Asking Questions: Wide to Narrow

“Let’s do something fun this weekend,” a friend said to me a few months back. I got right on it, researching events in LA and came back with a winner: Kelly Clarkson was performing at the Staples Center, and tickets were still available. Boom.

Except this isn’t what my friend had in mind at all. She was thinking something a little more low key, like heading out to a local happy hour for cocktails and a bite to eat.

Just as language matters, so does context. Without any parameters as to what my friend was thinking, I imposed my thoughts on what ‘something fun’ meant.

Context is an important consideration when asking questions of your research participants, be it in a survey, focus group, or online qualitative research community. At times you may deliberately pose a broad, open question, so you can see their interpretation and what immediately comes to their mind. In others, you may have something specific that you’d like them to think about, and so you set the scene with particular information.

A common example of open questioning is unaided brand awareness. For instance, asking: What fitness brands are you familiar with? Participants then list all the fitness brands that they can recall. This is a good way to see whether your brand is top of mind with customers.

On the other hand, aided brand awareness is a typical example of setting parameters around a question. Here you provide a list of all the fitness brands and ask participants to select the ones that they are familiar with. For example: Which of the following fitness brands have you heard of?

Both of these questions are valuable in their own right and together provide a fuller view to understanding awareness of your brand. The order in which they are asked is critical. Each question asked influences responses to subsequent questions as they provide context – parameters – that participants will naturally use to inform their answer.

The principle of wide to narrow is applicable across the spectrum of questioning. First, find out what is on your participants’ mind before honing on in specifics that you are interested in. You might just come across a gem that you wouldn’t have got otherwise.

And on that note, Kelly Clarkson was fantastic!


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