As we’ve said many times before, great research is all about:
- Finding the right people to talk to
- Asking them the right questions
In our last post we talked about how to use the Recruiting Guide to find the right people to talk to. This post is about the next part, asking the right questions.
Whether an Interview Guide for an in-depth one-on-one conversation or a focus group Moderator’s Guide, the process of writing the document is important. During the cycles of vetting with the client, you gain deep insight into the important subtleties of the findings. There are few hard-and-fast rules for Interview Guides, because the topics vary, but here are a few principles that have worked for us in our research.
1) Invest the time needed to get the participant comfortable – The first question has to be easy and get the participant talking. It has to be more than name and job title or the weather. You need to set the stage for being chatty and opinionated. For our IT participants we like to ask about something happening in the industry, or trace the turns of their career. The catch – this takes time. When the Guide starts getting long and you have to cut, expect someone to suggest eliminating the intro. Don’t. Stick to your guns and spend some time on this. It pays off in a dramatically better conversation and stronger research results when people let their guard down and get chatty.
2) “Peel the Onion” – A good research guide starts more broadly and then gets progressively more specific. For example, start with challenges – what is hard about what they do or what is hard about a particular area. If the challenge the project is trying to address is mentioned unprompted, that is very interesting to know. If it’s not mentioned, go to the next layer of the onion and find out why it wasn’t mentioned. Then drill down one more layer into the actual solution being testing, and so on.
3) Use open-ended questions, but be prepared to prompt – An in-depth interview is not a phone survey. You want to give the participant lots of opportunities to tell you their thoughts on the topic and point to issues that you haven’t thought of. But sometimes people need a gentle push in the right direction, so if your open-ended question isn’t getting you anywhere, be prepared with some options that might get the participant talking. Be sure to present the options in a “let me clarify the question …” tone, not in an “is it A or B” tone.