We all know that quantitative surveys should follow from thorough qualitative research. Qualitative research provides us with the insights and suggests the questions that we want to quantify. Once we have finished a series of focus groups or depth interviews, we are much more able to develop a quantitative survey that covers all of the important topics of interest.
If we jump into a quantitative survey without a thorough understanding of the topic under consideration, there is the danger that we skip an important issue. We may also ask questions in an unclear way or bias responses because the way we approach the subject is different than how respondents think about the topic. A qualitative phase helps overcome these problems.
But qualitative research has two challenges. It is time consuming and costly. And clients have limited time and budgets.
There is a partial solution — a quick open-ended survey. We use SurveyGizmo but there are lots of inexpensive and easy to use tools that will allow you to quickly create a very short survey with all open ended questions.
We can program one of these 5-minute surveys in less than 30 minutes, collect data, and have results in 48 hours. We may field it ourselves to roughly 50 respondents or ask our field partner for 50 completes. For analysis, we print out all the open-ended responses, read them, and modify our final quantitative survey as appropriate. No cross tabs. No tables. No sophisticated analytical text recognition. We simply read them all.
Recognize that this is NOT a substitute for a full set of focus groups or depth interviews. But it is a solution that is very quick and cheap to implement. It is a compromise when a full qualitative phase is out of the question.
These quick open-ended surveys do not providing the depth of insights that one acquires from traditional qualitative research. But a short, quick, open-ended survey can provide valuable insurance against major missed issues.
It is also excellent for “closing” open-ended questions on a quantitative survey. And with easy to use survey programming software we can program these simple surveys ourselves and collect the data lightning fast. And for very little cost. Nice eh?
We often implement these quick open-ended surveys to gain insights before we implement a major quantitative survey. These are not a pretest of the surveys (which we also do). The purpose is to understand the topic, in general, to ensure the quantitative survey is concise, thorough and covers all important issues. To ensure the best success we suggest the following:
1. Ask for Specifics – We ask respondents to be very specific in their answers. Examples of how we phrase this include:
2. Ask respondents to write a lot! – We want thorough answers. A one or two word answer virtually never tells us much. So we ask respondents to write a lot. You would be surprised how often a valuable insight is disclosed on the third or fourth sentence of an answer. Examples of how we phrase this include:
3. Ask the same question three ways – We have found this to be extremely useful in discovering important and previously unknown information. We ask the same open-ended question three different ways and each respondent answers all three questions. Examples of how we phrase this include:
As long as we are implementing a web-based survey (which is typically the case) it does not matter who the respondent is. This works for consumers as well as B2B respondents. An IT manager, CIO or Purchasing Agent can be surveyed as easily as a mother with kids, a golfer looking for clubs or a senior shopping for homeowners’ insurance.
While a quick, open-ended survey is not a substitute for a full scale qualitative research phase, it is valuable insurance when qualitative research is not practical due to time or cost constraints. The advent of easy to use survey software allows us to quickly create a survey in 30-minutes or less. Data collection and analysis is typically completed in two days. This is NOT a substitute for pretesting a quantitative survey. Instead, think of it as a cheap insurance policy to minimize the chances that your quantitative survey missed an important issue.