Qualitative Research 101 – A Guide to the Basics of Qual
Qualitative Research 101 – A Guide to the Basics of Qual
Are you new to qualitative research or want a refresher on the different styles of group discussions that typically encompass qual research? While the topics you explore in each session will vary widely, there’s a basic group structure to take into consideration before you start building your discussion guide. First, decide if your research objectives need face-to-face (F2F) solutions or if an online approach will work.
For best group dynamics, the ideal total participants is 4-6 people. Any larger and you won’t be able to hear from each participant as often or dive deep into the conversation with everyone involved. The discussion is led by a moderator and you may see an assistant or dual moderator in the room. The moderator(s) lead the group from topic to topic and encourage all to contribute.
Standard focus group rooms have a one-way mirror for clients to observe the session in real time. Photo courtesy of Issues & Answers and their Virginia Beach Facility.
Dyads and Triads
These are groups with only two or three participants, respectively, plus the moderator. Maybe it’s a physician, patient, and caregiver doing an appointment mock-up. Or you want to have a focused discussion with just a few consumers; three pet parents, each with a pet with a specific dietary need. The conversation is likely going to be less exploratory and more focused so you can dive into details quicker. Dyads and Triads are great when there’s a monitoring session, like website navigation or roleplaying situations.
In-Depth Interview (IDI)
A true one-on-one interview involves a moderator + respondent. The power in an IDI usually stems from the research topic at hand. Is it a sensitive subject like health care, death, financial, etc.? Or maybe it’s understanding a person’s journey – purchasing process, behavior understanding, etc. Isolating the respondent helps promote a feeling of safety in the conversation as well as creates an opportunity to explore subjects more deeply.
All three of these session types can be executed in a research facility, off-site with cameras for recording, or online with a focus group vendor. Most clients want to see and hear the conversations in real time, so they watch from what we call the “back room” which may be a physical room at a research facility or off-site, or in a virtual back room with an online provider.
There are some innovative focus group spaces that shake up the traditional, round table/conference room set-up with more relaxed or on-topic scenes. Check out Good Run Research & Recreation; they have a formal living room and bar room models (still with the one-way mirror, complete back room experience for clients) to amplify the respondent and moderator discussions.
These have a lot of names (workshop, co-creation, etc.), but the premise is pretty similar across the board. These are sessions where you bring multiple groups of people into a room together. When you have a client that wants to be highly engaged with the process, and not just an observer, you may want to tap into these models. These could be:
- An internal workshop with employees from multiple departments (stakeholders) and you as the moderator facilitate the group activities and conversation.
- A session where you mingle clients with the respondents for brainstorming, ideation, new product development, etc. Clients would likely be spread out among the respondent tables so they can engage directly as well as learn firsthand their experiences and ideas.
Marketing research ethnographies are never “hands-off.” In the education space, a true ethnography would have little to no engagement with the person or people you are observing; you’re meant to do just that – observe. In marketing research, we believe in the power of observation plus asking questions.
Ethnographies in MR can come in the form of in-home interviews, shop-alongs where you meet a respondent at a specified location and track their buying process, or even on-location research. The purpose is to get the respondent in a natural environment, rather than a traditional focus group setting. This is helpful when you need fewer recall answers and more in-the-moment engagement.
Other F2F Types
The list above is not meant to be exhaustive; in-person intercepts and telephone interviews can be important for your qualitative research, depending on the objectives. Is there another form of F2F that I missed? Tell me about your methodology in the comments!
Online qual solutions have expanded tremendously in terms of vendors, programs, platforms, and the types of research executions available — from desktop applications to mobile phone apps. It’s important to consider online styles when your client may have a limited budget or there’s a tight timeline that limits your travel opportunities.
Methods may vary, from text-based surveys with auto Q&A to mobile apps that track respondents’ phone patterns (the apps they open, websites they checked, etc.). Sometimes it’s important to engage and observe in a respondent’s natural habitat – their mobile device. Maybe you need to geo-ping respondents for a study when they’re near a certain location and you need photo collectors?
Communities vs. Online Bulletin Boards (OLBB)
For some, online communities are virtual hubs for long-term or continual engagement. The online community acts as a “panel” of ready respondents for your ongoing topic.
Shorter engagements are sometimes called communities or online bulletin boards. These could be as short as 2-3 days with a few dozen respondents. There are multiple engagement activities from photo collages, Q&A, group discussions, etc. OLBBs may be less flashy and more of a straight discussion thread. There could be engagement through liking/commenting on others’ posts, but the conversation itself is pretty straightforward.
Semantics aside, this type of online qual is still moderated! Through probing questions, video chats, or private messages, the moderator writes the discussion guide and engages with the respondents in the platform to promote responsiveness, details, and any follow-up questions that may arise. These tend to be a solution for more respondent engagement than in a one-time fixed setting and give respondents flexibility with their dedication since many are mobile enabled.
Since the Fall of 2017, InsightsNow’s Clean Label Enthusiasts™ is an online community which offers ongoing insights into a range of topics, providing a highly flexible research solution for quick answers.
Just like the F2F group types, you can translate that experience into a digital medium. Multiple vendors allow moderators to share their screens, their stimuli, allow for group chat, individual webcams and a client view. Doing online groups in this way helps alleviate any travel pains but does usually require more technology-adept consumers – something to consider if that may change your recruit type.
I’m specifically leaving out the topic of surveys for this blog post! While some surveys can be qualitative in nature, most of the time they still fall into the realm of quant. Qual derives part of its value from the moderated content — something we haven’t been able to solve fully in the survey space.
I hope you either learned something new with this post or gained fresh inspiration for a project you’re working on. Tell us about your qual methods in the comments!
About the Author:
Kayte Hamilton is a hybrid marketing researcher with a passion for solving complex client problems. She’s got a knack for sorting out the details while maintaining project integrity. In her free time (ha!) you will find her spending time with her dog Muffin, traveling the states, or volunteering.