How to write inspiring online discussion guides

Tom Woodnutt

Tom Woodnutt

Feeling Mutual

Tom Woodnutt is Founder of Feeling Mutual, the agile online and mobile qualitative research specialists. He helps clients and agencies run global studies and offers training in the space. Tom has been a Digital Skills trainer for the Association of Qualitative Researchers (AQR) and is a regular speaker at industry conferences, including the MRS, MRMW and IleX.

So you’ve won the project. Now all you need to do is write a great discussion guide that inspires your participants to provide the quality of insight you promised in the proposal.

Discussion guides for online qual projects need to be different to those used in face-to-face projects. It’s important to find the simplest way to get your message across as participants can’t see your visual clues or hear your tone of voice.

These 10 tips will help you create an inspiring discussion guide:

1. Work backwards from the emotion

Anticipate what aspects of an experience will be most emotionally salient. Then ask questions that allow you to capture these emotions. When you know what moves people, focus your mobile video tasks on these moments to get the best content.

2. Limit yourself to three questions a day

If a £60 incentive buys you two hours of participants time, then you should expect around 20 minutes per day (over a few days). This is easier if you’ve managed client expectations at the proposal stage.

3. Follow the platform’s format for questions

Check with the online qual platform provider to make sure your discussion guide conforms to their template question structure. Otherwise you (or they) will have to reformat it until it fits.

4. Start broad and then go specific

As with any discussion guide, it makes most sense to start at a broad level by exploring the context before going into more specific detail. Contextual questions also help participants warm up before getting to the ideas testing phase.

5. Use competition mechanics

People love to compete. Offering an additional incentive of £50 for the person who is ‘most insightful’ can increase the depth of answers that participants give you, without influencing their direction.

6. Don’t be afraid to be personal

Don’t feel like you have to speak like a boring, neutral scientist. People will be more likely to share how they feel if you are yourself. However, you do need to take care to avoid going too far and influencing their answers.

7. Make it interesting to answer

Challenge yourself to write questions that are more interesting to answer. For example, if exploring the social context of tea, why not ask how they would feel if Johnny Depp came around and they only had tea to serve him?

8. Reward self-expression

You want people to be as open as possible. Thanking people that disclose more emotional insights can help encourage others to be more expressive. Stating up front in your introduction that this is what you want can also help promote self-expression.

9. Get scores to aid analysis

It can be harder to keep track of who said what online because memories of what people type rather than what they say in person are weaker. Therefore get people to score concepts so you have a better guide in analysis.

10. Selectively set video tasks

It’s all too easy to get lost in too much mobile video. Instead, why not be selective and ask certain people to repeat a previous text-based answer to camera. That way you get useful content without having to trawl for it.

Hopefully these ten tips will make it easier for you to achieve online qual discussion guide excellence. If you’d like to learn more about the Masterminds training workshop I’m running, please email tom@feelingmutual.com to find out more.

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