Understanding Qualitative Research Options - (Archived)

Gleaning performance-relevant insights from the opinions, motivations, frustrations, and priorities of your target audience requires qualitative research. At Market Connections, clients often ask how we choose between the two most effective qualitative research methods,? focus groups and in-depth interviews.

In an in-depth interview, which is scheduled in advance and usually runs 20 minutes to an hour, a research specialist conducts a one-on-one session with the participant via phone or in person. In a focus group, 6 – 12 participants gather at the same time at a research facility or in an online chat room (preferably the former if possible). A professional moderator leads a group discussion based on a pre-determined set of questions.

Certainly, each method has its pros and cons. A focus group enables idea sharing and open discussion among peers, which can be very insightful. But, with in-depth interviews, interviewers spend more time with each person and get opinions that aren’t affected by a focus group’s peer influences, such as a domineering participant or a popular idea proposed by others in the group.

Typically the specific circumstances of your research project will dictate whether focus groups, in-depth interviews, or perhaps even a combination, is most appropriate. For example, in the following situations, in-depth interviews are usually more effective than focus groups:

  • The audience is limited and geographically dispersed.
  • The research requires the input of decision makers from competing firms, since they are often unwilling to talk openly in front of one another.
  • The target audience is comprised of very high-level and/or extremely busy professionals, such as corporate executives, doctors, and attorneys, as they are usually unwilling to travel to a research facility at a specific time.
  • The discussion topics are sensitive or personal in nature.

A study based on in-depth interviews takes longer to complete than one that uses focus groups because of the amount of time required to prepare for and conduct each interview. But, regardless, it’s important you and your research firm weigh each option carefully when determining the most effective qualitative method for your specific circumstances.


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