6 Tips for analysing online qual research efficiently

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.

One big advantage of text based online qualitative over face-to-face research, is that you get real-time transcripts of the conversation. On the one hand, this means you immediately have a wealth of content to extract valuable insights from. On the other, it means you have an embarrassment of riches to process.

Here are six tips for analysing online qual research in asynchronous projects more efficiently:

1. Use a preset analysis template

Effective analysis means prioritising feedback into themes, insights and interpretations that will be of most value to your client. This requires both skilful organisation and curation. For the former, you need a comprehensive analysis template into which you can cut and paste killer quotes. For the latter – you just need to be a brilliant researcher! Analysis templates usually reflect the discussion guide. The discipline of setting one up before you start fieldwork gives you a useful head-start.

2. Share your analysis template with your moderator team

In larger-scale projects (those with around 20 participants or more) you will probably need more than one moderator to keep track of everything. Having a centralised editable document (e.g. using Google Docs) is a good way to avoid the nightmare of having too many overlapping versions. It also means each moderator can follow the progress of the other without constant catch-up calls.

3. Iteratively develop the story as the project rolls out

Another advantage of online qual over face-to-face is the freedom it affords you to develop hypotheses while moderating. When conducting research in a viewing facility you face the combined effects of time and group pressure, and the nagging sense that clients are watching with particular interests. Managing all this takes your focus away from what people are really telling you. In asynchronous online qual, take advantage of the fact you have the luxury of time to develop your hypotheses, ideas and insights while you moderate. Make sure you get all your ideas down before they float off!

4. Probe to fill the gaps in analysis and reduce ambiguity

One key benefit of developing the story as you moderate is being able to any holes that need filling before it’s too late. If you develop a particular hypotheses but it’s just a hunch and you don’t have sufficient evidence for it, why not probe or even update the discussion guide to allow you to explore whether it’s valid or not?

5. Estimate the time you need for analysis at proposal stage

The quality of output from online qual is directly proportionate to the quantity of input you allow time for. So make sure you calculate enough time to do the moderation and analysis when you do the costing (allow from five to ten minutes per answer – depending on your speed – as a rule of thumb).

How much time you’ll need depends on how many answers you’ll be processing (and what depth they go into). If you are swift, you can allow five minutes per answer (to probe and lift quotes into an analysis template). If you’re new to it or prefer to take your time, then up to ten minutes per answer may be necessary.

6. Consider text analysis tools on big projects

There are a number of automated tools which allow you to identify and substantiate recurring themes across qual conversations. These can be useful on projects with large volumes of text (and few moderators to conduct the analysis). For example there’s Wordle’s ‘word clouds’ or for more professional packages you can try Atlas TI and Nvivo (both recommended by ICG members).

If you are interested in learning more about how to achieve online qual excellence then please check out this course I’m running called Masterminds. Email me at if you’d like to attend or find out more.

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