Three Mistakes of Research Rookies

What I love about research is that it allows you to be an expert. Clients have questions. You find the answers. Although he/she has been in this business for years—you know what their customers are thinking NOW—because you asked. But this only works if you ask in the right way.

I have had the opportunity to train several of my colleagues in research best practices over the years. There are three common mistakes the rookies make that will quickly lead you down the wrong path and can make you look like a fool instead of an expert.

Long Questions. The rule of thumb is long questions get short answers and short questions get longer answers.

  • Bad: “When your IT team is reviewing their software options and trying to decide to purchase or not, what factors may or may not influence that purchase?”
  • Better: “How does your team makes decisions about purchasing software?” This could be followed by short probing questions to dig deeper where needed.

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The Wrong Probing Questions. People do not always think about why they did something or not and can quickly feel like an interview is actually an interrogation if you ask “why” too many times.

  • Bad: “Why” or “Why Not” as a probe to every question.
  • Better: “How did you decide that?” or “What factors influenced that decision…?

Too Much Detail. You talked to the customer, you asked the right questions, and you got answers.  Now, what do you tell the client you learned?

  • Bad: Each question asked is in the final report with the most popular answers reported.
  • Better: The question that started the study is restated and answers to that question are provided.

An experienced researcher steps back, looks at the original research question the client started with, proposes answers to that question and then tries to support them with evidence from the data collected.

What are some common mistakes you see new researchers make or things you have learned along the way?

Stephanie Vanterpool, Sr. Project Manager