Methods of Research – Glossary (Quick Reference Guide)


This glossary lists the most common methods and approaches, particularly for quantitative research. Overlapping methods are listed in both glossaries. Also See Qualitative Research Methods

Quantitative Research Methods

Action research
A multi-stage type of research, in which a problem is researched, changes are made, the problem is researched again, more changes are made, and so on until the problem is solved.

Ad hoc
A one-off survey done for a specific client – cf.omnibus and syndicated surveys.

Audience research
Shares its techniques with market research and social research but focuses on audiences and communications. Mainly used by broadcast media, publishers, network computing, and community organizations. To many people these days, media research has an identical meaning.

Audience response cultivation
A group of methods for use mainly by broadcasters: not quite formal market research, not quite marketing, but something between the two. See also dialogue techniques.

Auditorium testing
Getting a large group of people (usually 100 or more) together in an auditorium, showing them TV or radio programs, and getting them to rate these – either with questionnaires or electronic gadgets. Sometimes called theatre testing. Similar to hall testing.

Business to business
Research whose respondents are businesses rather than consumers. The same as industrial research.

Census
Survey of a whole population. Most countries have a Population Census (with a capital C) every 5 or 10 years, but a researched population can be much smaller. Thus a census (with a small c) of all staff of an organization would be a survey where everybody was sampled.

Central location
A type of research method where respondents are all interviewed at one venue – as opposed to having interviewers go out and interview respondents in their own places. See intercept, hall testing.

Charrette
A workshop, often lasting several days, which involves a community in its urban planning process. Similar to a clinic or a search conference.

Clinic
A type of research, usually done at a central location, where a product is displayed and respondents asked to use it and react to it. See also charrette.

Communication research
An umbrella term for market research, social research, media research and audience research combined.

Co-discovery conference
A method of qualitative research (developed by Dennis List, founder of Audience Dialogue) in which audience and producers discover each other’s needs and use this knowledge to plan new programs. Based on the search conference and consensus group.

Consensus group
A type of group discussion, similar to a focus group, in which participants try to form a consensus on an issue. In contrast to surveys, which seek differences between people, this technique (originated and developed by our founder Dennis List) seeks similarities.

Content analysis
Analysing the content of media – e.g. publications and broadcast programs to determine the main themes being represented. This is a quantitative technique, which usually involves counting the number of times a word or theme appears.See also Media research.

Customer satisfaction measurement
A rapidly growing branch of market research: assessing the satisfaction level of an organization’s customers. See also mystery shopping.

Delphi method
A way of estimating future measures by asking a group of experts to make estimates, re-circulating the estimates back to the group, and repeating the process till the numbers converge.

Depth interview
A type of qualitative research, which involves long, probing interviews without the use of a formal questionnaire. Sometimes called simply a depth: e.g. “As well as the survey we’ll do 20 depths.” (Doesn’t that sound shallow?) Also known as in-depth interviews.

Desk research
Research done by summarizing published sources – a form of secondary research.

Dialogue techniques
Similar to audience response cultivation, but with a more qualitative emphasis. A systematic way of improving and making use of customer feedback. often involving a panel.

Ethnography
A type of qualitative research which treats a group of people as an anthropologist would an unknown tribe, with detailed descriptions of how they live.

Event survey
A type of audience research, where people attending an event (concert, sports match, etc) are surveyed. More commonly known as a visitor survey.

Focus group
A common type of group discussion, in which a moderator encourages a small group of people (usually 8 to 10) to gradually focus on a topic.

Group discussion
A generic type of qualitative research in which a small group of people provide information by discussing a topic. Some variants are the consensus group,focus group, nominal group, co-discovery conference.

Hall test
Getting a group of people (typically about 50 of them) together in a public hall, usually to see a product demonstration and to fill in questionnaires on the spot. A type of central location study. Similar to auditorium testing, except that with hall testing, people don’t always need to be there at the same time.

