Moderator Guide Development: Honor the Four Stages of QREs

Writing a guide is not just getting some questions down on paper and sign-off from a client. It is a process that builds from a clear purpose statement and an awareness of the dynamics of interviewing. RIVA favors the universal guide approach, so that all the hard thinking/planning is done in a non-sweaty place with no hot lights. That way, when the lights are on, the mics are running, and the client is peering intently through the mirror, the questions roll out easily. While it might look like an improv performance, it is really an award-winning script that sets the tone for the actors (respondents) to present their best performance.

The intent is not to write a guide and then read it verbatim.  It is better to write it all out – check the timing and the flow and then metaphorically “eat the guide and then burp the questions.”  “Winging it” is not a good technique for moderating since there are too many dynamics to manage in a room while trying, at the same time, mentally crafting good questions.

There are four stages to a qualitative research event [QRE] .

Stage I:  Introduction,

Stage II: Rapport and Reconnaissance

Stage III: In-Depth Investigation

Stage IV: Closure

The questions in Stage I are baseline questions that create an environment for respondents to settle into the qualitative inquiry process and are useful for the moderator to calibrate group dynamics. Stage II includes “can’t fail” questions, usually related to past history, baseline beliefs, product usage or awareness, awareness of competitive set, or advertising.

Stage III dives down into respondent thinking and is where the study purpose is supposed to be realized. This is where interventions and projective techniques have great usefulness, allowing clients to see what shapes respondent understanding and behaviors. In Stage IV, wrap-up questions to close out the QRE are asked and clients have one last chance to discover more about the topic from the point of view of respondents. More than 70% of the questions in the guide fall in Stage III with the other stages playing supporting and necessary roles with far fewer questions.

Early in a moderator’s career more time is taken to craft a good guide to support client needs.  As one becomes more seasoned, the process can take less time to craft , however there are never any shortcuts to the thinking that goes into what gets printed on paper.  Honoring the four stages of a QRE allows the guide to move from general to specific and is the best way to set a foundation for understanding respondent thinking.

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