A Guide to Guides

Last week I facilitated a one-day workshop on qualitative research. Among the subjects we covered was discussion guide development. I’ve always believed and taught that a qualitative research guide is a guide, not a script. That in its best form it contains topics, and few, if any, specific questions.

So I was interested to read a blog post from Ariella Labell at Six Degrees  who has developed a cool “psycho-sensory approach to qualitative discussion guide development” she calls the egg carton method.

“If a typical one-on-one interview lasts 60 minutes, there’s time for approximately a dozen questions once you take into account the intro, sharing stimuli and the wrap up. Ha! That’s an egg carton – what a fantastic visual to use with a research team to prioritize the 10-12 questions that really matter. Verbally explaining this to clients just doesn’t always sink in, and doesn’t help them push their team to prioritize.

Give this a try – as you draft your discussion guide, hold it to the egg carton standard. Thinking about a real egg carton with its 12 compartments, identify the 10-12 true research questions that are actionable or will inform key decisions. If it helps, write each on a piece of paper and put one into each slot of an egg carton. Once it’s full, if you come up with another important question, you have to remove one in order to make room.”

Lovely imagery, great discipline – and I don’t know whether 12 questions is the right number or not, (and you know how I feel about questions vs. topics) but the psycho-sensory method holds a lot of appeal.

No, what really got me was her example, apparently not made up, of a client who expected to have the moderator ask 51 distinct questions in a 60- minute interview. Yup. I read it a couple of times to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating.

I’m constantly on guard against misuse of qualitative research, which usually occurs out of ignorance, naiveté about how qualitative research works, or pressure from a boss to get milk out of a stone. I guess I’ve been lucky not ever to have been confronted by someone’s gross misunderstanding of qualitative research. Thank you, lovely clients of mine!

And for any potential clients who may not get it, let me just say I would be happy to ‘guide’ you (get it?!) towards a successful qualitative research project, one in which guides are guides and insights are as abundant as snow in Buffalo.


KGF Insights
9567 Poole Street
La Jolla, CA 92037

T: 619.990.9345