A guide to online qualitative research methods

We are often asked about the various different online qualitative research methods, so thought it would be useful to provide a quick guide. Whilst some online qualitative research involves live video interviews, this article is really about research that involves questions and answers being posted in writing, potentially complemented by video, image or other file attachments.

So, the main methods are….

Synchronous online focus groups

These take place in real time, using a chat or instant messaging platform, usually with 4-8 participants per group. They have the appeal of being “live”, though can be challenging to run because participants can all post answers at the same time, which makes probing difficult.

Bulletin board focus groups

Otherwise known as asynchronous focus groups, or forums, these usually take place over a few days, with moderators posting new questions each day, and participants expected to answer these at any time during each day. They typically involve up to 30 participants (per country).

Depth or one-to-one Interviews

These are usually run over a few days (or hours), and so are similar to bulletin board focus groups, except that participants do not see each other’s answers. Very often an online qualitative research study may involve some interview questions, and some group questions.

Diary studies

These involve participants keeping an online diary, possibly including video, according to the instructions of the researcher. Diary results may be used and analysed on a standalone basis, or as part of a research study involving focus groups, whether online or face to face.

Market research online communities

Often known just as “communities”, these mean different things to different people. Some people use the term “community” interchangeably with bulletin board focus group or forum. However, what really makes a community different is that it is designed to include un-moderated discussion. In other words, community members can create their own discussion threads, rather than just following the moderator’s discussion guide. Communities can also last for weeks or months, and may include quantitative, as well as qualitative, research.