Coherence in political computer-mediated communication: Analyzing topic relevance and drift in chat

Jennifer Stromer-Galley, Anna M. Martinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

21 Scopus citations


There is a general perception that synchronous, online chat about politics is fragmented, incoherent, and rife with ad hominem attacks because of its channel characteristics. This study aims to better understand the relative impact of channel of communication versus topic of communication by comparing chat about four different topics. Discourse analysis and coding for topic drift were applied to two hours of chat devoted to the topics of politics, auto racing, entertainment, and cancer support. Findings demonstrate that topic may have an effect on the coherence of chat, with discussion in the politics chat room surprisingly being more coherent than in the other rooms. This research suggests that users can sustain relatively coherent interaction on political talk, suggesting chat technology may not be an inherently problematic medium for political discourse.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)195-216
Number of pages22
JournalDiscourse and Communication
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2 2009
Externally publishedYes



  • CMC
  • Coherence
  • Dynamic topic analysis
  • Online discussion
  • Political chat
  • Topic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Linguistics and Language

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