There is no recipe on how to interpret a qual study. It is essentially an analytical and creative thinking process that is well organized, logical and impartial; yet it remains subject to the researcher’s view of events.
In terms of approach, a descriptive, journalistic report that provides details of the information gathered from the group discussions or interviews is good way to start. It provides information on the topic of discussion, and the participants’ reactions, their attitudes, behaviours, responses and needs.
Qual, as you will recall is primarily concerned with “how” and “why”, and a descriptive report falls short on this front. Reporting what was said may not entirely explain why respondents think or feel the way they do. It does nonetheless provide for a factual understanding of the subject, and prepares the groundwork for the interpretation.
There are a host of factors that the practitioner must take into consideration when interpreting a qual study. To understand what respondents mean, she must take into account what was said verbally and non-verbally, the tone and intensity, the silent moments, the contradictions, the influence of what was said earlier and so on. She needs to identify the underlying patterns in the detail, and draw insights on consumers’ motivations. To arrive at conclusions she must relate the meaning of what was said to the business issues and objectives.
Much like a painting, interpretation is intrinsically subjective; it is the researcher’s individual viewpoint. The output is a coherent story that relates back to the business issues, yet depending on the individual and the process, the story will tend to vary. This places great importance on the skills of the moderator. Since interpretation depends greatly on experience, skill and judgement, end users tend to be picky, choosing practitioners whose competencies they value and trust. It is the reason why reputed qual researchers are highly sought after.
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