Industrial research
Market research in which the respondents are organizations, not consumers. Much the same as business to business research.

Key informant interviews
A method of collecting information (usually factual) about a community or group of people, by finding and interviewing key informants. These are people who are likely to be well informed about an issue, and willing to answer without bias. For example, if you wanted to research TV reception in remote towns, you could telephone servicing shops. A sample of 3 per community is often enough (if they all agree).

Market research, marketing research – what’s the difference?
Most people don’t distinguish between these two terms, but “marketing research” (used more by academics) tends to have a broader meaning than “market research” (used by commercial researchers). The latter term often applies only to primary research,while the former sometimes adds secondary research and desk research. See also audience research, media research, social research, communication research.

Media research
This term seems to have developed two slightly different meanings. In the 1980s, media research referred mainly to researching the media, not their audiences. Thus media research was almost synonymous with content analysis. These days, many people use “media research” to include audience research as well.

Meter
A mechanical or electronic device that can count people’s behaviour. A well known example is the TV peoplemeter.

Monitoring
Continuous research which regularly measures the change in some indicators. Similar to tracking.

Mystery shopping
A systematic way of assessing customer satisfaction, by having research staff pretend to be potential customers, and noting how frontline staff respond to their demands. Sometimes called shadow shopping. After the encounter, the interviewer fills in a questionnaire, so mystery shopping is a type of survey.

Nominal group
A type of group discussion in which participants work independently (on paper) at first, then present an idea at a time to each other. Often abbreviated toNGT.

Observation
A research technique in which no direct questions are asked, but people in a public place (e.g. shoppers and drivers) are watched and their behaviour recorded.

Omnibus
A type of survey (done regularly by most large market research companies) on which organizations can place a few specific questions. It’s like a bus, on which a lot of people can travel at once.

Opinion poll
A type of survey in which people’s opinions are asked, specially on topics related to politics.

Panel
A group of respondents who are surveyed a number of times, in order to detect changes in their behaviour or opinions.

PRA = Participatory Rural Appraisal
A qualitative method for involving communities (specially rural ones in developing countries) in their own futures. Not a single technique, but an approach to research, usually involving a number of simple stages. Now (2006) more often known as Participatory Learning and Action or PLA.

Poll
Usually the same as opinion poll, but sometimes loosely used to mean any type of informal survey.

Push polling
A type of pseudo-research whose intention is to change opinions (usually on voting) rather than measure them, often by asking leading questions. For example “When did you first become aware that Candidate A is the son of a criminal?”

Qualitative
Research in which questions are open-ended, and results are expressed in non-numerical terms. Contrasts with quantitative research. Often shortened toqual.

Quantitative research
Methods of research can be broadly divided into qualitative and quantitative. the basic difference is that quantitative research reports findings as numbers, while qualitative research reports them as words. The main quantitative research technique is the survey, with all its variants. There’s a much wider variety of qualitative techniques – see the separate glossary for qualitative research.

RRA = Rapid Rural Appraisal
A simpler version of Participatory Rural Appraisal, with less participation by the population involved, with the appraisal done more (but not only) by experts.

Reception analysis
Also known as Reception theory. A type of audience research that focuses on what audiences perceive in the media – as opposed to what broadcasters think they produce. Similar to Uses and gratifications.

Self-completion
A questionnaire designed to be filled in by respondents – also called self-administered. Thus a self-completion survey is a survey using this type of questionnaire. See also diary.

Shadow shopping
Same as mystery shopping.

Single-source
Combining different kinds of question in one survey, e.g. TV audience and product use. The opposite of fusion.

Social research
Uses the same techniques as market research, but focuses less on business and more on public issues. See also audience research.

Sugging
A form of pseudo-research: Selling Under the Guise of research. This happens when somebody rings you up pretending to do a survey, but in fact trying to sell you something. Market research companies hate sugging, and will have nothing to do with it.

