The Center for Strategy Research, Inc. Vol 4 Issue 11   December 2008


As market researchers, we, quite rightly, focus a great deal of our attention on the design of the tools we use. Equally important, however – and all too often overlooked – is the completeness and accuracy with which we gather information in the first place… the subject of this month’s Research with a Twist!

All the best for a happy and healthy holiday for you and your family (please click here to send us your thoughts and comments).

Julie Brown

Mark Palmerino
Executive Vice President

Santa’s Guide to Effective Data Capture

Thanksgiving has already come and gone, and with it, the official start of the holiday season. As a child, Thanksgiving also marked the unofficial signal to start behaving.

As the song goes, Santa, “knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness’ sake.” And while the period of time covered for “being good” is technically the entire preceding year, even as a little girl, I understood the concept of recency and the need to work extra hard while Santa was tallying things up, post-Thanksgiving.

In terms of making gift requests, the process was refreshingly straightforward: You wrote down what you wanted and mailed it — with a nice cover letter — to the North Pole. And while you never got everything you asked for, Santa was remarkably skilled at matching the right toy to the right child.

Today, just a few years later, I’m convinced that Santa’s accuracy resulted from the fact that the requests were given to him in writing. Sure, he got some ideas whispered in his ear at the mall, but we all knew that the only thing that really correlated with Christmas morning results was the letter… written, signed and sent by you.

As it turns out, market research works the same way: If you are hoping to bring home the best “toys” (i.e., research results), you need a way to capture, transcribe and organize everything that your research participants tell you.

More than just good design

Much of what we discuss as market researchers — in conferences, in newsletters, at the water cooler and elsewhere — has to do with design: The instruments must be well-conceived; the participants must be well-screened; the analysis must be well-performed, to name just a few examples.

All of this is critical, of course; however, with qualitative research in particular, there’s an important piece that’s not always given its due: Accurately and completely capturing the information in the first place.

Indeed, although an open-ended approach offers a much greater opportunity for in-depth, nuanced insights than does its quantitative cousin, you’ve also got a greater opportunity to leave much of this precious information on the table.

To ensure maximum success, therefore, we recommend gathering and analyzing your qualitative information in three distinct steps:

  1. Record the interview. Listening and writing at the same time is hard to do; the average person speaks much faster than any of us can write or type. An interviewer who relies solely on note-taking, therefore, must choose between artificially slowing down the conversation for the sake of accuracy, or leaving words out and summarizing on the fly for the sake of keeping things moving. Neither is a good option.

    A recorded interview, by contrast…

    … leaves the interviewer free to engage with the interviewee in a complete and natural way. Unencumbered by the need to write and listen simultaneously, he can pay attention to probing deeper, asking for clarification when necessary and circling back to ideas which may have arisen earlier. All of this leads to a higher quality discussion — one hundred percent of which is captured on the recording.

    … reduces interviewer bias. Note taking is a form of filtering, subject to each interviewer’s hearing, mood, interpretation and skill. By necessity, only a portion of what’s conveyed is captured, often making unrecorded interviews less representative and reliable from the start.

    … can be revisited later on. Whether used for the inclusion of sound snippets as part of the final presentation, or simply as a means of verifying what was said, a recording serves as an accurate record of the original conversation.
  3. Transcribe the recording. Even among those researchers who record their interviews, many move next to organizing and summarizing the information directly from the audio file. We think this is a mistake. Instead, we recommend transcribing the entire interview.

    First, because working from a recording is cumbersome. It’s much easier to move back and forth across the span of an interview when in text format, rather than audio. Text is also more easily searched, an important consideration, given that as new ideas take shape (during the final presentation or elsewhere), you may want to refer back to the original transcript.

    The other reason for separating transcription from coding and/or analysis is that the two tasks utilize entirely different skill sets. Transcribing can be completed more efficiently than the alternative: the same individual taking notes, identifying themes, categorizing, analyzing, looking for trends, etc.… all at the same time. You’ll find your project moves more smoothly if you focus your transcribers on transcribing, and then allow your coders and analysts to code and analyze.
  5. Code the transcript. In the quantitative world, transcribing is easy and largely unambiguous… two reasons why it’s typically done by computer. With qualitative research, on the other hand, the job of coding and organizing the interviews is a high value, thinking process.

    A skilled coder does much more than simply tag and count instances of particular words or phrases. Instead, he should be focused on identifying illustrative verbatims, relating them to larger ideas and placing everything in proper context along the way. In this respect, quality research is as much a jumping off point for deeper discussion as it is a process of capturing information.

    Overall, any coding system needs to be efficient, objective and managed by professionals who are capable of recognizing multiple ideas across a variety of themes.
Like toys from Santa, qualitative research offers the opportunity for both satisfaction and disappointment. Follow these three steps — recording, transcribing and thoughtful coding — and you’ll realize maximum value from your projects. Ho, Ho Ho!

— Julie

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A large portion of our interviews are conducted at the executive and “C-suite” level, mostly over the phone. Over the years, we’ve developed some guidelines for recording phone interviews with this time constrained (and sometimes impatient) group:

  • Ask for permission to record at the beginning. Of course, you’ll want to do this no matter who your interview participant is. But, we’ve found that with executives, it’s especially helpful to explain that by recording the interview, you can give your full attention to the conversation and move more quickly, thereby requiring less of their time.
  • Arrange to call the participant at a number of his or her choosing. Dialing in to a recorded conference line is often cumbersome for any level of management or executive, but for this group, especially, convenience (theirs) is key. So place the call to them, and be prepared to accommodate requests for calls to homes, offices, hotel rooms, conference centers, etc.
  • Use a digital voice recorder. Sharing and storage of digital files is much easier than a tape-based system.
  • Take care to eliminate background noise. Clicking pens, squeaky chairs, call waiting, and conversation in the background are common distractions which will make building rapport and maintaining focus all the more difficult.


Santa’s Guide to Effective Data Capture

Mixology (Putting research into practice)

Twist and Shout

About Us

Now that we’ve started on the theme of how to capture information, we find we have more to say about what we and our clients are doing to make the most of customer and prospect feedback.

In future issues we plan to share more developments in this area.

“You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.”

— M. Scott Peck

Problems? Click here to send us an email with your request.
The Center for Strategy Research, Inc. (CSR) is a research firm. We combine open-ended questioning with our proprietary technology to create quantifiable data.

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