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By Mary McIlrath, Senior Vice President

Qualitative research has always been at the core of our identity and heritage here at C+R. What that means, however, is always evolving. In the past two years, our online qualitative expertise and practice have grown exponentially. So, like many of our clients, we find ourselves thinking long and hard about what it takes to not only be a good qualitative moderator, but a good online qualitative moderator.

This is the product of many internal discussions -- the five Dos and Don'ts when looking for just that right qualitative moderator for an online project.


  • Don't blather. Parsimony is key. Have you ever watched a focus group in which the moderator does the bulk of the talking? I hope not! In the online world as well, less is more--a great moderator can pose a question in a few words that helps consumers open up verbally. Don't assault consumers with too much text, leading them to being overwhelmed and to even shut down.

  • Don't try to be perfect. In traditional qualitative, a good moderator does a lot verbally and nonverbally to put consumers at ease and help them open up--adopting their verbiage, adjusting wardrobe to fit the income mix of the recruit, etc. Online qualitative moderators are willing to humanize themselves, and even look silly to make respondents comfortable. When respondents have to post a home tour, a good moderator will do the exercise too; an "ugly" first frame of a video question is a great way for a moderator to be a little self-deprecating and lighten the mood.

  • Do be willing to go deep, and know when to stop. In person, it's a lot easier to repeat a probe multiple times in different words if a respondent isn't "getting" the question. Online, a good moderator has a few phrases ready, but no one wants to see one poor post badgered several times and still not really answer the question. Sometimes in online qual, as in life, we have to know when to just let things go.

  • Do understand that empathy is still paramount. In quantitative research, no single respondents' answer is as important as the aggregate (that's why it's so hard to recruit qualitatively from an algorithm!). In qualitative research, we deal with much smaller groups of "real," complex people. They are people first and respondents second, and a good moderator treats them all with kind eyes, respect, and accepts their limitations. Respondents can feel our empathy through the screen, and they appreciate it--and want to work extra hard to "help" the moderator.

  • Do recognize that online qualitative moderators may come from anywhere -- a traditional quant, traditional qual, or exclusively online qualitative background -- the sensibility for online qualitative is the elusive quality that must be a good fit. Some traditional moderators will never feel that online qualitative is "good enough," and they are right to excuse themselves from selling something they can't get behind. Some great quant analysts write brilliant "survey speak" but not conversational interaction, and they are right to stick to where their language style works best.


Follow these tips, and online qualitative success will follow. Best of luck!