Qualitative Research - Part 3 How do I write a basic discussion guide?

Qualitative Research Qualitative research for beginners market research marketing research brand development focus groups depth interviews focus groups versus depth interviews advantages of depth interviews

Qualitative Research – Part 3, how do you write a basic, level 1 discussion guide?

This blog is aimed at people who are writing one of their first discussion guides, the next one, we will look at intermediate and then advanced discussion guides down the line. So the first thing to install is the difference between closed and open questions and that’s a really important principle through all of qualitative research. Let’s imagine you were writing a guide for a bank, they want to understand how people buy the mortgage they do. So closed questions are:

  • What made you get your mortgage with Halifax?
  • Don’t you think Halifax would be a better alternative to National Westminster?
  • Would it be better to rely on close friends for advice?

As opposed to:

  • What mortgage providers did you consider?
  • What are the alternatives?
  • Where did you source advice?

The basic principle is to avoid ‘boxing people in’ when they are answering because if you do you are asking them questions which are biased. So the key thing is to imagine a discussion guide as an inverted triangle, with what you want to know at the end. There are normally five phases:

  • Background – Find out about the people in the room
  • Context – What is their attitude towards finance in general ?
  • Specific context – What are their feelings about mortgages?
  • Core Answers – Why did they choose one provider over another?
  • Summary

So we are going to start with a ‘beginner’s guide’, which means the exercises are easy. It takes time to get used to asking people to ‘personify’ their mortgage provider as a car, as a house, as a famous person, at first it feels awkward and you have to learn how to overcome feeling uncomfortable about doing it.

So Background, you need to stay high level and avoid diving into core answers

  • In the warm up you’d ask – lifestage, job, children and what mortgage they have and with whom?
  • How long have you had this mortgage for?

Context – Attitudes to finance in general

  • What’s your level of knowledge about financial products?
  • Then you’d ask what are called ‘probe’ questions:
  • What products are you aware of and what do they do?
  • How did you come by this knowledge?
  • What would you like to know more about?
  • You’d then ask people about their approach to risk and ask them to rate their tolerance of risk from 1-10
  • Then you’d test that, by showing them some different products on cards e.g. term deposit, which allows you to put money in for a fixed term and get a fixed return

Specific context – What are feelings about mortgages :

  • Here you’d open what is called a ‘spontaneous’conversation – starting with the question how do you feel about mortgages?
  • Then you’d probe:
  • What are the key likes versus dislikes
  • Why?
  • How do mortgages today compare to the past?

Then you’d move into ‘core answers’

Here you’d open up a spontaneous conversation – please tell us about how you came to have your current mortgage?

  • Probe who else did you consider?
  • Why did you not choose another provider?
  • Who gave you the best advice?
  • What criteria did you consider when choosing a provider*

*At this point you’d do a level 1 use of a flipchart – to ask the group all the factors that they considered when choosing a mortgage and ask them to group them, how you group them depends on what you find but it could be things such as:

              - Soft factors – relationship with a person/provider

              - Hard factors – such as mortgage rates/ speed of delivery

After that you’d move into a ‘Level 1’ ‘personification technique. The basic premise of these are that it’s hard for people to explain rationally how people feel about brands and companies, so they need help. The most basic technique is word association. So you’d ask the group to come up with all the words they associate with different brands of mortgage provider. You would keep going until they'd 'run out', the great thing about a focus group is they spark off each other and enjoy doing it as sometimes you get funny associations, which makes people laugh and open up even more. 

The last thing you’d do is a summary. Some qualitative researchers don’t like to do this, the purists as they think it biases people’s responses. Personally I’ve found it’s really good because it allows you to check you’ve understood people correctly and show respect for them by demonstrating you care/have listened. 

So you’d take the 3 non background sections and summarise the 2-3 key points you’ve learned and ask if that’s a correct understanding. So you’d say:

So my understanding of your context is as follows:

  • Generally you don’t seem to trust financial institutions to give you the best advice, is that fair?
  • You trust your family and friends to give you guidance more than banks.

This is very much a ‘starter’ discussion guide, we’ll do some starter discussion guides on other categories so you get the idea, we will look at supermarkets, fast moving consumer goods and hotels so you can get the idea. The structure for all basic discussion guides will be the same, it’s just the content i.e. the questions asked which will vary.

If you want help with putting a discussion guide together, by all means get in touch with me, you'll find me here www.jakepearce.com. 




Share this content

About the author

Jake Pearce

Send message View profile

"Different to get better results". Jake is obsessed with marketing ROI. He helps companies amplify word of mouth to get business more easily. He uses Meanomathics to boost Comms cut through 10-30%. He uses co-creation to future proof innovation - he turned around a drinks category providing 15% growth using professional co-creation. And he helps top CEO and celebrities with their personal branding and brand purpose, which links back to Word of Mouth marketing. 

Worked with Vodafone,Kellogg'sMcDonalds,ANZ,McDonalds,Suntory,Danone,HSBC,Barclays,BAT,Meat Brands,Saatchi&Saatchi,Draft FCB,Fairbrother Industries, Les Mills, Holmes Place, Grey and a host of digital start-ups.

Jake Pearce is a specialist in brand planning, development & innovation. Jake is currently working on a Word of Mouth Marketing start-up, a personal branding start-up and new delivery systems for wellness products. 

www.jakepearce.com - for brand development and innovation

www.womtwo.com - for word of mouth marketing expertise


There are no comments. Join now to add a comment. Click to Join

Back to top

About us - Terms of use - Privacy policy - Pay