On The Road: Using Objectives to Map Your Discussion

You’re letting the consumer drive the conversation. You’re just keeping them on the road.

Starting out on a qualitative research project can be a little daunting, especially when you’re coming from a quantitative background and you’re used to thinking in terms of scales and measured responses. Since qualitative responses can’t be measured (though data visualization or infographics do wonders!), researchers have to think about their research in terms of management, pacing, and goals. And since two of my favorite things in the world are metaphors and puns, I’ve opted to write about The Road (NOT the post-apocalyptic Cormac McCarthy kind! the Jack Kerouac kind!) — the process of getting from start to finish during your 30 minutes, one-on-one, with a respondent.

Cassady and Kerouac

Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady: Research-piration? Yes! (image via)

When I was teaching public speaking in graduate school, without a doubt the biggest problem I saw with my students’ outlines and preparation was lack of a thesis with main objectives previewed and reviewed. Without this information, the audience didn’t know where the speaker was going, and listeners were forced to make logical leaps and fill in blanks. The same is true of a researcher taking a respondent on their journey without main objectives in mind. Without the destination point,  moderators can confuse not only themselves but also their respondents, meaning a derailed discussion that could end up a sixth of the way across the country in the wrong direction, so to speak.

In order to avoid this situation, ALWAYS take a few minutes before developing your chat guide to write down your main objectives. You may have them swirling around in your head, but articulating them on paper is crucial, as it forces you to hone in and really think about the project at hand. For example, a package test might mean your main objectives are to:

  1. Understand respondents’ overall reactions to the package, specifically highlighting their likes and dislike.
  2. Explore what message respondents feel the package is communicating
  3. Gauge respondents’ likelihood to purchase the product based solely on the package

With GutCheck, moderators can usually get through about 2-4 objectives in 30 minutes, giving each objective a good amount of attention. Additionally, once a researcher has written down his/her specific objectives, s/he can now choose questions that specifically relate back to these points, since every question should be related to a researcher’s main objectives. In doing this, chat guides are streamlined and no time is wasted, since 30 minutes can go by pretty quickly.

Keep in mind, though, that there are multiple ways to get to any destination. This is where your Kerouac research-piration should kick in. Allowing a respondent to drive the conversation by taking different routes, making new connections, and bringing up reactions related to the topic that might not be in your original line of questions will give you the best insights while keeping your destination in sight (pun intended).

On The Road is an on-going series on how to conduct one-on-one qualitative interviews. Next up: Pacing and precision.