Qualitative Research – Tips on how to use Unstructured Research Data

In my previous blog article ‘mTAB Understands Qualitative Research Needs!’  I discussed the need, or advantages, to utilizing qualitative, or unstructured, data when reviewing research results; now I want to help you learn how to implement this suggestion.

I have always visualized structured response data in my imagination as a city with sky-rise buildings and lots of traffic; there are mathematical equations creating a functioning city and it works as well as we need it to. In my imaginary city I visualize unstructured data as a reservoir of gold in the underground tunnels that the city is built on. Burgeoning cities have a tendency to expand, and expansion will generally follow the basis of the original model, but improvements are made by utilizing the underground reservoir.

Yes, fanciful, I know. Keep following me, structured response data gives you an answer to exactly what you’ve asked, but how did you decide what to ask? Have you based your survey response questions on your desires, or your consumer’s desires? Unstructured data allows for responses that are unsuspected and can lead to great improvements.

Let’s use an example: Car manufacturing. The survey asks for demographics, model preferences, etc. Generally an unstructured data response will be positioned as a means of gathering more information about a previous structured data question; e.g. ‘why did you answer yes to this question?’ This is brilliant because the survey is looking to dig deeper into reasoning, however, the full potential of unstructured data is not being utilized.

To harness the power of unstructured data one must think outside of their normal understandings. If you work in the automobile industry you immediately take for granted the need for automobiles. This assumption is the basis for the rest of your survey. Now, if you realize your previously held assumptions about your field and bring them into question, you may find that reservoir! Survey respondents don’t want to write a book while filling out your survey, so you’ve got to choose your open-ended non structured questions wisely. Some examples may be: why do you drive a car instead of taking mass transit? If money was not an issue what car would you buy, and why? What is the most important aspect of a car in your opinion? If you’ve ever considered fuel-alternative transportation, what factors concerned you? Are there any questions that you would want to ask us?

Asking your customers questions that you haven’t assumed answers to will result in responses that you couldn’t have anticipated, and insight you may have overlooked. By incorporating unstructured data responses in your survey you may just find the seedling of an idea that will greatly improve your product, and also give your customers the satisfaction of knowing that you’re interested in their thoughts.

Please be sure to follow my blog posts regarding qualitative survey analysis.  Keep an eye out as well for text analytic posts that we’re planning to run in the near future.

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