Here are some of the methods researchers can use, along with some ideas of why you would use them. Think of them as the tools of the trade. Don’t worry, you won’t be tested on them.

Depth Interviews

Depth interviews are useful if you want to cover a sensitive or personal topic and the respondent is likely to want privacy, or to find out in detail what your respondents think about your organisation, product or service.

Focus Groups

Focus groups, on the other hand, are useful if you want to know how people talk about or discuss your organisation, product or service to others. This can be useful to understand how your brand is currently perceived.

Street Research

Focus groups and depth interviews are very powerful, but they’re often working historically or in retrospect. Sometimes hindsight can be beneficial, but street research is useful when you need to ask people about what they’re doing or thinking at the time. This is often important if you’re interested in people’s buying decisions, for example.

Online Surveys

Online surveys are often quick and effective ways to get responses fast from a large number of people. They also have advantages over paper surveys in terms of distribution, processing and analysis costs and the convenience for respondents.

Paper Surveys

Despite the advantages of online surveys, paper surveys are still useful, even essential in some circumstances. Paper surveys are particularly useful when your respondents may not have internet access or the experience to use an online survey tool, or for an added level of professionalism.

Website Usability Evaluation and Testing

Usability (that is, how easy something is to use) is a key consideration of most websites, and one that is often overlooked. Internet users are looking for good quality, easy to find, content (although good presentation is also nice). If they don’t find it, it often only takes a quick internet search to go elsewhere.

An website evaluation picks up the most glaring errors or omissions, based on current good practice. Usability testing instead involves asking respondents to use your website and monitoring their session. Testing is therefore much more comprehensive than a brief evaluation.

Based on the results of the evaluation or testing you can make your website easier for your visitors to use, increasing the likelihood that they will use you instead of your competitors.

Mystery Shopping

A very efficient way to determine the quality of your customer service. I can do this anonymously so you can clearly see what your organisation is really like for your customers. I can also ask recent customers about their experience.

Secondary Data Analysis

Sometimes it may not even be necessary to carry out primary research. If you already have access to appropriate sources of data you don’t have to carry out fieldwork and collect primary data, saving time and expense.

Other Methods

Some methods don’t really fit in the traditional researcher’s toolkit, but can nevertheless be useful when the occasion arrises. Examples include:

  • Timelapse photography or video recordings – useful to improve the efficiency or otherwise analyse processes or procedures.
  • Counts – simple and quick to find out how many people use a facility or service.
  • Ethnography or observation.