There is a moment between conducting customer research and performing the analysis where you have to pause and figure out the most appropriate way of conducting that analysis. This moment can feel daunting as you have moved from a mindset of pure discovery into one of critical analysis. It’s not always clear how to best identify themes and determine validity and relevancy.
In this blog post, I’ll share some tips that can help you make the right decision on how to analyze your research effectively and efficiently:
Always have a dedicated note taker
When conducting qualitative research, a dedicated note taker should be a given. When you’re moderating or shadowing, you are busy concentrating on the conversation, figuring out what to say or ask next, and giving the participant your undivided attention—you cannot take the detailed notes required for analysis.You can take summary notes: noting key themes that emerge throughout a session, but you want quotes, verbatims, and adequate detail in case you need to dig deeper into that research session later or if the client asks for more detail on something specific that participants said.
A note taker can also reflect and give you a different perspective from your own, which is essential when analyzing research to avoid unconscious biases you may have.
Summarize throughout the day
This one is probably the most important to me. One mistake I often see is people thinking, “there are 7.5 hours in a working day. That means we can do 6x 1-hour interviews.” It is possible*, but I find it better to give a little more time between interviews so that you can write some key bullet points of summary analysis while it’s completely fresh in your mind.
You should repeat this at the end of the day with every session from that day and make a daily summary, made easier by summaries of each participant. While it means the research takes a bit longer, it saves much more time during the analysis and is a more robust way of analyzing.
The summaries are also a great way to engage clients and stakeholders; asking them for their input on the key takeaways from each session also makes your job easier. It is a win-win: getting them familiar with what you’re learning while reviewing what you have or haven’t covered. This activity guides where you may need to adjust the research to hit your objectives.
*Interviewing is exhausting, especially in focus groups! Don’t forget to have time to eat and take a breather.
Highlight quotes as you go
Quotes are a significant factor in bringing the findings to life in any research report. You want your stakeholders to empathize and feel what your participants felt, not just read conclusions and recommendations. Pro-tip: Mark key quotes as you go. Reviewing your detailed notes and looking for that exact quote is laborious. I use five asterisks ready to paste to help with scanning later. If you’re recording the sessions and making a VoxPop-style video, this is also useful for finding the best bits. Remember to add timestamps if so.
Choose an appropriate capture format
There are various ways of capturing the insight and summarizing as you go, and the best way of doing this depends on the topic, type of research, size of the team, and location. Don’t feel constrained to the same method; do whatever will be best for the team. Here are some of my go-to methods:
- Collaborative word docs
Simple and accessible. Someone dedicated to taking notes lists bullet points of key themes, learnings, things to investigate further, etc., at the document’s bottom. This is great for remote research and works well in most cases.
A finished, beautifully organized spreadsheet is immensely satisfying and has its place in research analysis. It’s pretty self-explanatory; add rows per area of investigation and columns per participant (or vice versa). The nice thing about this is that you have everything all in one place (no switching between 20 different note docs), it’s very organized, and it makes it easy to see which topics you have lots of feedback on vs. those where you’re lacking/might need to go a little deeper.
- Post-it Notes!
Everyone loves a post-it note. When you’re all in the same room, especially with clients, it’s great to make a post-it note wall of the critical observations and learnings. You should have your detailed notes to go from, but at the end of the session, you can start collating key themes or learnings, quotes, and areas to investigate further, which can become your central source of truth. The nice thing about a post-it note wall is that as long as you have your team there, it will be the most collaborative way of doing the analysis and an excellent opportunity to ensure all stakeholders are involved in the process. It’s easy to rearrange, connect, add diagrams, and circle things, bringing a critical sense of hierarchy and detail to your findings.
- Annotated images
Suppose you’re running usability testing (rather than investigating attitudes, thoughts, feelings, etc.). In that case, you might want to substitute detailed note-taking and annotate screenshots of the experience you’re designing. This can work well in person with printouts on a wall or if you’re doing it remotely using MIRO so that everyone can contribute. Plus, you can easily use color coding for different types of feedback.
- Audio capture
When doing ethnographic research, you’ll likely struggle to take notes on the go. Voice recording becomes a useful solution here. However, it can be time-consuming to review and transcribe it later, so it’s best used when you don’t have many participants (which you don’t often have with ethno anyway). You can either use a dictaphone to capture exactly what you’re saying or use speech > text transcription on your mobile (e.g., in Google Docs) to automatically transcribe what you’re saying. Transcriptions aren’t 100% accurate and can work badly in noisy areas, but I often find them good enough to get the gist of what I am saying.
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