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15 Tips for a Successful Qualitative Research Project
While not exhaustive, the following tips – organized by project phase – will help you to create and manage organized and seemingly effortless qualitative research experiences for you and your clients. The goal is to make the project go so well that your clients will ask you to do more for them!
Tips for the Proposal
- Gain a thorough understanding of the objectives. Research buyers don’t always articulate the objectives of a project very well. Wearing your consultant hat, work with them to make sure you understand those objectives so that you can craft a research design that matches those needs. Even if objectives are articulated in an RFP, get your client to explain the objectives in their own words, because sometimes the objective in the RFP misses important details.
- Present alternative methodologies, if appropriate. Decision-makers often like options. If you think the project can viably benefit from more than one approach, present options in your proposal. Be sure to explain the strengths and weaknesses of each option. If you have a strong point-of-view about which option(s) is (are) best, say so, and explain why.
- Map out a schedule. End-users of qualitative research are looking to you to guide them regarding what can be reasonably accomplished within a set period of time. If a sample must be obtained, be sure that the time needed to get that task accomplished is included in the timetable. Check with your recruitment partner about how much time they need to fulfill the recruit. If this is an in-person study in multiple markets, be sure your schedule allows for plenty of time to get from one market to another. Consider how much data collection activity you can reasonably be expected to accomplish on a daily basis, and schedule the process accordingly.
Tips for Recruitment
- Keep screeners simple. The objective of screeners is to as quickly and painlessly as possible find people who qualify for your study. If a question is not used to screen an individual out of consideration, it should not be included in the screener. Recruiters will love you for helping to make the recruitment process simple, straightforward, and perhaps even fun for the potential respondent.
- Examine respondent grids on a timely basis. Recruiters should routinely provide updates of who’s been recruited, and how each of the recruits falls on key screener questions. These summaries will most likely appear in a "respondent grid.” It’s important to pay attention to the updates as they come in (usually daily) to make sure that the recruits truly characterize what you are expecting. If you spot areas of concern, you may decide that adjustments to the screener are required; it’s best to make those changes as early as possible in the screening process so that recruitment cost overruns are minimized.
- Share the recruiting progress with your client. Clients are curious about who will be showing up for the interviews or groups. Giving them daily updates about the recruitment process sets them at ease that all is going well on the recruitment front.
Tips for Discussion Guide Development
- Be sure that the guide matches the study objectives. Include an introductory statement for each section of your discussion guide that specifies how the section relates to the objectives, and what insights the client hopes to glean from that section. This helps the client understand why you are proposing certain questions or activities. This also helps to keep you focused on the study objectives.
- Position your first draft of the guide as just that – a draft. Allow your clients to feel comfortable suggesting changes to the discussion guide. Make it easy for them to be engaged in the process. Tell them before you give them the guide that it is "only” a first draft and that you are open to any suggestions they have. Through this back-and-forth dialogue with your client, you can most effectively internalize the guide so that all data collection sessions go as smoothly as possible.
- Include timing estimates. The actual time spent on a section will be more or less than your estimate. However, even rough estimates help you assess whether it will be feasible to cover all of the issues in your guide in the allotted time. If it looks like the discussion guide is too long, this helps you and your client further prioritize the issues. This could lead to trimming the guide, or perhaps expanding the scope of the project.
Tips While Interviews or Group Discussions Take Place
- Manage the back room. Whether your groups or IDIs are done in-person, online, or over the phone, there are typically observers. Before the first interview or group session begins, identify one person from the client team who will be responsible for communicating with you about additional questions that should be asked while you are moderating. Specify whether and how often interruptions can happen. Also, if the group of observers is large, consider giving the group tasks to complete while they are observing, and have them report to you during breaks.
- Schedule debriefs. While their thoughts are fresh, collect feedback from the observer team on a regular basis. Having this information tells you where their heads are at, which helps you craft your report. These sessions also provide a forum for the team to suggest changes (if any) to the guide.
- Ask observers to debrief you. At the end of a series of interviews or groups, the client team would love it if you could quickly summarize your findings. However, until all data collection is complete and you have time to pore over the data, most moderators feel uncomfortable jumping to conclusions after a long day of interviewing. Instead, use your facilitation skills to gather valuable feedback from the observer team. Lead them in a short discussion about what surprised them (new news), what was confirmed that they already knew, what parts of the guide were most and least beneficial to them, etc.
Tips for Analysis and Reporting
- Tell a story. End-users of qualitative research are busy people and need to absorb your findings as efficiently as possible. While long narrative reports in Word are still requested, there has been a move to create reports that are quicker to read and more engaging. "Data visualization” and "infographics” are buzzwords that have implications for qualitative research consultants. Using summary charts and tables are ways to make reports more valuable to clients. Another is to include pictures and/or video clips in reports.
- Focus on the implications. Go beyond just reporting what you learned from your respondents. Point out the implications of the findings. Help the client team figure out what to do with the insights that were uncovered. Jump-start their process for taking action on the findings. Doing so will mark you as not just a researcher, but a true consultant.
- Present your report as a draft. Don’t claim that your report is final until your client says it’s final. Be prepared to listen to suggestions for improvements to the report. Going beyond delivering a report and engaging in a discussion with the client about the report is the mark of a full-service consultant.