How To Ask The Right Questions in Research

July 26, 2017

We know that people aren’t always honest, that consumers can act differently to what they claim to do. In fact, one of the Foresight Factory trends Pragmatic Green is based on this very contradiction – consumers want to be environmentally responsible but don’t want to pay the price tag for being so. Still, the discrepancies can be telling of aspiration or intent. This is why the art of asking the right questions is so crucial to uncovering the facts that are often subjective in a post-truth world. So we asked our Head of Research at Foresight Factory about her top five tips on how to ask the right questions:


1. Define your audience

Before even starting to ask anything, let alone how to ask the right questions you need to find the right people. Your audience choice impacts the sampling, research methodology and ultimately feasibility, so it’s always good to consider this first up. At Foresight Factory this means balancing our samples carefully to be representative of age, gender and region. When working on bespoke projects for clients, this could mean only speaking to mothers or people who are passionate about music. Or talking to a broad spectrum of the population but then comparing this data to a niche group.

Caution: While you may want to reach a niche audience you might be putting too much weight on a pre-defined target… and cutting out people of interest.  For example, how much does your age really define you?


2.  Think like a « normal » person.

Put yourself in the participant’s shoes  – if you were filling out a survey, would you want it to be quick and simple or feature complex language and explanations?  Too Long Didn’t Read totally applies to survey questions!

Example: the word “content” might be a marketing buzzword but many people won’t classify the videos, articles or posts they read as “content”.  Using the most literal and universal words possible is the preferred option.


3.  Context is king

While you may be after a specific answer to a question, it might be the wider contextual questions you ask that bring you the most interesting insights. When designing a questionnaire, think about what else you might want to know that could help you understand your topic through several different lenses of a person’s life, values or needs. This investigative approach gives you a wider pool from which to explore your hypotheses.

Example: You might want to find out what people do on their commute – but how does length of commute impact this, or stress levels, family life stage, or people’s interests? Exploring several contexts will provide a more nuanced picture of a single behaviour, providing many answers instead of one.


4.  Interested in new innovations or niche behaviours: Widen your base

When trying to explore and size emerging innovations, simply asking about current uptake puts you in a tricky position of  having to ask about something relatively unknown that will only be relevant to a small pool of early adopters. However, by exploring underlying drivers, barriers and interests you can find ways of understanding new behaviours and the potential of emerging innovations from a wider base. For example, instead of asking about using AI personal assistants, asking whether consumers are interested in a service that automatically buys and delivers household items to their door and the reasons why or why not is a more exploratory way of capturing attitude and sentiment towards AI.


5.      Global? Think Local

While we want to make questions simple and easy this can cause problems if you’re asking questions to multiple countries, especially where English is not their mother-tongue.  I would recommend this simple three point guide as a checklist prior to having questionnaires translated:

  • Sense check questions and pull out any colloquial terms
  • If you’re using brand examples, check to make sure they’re relevant in all the countries you’re surveying
  • Check for cultural sensitivity, e.g. where some behaviours may be illegal or banned and therefore not relevant

Example: Not everyone shops on the “high street” or eats “on-the-go”.


Interested in our research? Take a look at our social media analysis report on coffee.


Written by Parimal Makwana

Head of Research at Foresight Factory. Wish for the future: That someone someday will invent an everlasting phone battery…

You may also like to read...

7th July 2017

Social Media Report: Photogenic Coffee

At the Foresight Factory, we’ve had our ear to the ground (or eyes glued to hashtags) when it comes to […]

Read article
10th August 2017

Are Chatbots Pushing Away Asian Consumers?

When we think about AI developments, there’s a trend towards making machine learning as human as possible, from emotive search […]

Read article