Thursday, October 20, 2011

A (Very) Brief (Non-scientific) Study in Perceptions of Romance Novels

A few months ago, I asked y'all to answer a survey for me. It was a project for a grad school class I was taking. I meant to share the results with you, but I never got around to it until now. Sorry! Read on if you're curious.

For my individual project, I decided to use my social media networks to find out a little bit about people's varying perceptions of romance novels. I am a long-time reader of popular fiction, including romance novels. And romance novels have long gotten a bad rap -- it's actually hard for some people to admit that they like to read them because so many people look down on them as "garbage." I'll totally admit that there are a lot of romance novels that are silly and badly written, and a small step up from porn in book format. But, in my opinion, there are lots of romance novels that are beautifully written, with great stories, complex characters, and interesting plots. A romance novel is simply a story that is about love, which ends happily. What's not to like?

But getting you all to understand my love of romance novels is not what this project is about. I thought it would be interesting to somehow capture a visual representation of people's perceptions of romance novels -- and somehow to compare the perception of people who actually read romance novels to the general population.

So, this study was not at all scientific. But there was a method to my madness. I created two surveys using Google forms. They both asked the same question: What is the first word that comes to your mind when you think of romance novels? I posted the link to one of the surveys to my facebook page, asking people to take the survey and then post the link to their facebook walls to spread it to more people. These participants were meant to represent the "general population." Now, granted, this is not at all a valid sample of the general population -- they are all people I know, or people who know someone I know. But it is a fairly mixed group of people. The second survey I posted to my book blog. This is a blog that I've kept for the last five years or so, which is entirely devoted to my book reviews of popular fiction -- and the vast majority are romance novels. Nearly all the people who visit the blog are people who read romance novels. I asked this readership to take the survey, then post the survey to their own romance book blog. This group was meant to represent romance readers -- people who frequently actually read romance novels.

The number of participants for each survey was pretty good. I was hoping to have at least 100 people answer each survey. My facebook survey was slightly disappointing, since I only got 79 people to answer. My romance reader population was a problem at first, since not that many people read my blog. However, I sent an email to the writers of one of the most popular romance blogs in the blogosphere (Smart Bitches, Trashy Books), and they were nice enough to tweet the plea for people to take my survey (AWESOME!). I soon had almost 200 responses to that survey.

I then took the one-word answers of each survey and plugged it into Wordle. This produced a word cloud that shows the most common answers in large font, with less popular answers in increasingly smaller fonts. It provides an immediate visual representation of people's perceptions of romance novels.

Here is the Wordle for the general population:

And here is the Wordle for the romance-reading population:

[You can click on the photos to view larger.]

You can see that there is a huge difference between these two populations' perceptions of romance novels. The general population thinks romance novels are all about sex, that they are trashy and cheesy. For romance readers, by far the most popular answer was "love," followed by happy and fun.

I loved the way this project allowed me to use my social networks to tap into large populations of people almost immediately. I posted the surveys and just sat back and watched as my data streamed in. I was also able to target a particular kind of participant by using the romance-reader blogosphere that I've become a part of. The power of Web 2.0!


Rowena said...

Interesting post and it really brings home what non-romance readers think of romance novels. It's pretty disheartening to see so many people said "trashy" when not all romance novels are.

It looked like an entertaining social project though. =)

nath said...

Hey Jennie! This was a cool project :) It's nice how the romance population responded!

It's sad what the general population think of romance novels. It doesn't surprise me, but still disappointing. Then again, people always look down at guilty pleasures.

I wonder what would have been the results for another genre...

And by the way, glad to see you post again :P

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful project! I will be returning to your blog again and again. At last a true picture of the TRUE romance novel. Kudos!

Yakson House said...

the Wordle for the general population are amazing!