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How to inspire richer insights, when planning online qual studies

This is the third of a four part series from The Research Society presenter, Tom Woodnutt.


The design of effective asynchronous online and mobile qual studies, requires some similar skills that you use when planning traditional ‘realtime’ qual projects.  However, there are also subtle differences. To get more value from online qual, you have to go the extra mile to inspire deeper motivation, richer emotional disclosures and more reliable participation. 

Asynchronous online and mobile qual (in which questions are spread across a few days and not answered ‘live’) is different from real-time qualitative methods (like webcam or face to face groups), because you do not have a captive audience.  It’s easier for people to drop out at any point in asynchronous methods.  Their involvement is not as spurred on by the dynamics of a live group discussion environment.  It’s vital that you inspire people to want to take part and give their all.  This requires careful design measures in the way you structure questions and communications with participants.  

Conversely, in real-time methods, once the session starts, you’re unlikely to lose anyone because it would feel too awkward for them to drop out midway through.  Discussion Guides tend to reflect this, as researchers relentlessly crunch through a series of direct questions that are more aligned with what the client wants to hear, than with what participants will enjoy.  

In asynchronous methods, there is more risk that people might drop out after day 1 or 2 and not come back for day 3 (for example if they feel overworked or if they find the questions too boring).  This puts additional pressure on the study design to make sure it feels motivating to take part.  To make it motivating, you need ‘soft incentives’ that go beyond cash.  For example, you need to frame the study in ways that make people feel important.  You can ask questions in ways that tap into the human desire for self-expression.  And you can use creative tasks that inspire people to share deep and unconscious relationships.  You also need to avoid overworking people beyond what you agreed at recruitment. 

These measures to maintain engagement and maximise emotional disclosure are well worth it.  Since asynchronous online qual is private you can reduce the ‘researcher effect’ and ‘group effect’ which erode authenticity of response.  You can get even deeper emotional disclosures and richer insights for your clients.  When you go into people’s real lives with mobile – the colour you can paint insights in is even more vivid.  So going the extra mile to use asynchronous methods is well worth it.  And when planned properly, you can manage the risks of drop out and disengagement. 


If you want to learn how to choose the right method, technology and cost in asynchronous online and mobile methods, check out Tom’s upcoming course with The Research Society – starting 16 March. Learn more about our ‘Mastering Online and Mobile Qualitative Research’ Masterclass here

If you or your team are looking for an introduction to qualitative research the Research Society’s popular Fundamentals of Qualitative is also running on 18 & 19 March (2 half days). Find out more here.

Author: Tom Woodnutt

Tom is an award winning strategist and researcher with expertise in online and mobile qualitative research.  He ran his first online qual project back in 2007 and today, his consultancy Feeling Mutual, specialises in online qualitative methods.  He runs training for leading research and digital agencies and has been a digital skills trainer for the AQR (Association of Qualitative Researchers). Clients include Sony, BBC and a number of other global brands.

About The Research Society 1084 Articles
The Research Society is the peak body for research, insights and analytics professionals in Australia. It has a diverse membership of individuals at all levels of experience and seniority within agencies, consultancies, client-side organisations, the non-profit and government sectors, support services as well as institutions and the academic community. As well as over 2,000 individual members, the Research Society has 125+ company and client partners, with the number continuing to grow. The Research Society research professionals and company partners commit to and are regulated by the Research Society Code of Professional Behaviour.