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Top Two RDR Articles on Qualitative Research Design in 2012

In 2012, Research Design Review published 10 articles pertaining to qualitative research RMR logo no words greendesign.  These 10 posts have been compiled into one volume titled, “Qualitative Research Design: Selected articles from Research Design Review published in 2012.”  The most popular of these articles among RDR readers are “Designing a Quality In-depth Interview Study: How Many Interviews Are Enough?” published in September and “Insights vs. Metrics: Finding Meaning in Online Qualitative Research” published in June of 2012.

The first of these (i.e., regarding the optimal number of interviews) talks about the “two key moments” when a researcher needs to consider how many interviews to complete – once at the initial design phase and the other while in the field.  Consideration at the initial stage of research design centers on very practical matters like the nature of the research topic and the heterogeneity of the target population.   However, weighing whether “enough” IDIs have been completed while in the field – in the throes of actually completing interviews – is a more delicate and difficult matter.  While the idea of “saturation” or the point in time when responses no longer reveal ‘fresh insights’ is well accepted particularly among researchers dedicated to grounded theory, it is not “good enough” from a quality design perspective.  Rather than saturation, this article advises the qualitative researcher to review the IDI completions in the field and answer eight questions concerning their quality.  Questions such as, Did every IDI cover every question or issue important to the research? and Can the researcher identify the sources of variations and contradictions in the data?

The second most-popular article – concerning online qualitative research – focused on the distinction between actually gaining new ideas or insights from online qualitative versus simply capturing metrics.  The article promotes the belief that offline techniques (such as projective techniques) have their place online and that “the increasingly-loud buzz of social media metrics” or tracking shouldn’t distract qualitative researchers from the business of gaining true, meaningful insights.  The article concludes by saying, “All of this tracking has the potential to provide marketers with some idea of what some portion of their target audience is saying or doing at a particular moment in time – insight with a small ‘i’.  But let’s not confuse that with the ever-present need to understand how people think – Insight with a big ‘I’.”

These and eight other articles specific to qualitative research design can be found here.

Insights vs. Metrics: Finding Meaning in Online Qualitative Research

The use of projective techniques in qualitative marketing research has become an accepted as well as expected practice in the industry.   Focus group discussions and in-depth interviews (whether face-to-face or online) are particularly suitable for activities that go beyond the question-response format.  There are any number of reasons for using projective techniques but they essentially boil down to something similar to the statement from AQR: “What these techniques have in common is that they enable participants to say more about the research subject than they can say spontaneously, accessing thoughts, feelings or meanings which are not immediately available.”  Or, something along the lines of tearing down walls as from Applied Marketing Research: “Projective techniques are important in breaking through the wall of rationalizations consumers use on a daily basis to justify the purchase or likes/dislikes of products or brands.”

Projective techniques come in a variety of flavors.  In addition to those listed on the AQR site – collage, personification, bubble drawing, role playing, etc. – there is also guided imagery, picture sorts, sentence completion, tarot cards, and more.  The types of projective techniques used by researchers has grown over the years (and continues to grow), primarily because many researchers believe (although, I am not one of them) that there is no limit to what is acceptable as a projective technique, and online resources such as Pinterest have broadened the projective possibilities.

Researchers have promoted and defended their use of projective techniques based on the ability to tap into the less-public portion of people’s minds and thereby gain a ‘truer’ picture Read Full Text

Accounting for Social Desirability Bias in Online Research

An article posted a year ago in Research Design Review“13 Factors Impacting the Quality of Qualitative Research” – delineated three broad areas and 13 specific components of qualitative research design that can influence the quality of research outcomes.  One factor, under the broad category of “The Environment,” is the “presence of observers/interviewers as well as other participants.”  In other words, how does the inclusion of other people – whether it be client observers, interviewers, fellow participants, videographers, or note takers – affect the attitudes, behaviors, and, responses we gain from our research efforts?  Does research, almost by definition, create an artificial social context where participants/respondents seek others’ approval leading to a false understanding of their realities?

Social desirability bias is not a new concern in research design and its influence on the ultimate usefulness of our qualitative and quantitative research has been the focus of attention for quite some time.  Tourangeau, Rips, and Rasinski (2000) discuss social desirability in the context of sensitive questions:

“[The] notion of sensitive questions presupposes that respondents believe there are norms defining desirable attitudes and behaviors, and that they are concerned enough about these norms to distort their answers to avoid presenting themselves in an unfavorable light.”

Nancarrow and Brace – in their article “Saying the ‘right thing’: Coping with social desirability in marketing research” (2000) – address the under- and over-reporting associated with social desirability bias and outline numerous techniques that have been used to deal with the problem – e.g., emphasizing the need for honesty, promises of confidentiality, and question manipulation by softening the suggestion that the respondent should know the answer to a particular question or behave in certain way.

Online technology and the ever-growing online research designs that are emerging – within social media, mobile, bulletin boards, communities, and survey research –  have allayed social-desirability concerns.  The belief among some researchers is that one of the beauties of the virtual world is that inhabitants basically live in solitude, away from the influences of a social reality.  Paul Rubenstein of Accelerant Research has actually stated that a key advantage to online qualitative research is the obliteration of social desirability bias and hence the heightened validity of online vs. offline designs:

“[The] Internet affords a stronger sense of anonymity [compared to in-person interviewing] among study participants and typical response biases such as social desirability and other “faking strategies” are virtually eliminated online.  Qualitative data collected online tend to be “brutally honest” in nature as respondents feel wrapped in a cocoon of privacy and facelessness and have no apprehension about telling a moderator anything.”

The idea that researchers who design online studies can ignore potential bias due to social desirability seems misguided.  In fact, Read Full Text