One of the reasons companies hire qualitative research firms is to better understand what drives consumer behavior. Knowing more intimately how a target audience acts and reacts and understanding why are often discovered during focus group or in-depth interview sessions.
But simply putting a group of people together in a room and asking them a series of questions won’t necessarily yield the type of information that is relevant or helpful to your company; to understand why requires asking what.
Why Not Ask ‘Why’ in Qualitative Market Research?
Asking ‘why’ in focus group settings doesn’t always illicit the responses moderators hope for from participants.
When presented with ‘why,’ participants may feel confronted and may either 1) answer defensively or 2) tailor their response to please as opposed to offering their honest opinion. Additionally, answers to ‘why’ questions tend to be curt and less thought through. This is the the exact opposite effect you hope to achieve during a conversation with study participants.
Think back to the many different ‘why’ questions you’ve been asked and you can see why many people may respond defensively.
“Why did you do that?”
“Why didn’t you do this?”
“Why did you buy that?”
You get the idea.
During in-depth interviews or focus groups, a moderator works hard to get participants to relax. You want them to feel comfortable enough to be candid and explain the myriad reasons that influence their decision-making processes. It’s no secret that when participants feel comfortable and relaxed, they talk more.
Focus groups and in-depth interviews are not an interrogation and participants shouldn’t feel antagonized.
Seeking to Understand Why
The goal of qualitative research is to better understand why. So how do moderators get to why if they can’t ask it directly?
Experienced moderators know to ask indirectly. Instead of asking “Why did you…” they ask “What are the reasons for…?”
Other good examples of asking why in a round-about way include:
“Can you further explain what you mean by that?”
“What are some of the reasons that led you to that decision?”
“Can you tell me more about that experience?”
Trained moderators or qualitative research consultants listen for the why’s that come out of a conversation and can identify when participants are answering why, without being directly asked.
When you seek “why” by asking “what” you’ll get the valuable information you seek for the benefit of your business.
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Updated on June 1, 2023: We are committed to providing our readers with the latest information and updating our previous articles as needed. We hope that you find this updated information informative and useful. Edited by Elizabeth Zuponcic