Qualitative research is designed to collect insight on people’s thoughts, emotions and feelings. It is usually undertaken using focus groups or depth interviews. These techniques, however, are time-consuming and expensive. So we at MRQual decided to look for an alternative.
The resulting idea we came up with was the online Qualitative survey.
This was the product of work we had been doing in quantitative research. We had been experimenting with programmatic ways to elicit richer answers to open-ended questions than would usually be expected from online surveys.
These experiments proved highly successful. So we thought, why not have a survey questionnaire which contains mainly, or only, open-ended questions? Hence, the qualitative survey was born.
In practice, there’s rather more to a qualitative survey than this, in terms of how it differs from a typical quantitative survey. I will explain more in subsequent articles.
However, we have now run several qualitative surveys for clients, and each one has been a success. So, what are the advantages of qualitative surveys?
Advantages of Qualitative surveys
They are fast. They can be designed and run within a few days, or even faster, depending on such factors as the number of questions, the recruitment criteria, sample size and the market.
They enable better qualified, and therefore more valuable, participants (or respondents) to be recruited than is typically possible for other qualitative methods.
This is because respondents can be recruited from large quantitative research panels, in the same way as for quantitative surveys. Also, they do not have to be available for 1+ hours at a certain time on a particular day (and in the case of face-to-face groups, also live near a viewing facility). So this gives a much larger pool of potential respondents than might be expected for other forms of qualitative research.
It is easy to remove and replace respondents who do not engage with the research, or who, it transpires from their answers, do not properly qualify. In other words, all the questions are answered by all the respondents, and there is no risk of time being wasted by veering off into irrelevant areas.
Respondents are not influenced by the presence of other respondents in the same room. So if two respondents each give a similar answer to a particular question, you can be confident that neither had been prompted by the other.
The research questions can be changed during the survey, rather than all having to be decided in advance. For example, a qualitative survey might begin with a soft launch, or pilot study. This might reveal valuable new areas of questioning which could be added to the questionnaire. Indeed, there could be more than one soft launch, with a review of answers each time.
There is lower risk of respondent fatigue than is the case in focus groups which last 60+ minutes, because usually a qualitative survey would last 10-15 minutes. Also, respondents can complete a survey at their convenience, and from their own home.
Qualitative surveys require minimal time involvement by the client. For example, there is no evening travel to viewing studios involved. Nevertheless, the client can see the results as they come in, so retain visibility and control.
There is much less admin involved in running an online survey than other forms of qualitative research. For example, such a survey which uses sample provided by a panel need not consider GDPR. This is because the incentives will be paid by the panel, so there is no need to collect any personal identifiable information (such as email address) during the research.
Another important advantage is that clients can have whatever sample size they require, with the marginal cost of extra sample being relatively low. Given that a Qualitative survey is for qualitative research, a “large” sample might be 40-50 respondents. However, this could be extended to 100+ respondents in order to increase statistical reliability should the client wish to draw quantitative conclusions.
Lastly, there is a substantial cost saving compared with other qualitative methods. For example, a qualitative survey with 50 respondents (around the same as 6 focus groups) would typically cost in the region of £2.5k. This is comparable with the usual cost of one focus group.
When to use a Qualitative survey
All these advantages are not to say that qualitative surveys are the answer to every research situation.
Focus groups may well be more appropriate, for example, if group interaction is needed, or if the subject matter to research is substantial. However, we think qualitative surveys can be a valuable addition to the research toolkit.
And we believe there are many situations in which marketers or other decision-makers find they have a number of key questions to which they would like answers within a few days. Focus groups would be too expensive and take too long. So that’s when a qualitative survey would fit the bill.
To find out more please contact me or visit our website.