Performing Qualitative Research with Surveys

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Quantitative vs. Qualitative Research

There are two types of research — quantitative research and qualitative research.

Surveys used for quantitative research purposes count results numerically, while surveys used to conduct qualitative research ask open-ended questions that yield responses that are more conversational in nature.

Surveys can be effectively used to perform both quantitative and qualitative research depending on the end goal of the study at hand. 

In this article, we’ll address the best practices that should be adhered to when building a qualitative research survey.

If you think you could benefit from a refresher on how to determine whether to use quantitative or qualitative research, be sure to read the following article: 

Qualitative & Quantitative Research: Which to Use?

Best Practices for Performing Qualitative Research with Surveys

Establish and set clear goals for your survey prior to building it.

What is the defined purpose of your survey? What are you trying to learn? What insights do you hope to be uncovered? How will you report on the response data? Are there particular charts or graphs that would prove useful to your reporting?

These are some examples of questions to ask yourself prior to building your survey.

Related: Survey Design 101: Creating Survey Goals & Objectives

Be sure to test your survey prior to distributing it.

Regardless of the type of research you are conducting, it’s always a good idea to test your survey prior to sending it to potential respondents. 

Draft your question list, and have a colleague review it. 

Have your colleagues run through your survey once or twice, and ask them for feedback on question order and the overall flow of the survey. 

Implement their feedback by making changes to enhance the convenience of taking your survey and to ensure that you are receiving the most actionable response data possible.

Avoid bias at all costs.

Double and triple check that you are presenting neutral questions to your survey respondents. Your question should avoid biases at all costs, and should not imply particular answers in any way whatsoever.

Put your most important questions at the beginning of your survey.

If you have a group of questions that you deem as more important than the rest, put these questions at the beginning of your survey.

Survey fatigue is a real risk. If people stop taking your survey after only partially completing it, your response data will be severely impacted. While ensuring that each question serves a purpose can mitigate survey fatigue, it’s also a good idea to put your most important questions at the beginning of your survey. This increases the likelihood that you will receive the most impactful responses possible if someone decides to stop answering questions.

If you can make a question optional without severely impacting results, then do so.

There are going to be some questions that you include in your survey that are imperative to your study. These questions should be mandatory for respondents to answer.

However, oftentimes there will be questions that you consider as “nice-to-haves.” While the response data from these questions is still valuable, it might not be absolutely critical to your study. When this is the case, mark these questions as optional for respondents, so that you can guard yourself as effectively as possible against survey fatigue.

It’s always a good idea to make questions that ask for intimately personal responses optional, so that if someone isn’t comfortable providing the necessary information, they don’t have to.

It’s also important to note that when questions are mandatory, they should be clearly marked as such.

Keep your instructions as simple as possible.

Providing answers to your survey questions should be intuitive and straightforward for your respondents. Therefore, there shouldn’t be a need for complex instructions. 

If respondents open your survey and see complex, lengthy directions for how to fill out the survey, chances are that they will stop working on your survey then and there. It’s also quite possible that respondents will simply skip introductions or directions altogether, so make sure your survey directions are as pared down as possible.

Ask questions that drill into the “why” and “how.”

Qualitative research aims to take a particular insight, dig into why it is the case, and determine how it came to be. That being said, your survey questions should be drafted and ordered in a manner that will expose these types of insights.

If you can show something with graphs or charts instead of verbiage, do so.

Charts and graphs are more engaging than long blocks of text. If you are trying to communicate information in your survey, and you feel that a graph or chart would be more effective than written words, then use the graph or chart!

Don’t be scared to ask multiple-answer questions.

Sometimes multiple-answer questions are more effective than single-answer questions. While performing qualitative research, don’t be scared to present questions to respondents that could yield multiple responses from one survey respondent.

This simply gives you more qualitative data to analyze and take action on.

Keep your survey as short as possible.

This is another best practice to follow when working to avoid survey fatigue. By using features such as logic and branching, you can present survey respondents with only the questions that are relevant to them. For example, if one of your questions is contingent on someone having lived in the USA for five or more years, but a respondent identified as never having lived in the USA in a previous question, the question about living in the USA should not be presented to them.

Why You Should Consider Using Qualitative Research Surveys

Surveys are great for conducting qualitative research because they are able to pull in such profound and diverse feedback from respondents. They can even make researchers aware of insights they had not previously considered as a possibility!

Qualitative research surveys can also be used as the foundation of larger research projects, by identifying which types of quantitative questions you should be asking in a future survey.

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