Survey
A whole exercise of measuring public opinion. Don’t confuse a survey with a questionnaire: some people say “The interviewer did 50 surveys” when they mean 50 interviews, for one survey. As a verb, “to survey” is used much more loosely, and often means the same as “to interview.”

Syndicated research
Research originated by a research company, with data sold to anybody who is interested – unlike an ad hoc survey, which is a one-off survey for an individual client.

Tracking
A series of repeated surveys in which the same questions are asked, so that a measure can be tracked over time. Often used in measuring the reach of advertising. A form of monitoring.

Triangulation
Taking a variety of different research approaches to an issue, as if you’re seeing it from different angles. Though different methods come up with different results, the results should be similar enough that they might be plotted on a graph as a small triangle. Somewhere inside that triangle is the real truth.

Usability testing
Originally, this referred to methods that measured the usability of electrical equipment. These days, most usability testing is of web sites, but it’s also possible to test written instructions using the same methods.

Uses and Gratifications
An offshoot of audience research that developed in the 1980s. Instead of studying the content, or what media to do audiences, the Uses and Gratifications people study how people use programs. For example, when children watch sitcoms without laughing, maybe they’re learning how (they think) adults behave. Five main types of uses and gratifications have been defined: for information, aesthetic feelings, personal needs, social needs, and escapism.See also Reception theory.

Visitor survey
A survey of visitors at a venue; also known as an event survey.


Qualitative Research Methods

Action research
A multi-stage type of research, in which a problem is researched, changes are made, the problem is researched again, more changes are made, and so on through a number of cycles, until the problem is solved.

Affinity group
A type of focus group in which respondents already know one another.

Appreciative Inquiry
A large-group method, often used at times of organizational change, to discover the most valuable aspects of the organization’s past that should be carried forward into its future.

Brainstorming
A not very successful method for generating ideas, in which a small group of people come up with ideas as fast as they can. Participants may build on each others’ ideas, but not criticize them. Nominal groups work better. See also enabling techniques.

Case study
A type of qualitative research which studies one or a few cases(people or organizations) in great detail.

Charrette
A workshop, often lasting several days, which involves a community in its urban planning process. Similar to a clinic or a search conference.

Clinic
A type of research, usually done at a central location, where a product is displayed and respondents asked to use it and react to it. See also charrette.

Coding
Labelling a piece of text or a statement, to make sense of it by summarizing it. Depending on the research question, one piece of text can be coded in various different ways. See also coding for surveys, which uses the same principle on a smaller scale.

Co-discovery conference
A method of qualitative research (developed by Dennis List, founder of Audience Dialogue) in which audience and producers discover each other’s needs and use this knowledge to plan new programs. Based on the search conference and consensus group, with some contributions from Open Space Technologyand Future Search, as well as Appreciative Inquiry.

Consensus group
A type of group discussion, similar to a focus group, in which participants try to form a consensus on an issue. In contrast to surveys, which seek differences between people, this technique (originated and developed by our founder Dennis List) seeks similarities.

Deliberative poll
A method of obtaining informed polling data, developed by US political scientist James Fishkin. A group of randomly selected citizens meet, discuss an issue for some time, then vote on the issues. Not dissimilar from a search conference or citizen jury.

Depth interview
A type of qualitative research, which involves long, probing interviews without the use of a formal questionnaire. Sometimes called simply a depth: e.g. “As well as the survey we’ll do 20 depths.” (Doesn’t that sound shallow?) Also known as in-depth interviews. Can be semi-structured or unstructuredinterviews.

Dialogue techniques
Similar to audience response cultivation, but with a more qualitative emphasis. A systematic way of improving and making use of customer feedback. often involving a panel.

Enabling techniques
A set of methods, most often used in focus groups, which help people produce ideas and give their opinions indirectly. See also brainstorming.

Envisioning
A set of qualitative techniques used for helping organizations or communities clarify their visions of desirable futures. Often called “visioning” – which gives a misleading (passive) connotation.

