In The Complete Guide to Writing Questionnaires: How to Get Better Information for Better Decisions, David Harris provides researchers with his keys to designing better questionnaires. Harris posits that one of the reasons questionnaires (and the information they collect) fall short is the infrequent use of qualitative research as a part of the design process. While this is only one of the weaknesses Harris sees in survey design, good use of qualitative research can enhance the effectiveness and impact of a quantitative research engagement.
Qualitative research provides invaluable contributions leading to improvements in methodology, questionnaire design, analysis, and insight development. There are three ways that qualitative research can be used to inform and improve quantitative research:
Conducting qualitative research at the beginning of the project – before you start writing the questionnaire – can help you design the best possible research process. Qualitative research will let you hear the language the consumer uses in discussing the product or the purchase experience. It will help you understand the logical sequence of topics for the consumer and identify the correct metrics to use in your questions. Finally, it can help you choose the optimal methodology. Will an online survey work or should you use an interviewer-administered methodology? Will the consumer still remember the experience if it happened more than a month ago? Do we need to talk to the decision maker, or is it okay to include influencers? And what does the consumer mean by “frequently”? Once a week or once a month? Qualitative research can help you answer these questions. (Needless to say, conduct the qualitative research with “real” respondents, not just the people in your office who are willing to help out!)
In the Pretest
Today it is very common to use the first ten or fifteen surveys completed as a pretest. While that will help you check if the survey logic is working and determine if respondents are breaking-off at any question, it is won’t ensure your questionnaire is working optimally. You can only determine that by speaking with the respondents who have experienced the survey.
Bring respondents – and again, real respondents – together and ask them to complete the survey (using the actual methodology you are using in the research project.) After they have completed the survey, go through it with them again, one on one, question by question. Did they have any uncertainty about what was being asked? Was the wording of the question unfamiliar or confusing to them? How did they decide to answer when they were not sure what was being asked? For example, if your question asks about cars they own, will they include trucks? Would “vehicles” be a better word choice? Moreover, what about if you lease your vehicle – does that count as “owning”? Qualitative research can help you make sure the information you get back is the information you need to have to address your project objectives. (And you won’t get that from the first ten or fifteen completes!)
After the Quantitative
You’ve completed the quantitative research and the analysis, written the report and now you’re making the big presentation. You’ve just shown the data illustrating a key finding, and your boss says, “I wonder why they said that?”
Qualitative research can help explain the findings of quantitative research. Using the results of the research, you can screen for precisely the respondents to whom you need to speak. Get their perspective on the topics, show them the results, ask them if they agree or not, and ask them why they believe and behave as they do. The results of qualitative research conducted after the quantitative research is complete can give depth to your results and increase its value and actionability.
In spite of the obvious objections to adding qualitative research to your quantitative projects (mainly time and money), qualitative findings can add critical information and rich descriptive illustrations that enhance the information collected in quantitative research. While it may not be necessary for every project (and it may not be necessary at each of these three stages in every project), you should consider qualitative research for any project that has significant strategic or financial impact on your business.
Download our Whitepaper on Qualitative Research.