At the core of research design development — in quantitative and qualitative methods — is the reality that individuals who have agreed to participate in our research studies generally answer the questions we ask. This fundamental reality places a heavy burden on the researcher developing a quality research design. Survey research that relies on closed-end questionnaire items is vulnerable to unreliable data due to question design that confuses respondents or fosters interpretations outside the true intention of the question asked. All of which leaves the researcher with weak data and consequently flawed analysis and erroneous final results. The need for more involved research designs that effectively investigate complex subject matter is discussed throughout Research Design Review, including in “Life Is Meaningful, Or Is It?: The Road To Meaning In Survey Data” and “Feelings & Sensations: Where Survey Designs Fail Badly.”
Ask a willing research respondent/participant a question and you are likely to get an answer. It may not be the question the researcher intended, it may confuse the responding individual, but the researcher will be provided with an answer. Research questions provoke answers. That is a good thing. That is why question design and gaining answers to our questions is at the heart of our research with human beings. As the core of research design, question design impacts the entire research process, including the Credibility, the Analyzability, and ultimately the Usefulness of the research outcomes.
So, designing research questions that lead to answers is a good thing, until it is not a good thing. This is no less true in qualitative research as it is in survey methods. The “why” question is a favorite among qualitative researchers yet there are serious drawbacks to this question format, such as the potential for clouding the question meaning and asking an unintended question. The question-answer phenomenon becomes more complicated in the focus group method where the interaction among discussion participants, and therefore the answers to questions the moderator takes away from the discussion, greatly impacts the analysis and interpretation of the data. This is one reason the researcher needs to pay special attention to the composition of a focus group during the research design phase, as discussed in “Focus Groups: Heterogeneity vs. Homogeneity.”
These considerations pin a spotlight on the researcher-participant relationship — which is one of the three dominant qualities of qualitative research — as well as building rapport in the focus group method and the importance of reflexivity, including the researcher’s reflections in the field. All of which serve to uphold the integrity and quality of questions and answers in qualitative research design, and may also have a place in phone and in-person survey research designs.