goldsmith, 2000). Subsequently,
commenters used various discursive devices aligning to the asymmetrical and normative
nature of advice such as taking a low epistemic gradient and deontic stance through use of
advice-implicative interrogatives, hedging and modal verbs. Commenters’ advice also
featured strong epistemic gradients and deontic stances through use of imperative formats and
factual presentations, displaying the normativity of advice.
The extract presented provides evidence that troubles-telling formats function as a
type of indirect request in this interactional setting as found in other settings (for example:
various ‘ordinary’ and ‘institutional’ settings (Jefferson & Lee, 1981) and an online forum for
young people who self-harm (Smithson et al., 2011)). Across the five troubles-telling extracts
in the dataset, advice was given in all cases. However, in two of the five extracts, the titles of
the original posts featured a request for advice/help, but still followed a troubles-telling
format in the main text of the post. This provides evidence to suggest that in doing a troubles-
telling, forum users are soliciting advice, even when advice is not requested directly. Further
evidence that troubles-tellings function as an indirect way to solicit advice is that when forum
users responded to the comments left on their post, they conveyed thanks and supplied
answers to interrogatives (three out of five original posters responded). If the advice had been
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dementia: A discursive and conversation analytic exploration. Qualitative Methods in Psychology Bulletin, 32, 13-23.]
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unsolicited, forum users may have rejected the advice given by commenters (Jefferson &
Lee, 1981). The average number of posts by original posters (146) in comparison to
commenters (614) demonstrates how original posters were generally newcomers to the
forum. The number of posts each user has contributed is visible to all and consequently
demonstrates how established an original poster is in the forum. In turn, this may influence
the deontic and epistemic stance a commenter takes in their text.
Applicability of methodology
DP and CA allowed for an approach that explained the features of the text as well as what
they function to achieve. As found by Lawless et al. (2018), using a DP approach developed
understanding of systematic means in which people construct their advice, for example
through use of advice-implicative interrogatives. DP also provided an established means for
systematically analysing discursive devices (Wiggins, 2016). In DP and CA, the focus is on
studying language in use in its own right (Meredith, 2016) allowing for study of how
participants in the interaction make psychological matters relevant (Edwards & Stokoe,
2004). In the context of the online forum, this was possible without the reactivity (impact of
the researcher upon participants) which can be brought about by using other methods such as
interviews or experiments (Potter, 2012).
Concluding thoughts
This article provided an exemplar of advice-giving in situ of its specific interactional context.
The presentation of a single case may be seen as a limitation in some research traditions;
however, this approach is common within interactional research (Schegloff, 1993) and can be
used to apply existing findings to new settings (Schegloff, 1987) as in the case of this article.
To improve upon the rigour of my analytic findings, a data session could be held, involving
collaborative review of the data, aiding the researcher by testing their observations (ten Have,
This is a pre-publication version of the following article: [Slocombe, F. (2021). Online forum advice for carers of people living with
dementia: A discursive and conversation analytic exploration. Qualitative Methods in Psychology Bulletin, 32, 13-23.]
18
2007). This was not carried out due to time constraints, but my analytic process and findings
were discussed with my supervisors throughout the project. It is nonetheless important to
consider reflexivity, that as the researcher I selected the extract that best exemplified what I
wanted to show, to build the best case for the analysis, and that the extract I chose represents
something I believe to be interesting about the authority of comments in response to the
apparent mismatch between the explicit request in the title and the troubles-telling in the main
text of the original post.
I have demonstrated how the Carers UK online forum culture has a central focus on
advice-giving: advice was given, even though it was not requested in the main text of the
original post. A troubles-telling format functioning as a low-contingency request was
sufficient for eliciting advice from commenters. Where some commenters align to the
possibility their advice may be unwanted, others did not, or their advice featured both high
and low deontic and epistemic authority. The analysis presents the sophistication of
commenters use of epistemic and deontic authority in balancing the possible unwantedness
of advice, due to lack of request in the main text, against the request for advice in the title of
the original post.
As support services for carers of PLWD are under pressure from overwhelmed local
authority budgets (House of Commons, 2019) and the number of carers is estimated to need
to increase to 1.7 million by 2050 (Lewis et al., 2014), online forums, such as Carers UK are
providing much-needed access to social and practical support. This article prompts further
exploration into the design of online forums that support advice-giving and advice-
solicitation in a way that incorporates interactional evidence about epistemics and deontics.
Acknowledgements
This is a pre-publication version of the following article: [Slocombe, F. (2021). Online forum advice for carers of people living with
dementia: A discursive and conversation analytic exploration. Qualitative Methods in Psychology Bulletin, 32, 13-23.]
19
I thank Professor Charles Antaki for supervision of this project for my master’s dissertation. I
also thank my current supervisors: Professor Elizabeth Peel, Professor Alison Pilnick and Dr
Saul Albert, for their encouragement in publication of this article and for helping to shape it
into its current form.
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