Ethnography
A type of qualitative research which treats a group of people as an anthropologist would an unknown tribe, with detailed descriptions of how they live.

Facilitation
Helping a group of people come to conclusions, done by a facilitator. In group discussions, this role is called a moderator.

Fishbowl
When you need a small-group discussion and the group is too large, put about 6 chairs in the centre of the room, and ask for volunteers to discuss a subject – often a controversial one. Everybody else stands around and watches, but when the speakers in the fishbowl have had their say, they vacate the chair, to be replaced by one of the onlookers.

Focus group
A common type of group discussion, in which a moderator encourages a small group of people (usually 8 to 10) to gradually focus on a topic.

Future Search
A variant form of the search conference, involving a much wider range of stakeholders, and more participants.

Grounded theory
An approach to qualitative research where the researchers try to approach a problem with no preconceptions, and to build their theories solely from the data gathered.

Group discussion
A generic type of qualitative research in which a small group of people provide information by discussing a topic. See consensus group, focus group,nominal group, search conference, co-discovery conference.

Hermeneutics
This used to refer to a method of Biblical criticism: interpreting the whole of a text in the context of its parts, and vice versa. Now also applied to qualitative research, when analysing transcripts of interviews and group discussions.

Interview guide
A list of topics to be covered in an interview. Similar to a questionnaire, but much less structured, and without multiple-response questions. Used mainly in semi-structured interviews and and group discussions.

Moderator
The researcher who leads a focus group. See also facilitation.

Nominal group
A type of group discussion in which participants work independently (on paper) at first, then present an idea at a time to each other. Sometimes calledNGT.

Open-ended
A type of question (also known as an open question) where it is left up to the respondent to volunteer an answer.

Open Space Technology
A method for large-group meetings, one of the forerunners of the co-discovery conference.

Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA)
A qualitative method for involving communities (specially rural ones in developing countries) in their own futures. Not so much a single technique, as an approach to research. Sometimes called Participatory Learning and Action or PLA, but as it needn’t be rural or involve appraisal, a better expression is “Participation, Reflection, Action”. A shorter version is RRA.

Projective techniques
Psychological techniques often used in focus groups, where participants are asked to make imaginative comparisons, e.g. “If this product was a film star, who would it be?” Often used to assess brand images. Qualitative
Research in which questions are open-ended, and results are expressed in non-numerical terms. Contrasts with quantitative research. Often shortened toqual.

Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA)
A simpler version of Participatory Rural Appraisal, with less participation by the population involved. Usually qualitative, but sometimes not wholly.

Recruiter
An agency which recruits people, e.g. for focus group discussions. See screener.

Screener
A screening questionnaire, as used by recruiters to determine who is eligible to attend a group discussion. There are also screener questions, asked early in a questionnaire to weed out those not eligible to answer the remaining questions.

Search conference
A qualitative research technique where a large group of people meets to thrash out an issue. Often used in community planning. One variant is known as Future Search, and another as a Co-discovery conference.

Semi-structured interview
An interview (usually by a highly skilled interviewer) that doesn’t use a fixed questionnaire, just a list of topics to cover. Much the same as a depth interview. See also unstructured interview.

Sticky dots
A method of voting, used in group situations such as consensus groups and codiscovery conferences. It uses the “sticky dots” or round sticky labels, about 10 mm diameter in various colours. (Red ones are used in art exhibitions, to show when a work has been sold.) Participants are each given a fixed number of sticky dots, and use them to vote for statements on posters by putting a dot next to the statements they most agree with. This process is sometimes called dotmocracy.

Unstructured interview
An interview done without using a questionnaire, or even a semi-structured list of topics. Normally used when respondents are asked to describe an important or recent event in their life.

Visioning
An ugly and slightly misleading word, though widely used. See envisioning.

ZMET
The Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique. An elaborate way of discovering people’s feelings about a concept or issue, by producing a picture of their mental assocations.


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