Fluency Research Group

Interview and Discussion Techniques

Formulating a discussion guide take thought and care. Beyond basic respondent discussion there are many techniques that can be used to enhance qualitative research and deliver deeper and clearer insight. Read below some of the techniques Fluency regularly employs to get the most out of each session.


One of the most under used approaches is a technique called laddering. Laddering is an in-depth, one-on-one interview that helps understand the relationship and links between product attributes and a consumer’s core values based on Mean-Ends Theory (Gutman, 1982). After generating a list of key product or service attributes, the technique essentially involves almost continuously asking a respondent “Why is that important” (Moderators experienced in laddering have an almost endless supply of different ways to ask this question). This line of questioning reveals the links between attributes-benefits-values that ultimately connect a consumer with a brand or product. This information typically provides the basis for the development of marketing that is ultimately more personally relevant to a consumer or target group.

Projective Techniques

Projective techniques help respondents better verbalize attitudes and emotions. From personification (“If Brand X walked into a party…”) to sentence completion and thought bubble exercises, the goal is to help respondents tap into their more creative right brain and better articulate deeper insights. It is key that these techniques not be used as a crutch when other aspects of the interview guide are lacking. Thinking hard about what activities match the objectives of the research is important discussion and should be critically considered.


Another under used technique is giving respondents “assignments” before the interview. While not always appropriate, assignments provided the opportunity to glean additional information that may not be easily obtained during the group, or when gathering basic information during the group would take up valuable time that could be better used in other areas of exploration. Assignments can be as simple as respondents filling out a short questionnaire at home or during sign-in at the facility. More involved assignments might involve diary keeping or collage creation. Depending on the situation, assignments may or may not be shared or referred to during the interview.

Concept/Position Editing and Mark-up

For concept and positioning work it is almost always useful to allow respondents to edit and/or mark-up language. “Circle what you like and cross out what you don’t like,” has been said countless times in concept and positioning work. And while this is helpful, often taking things one step further is beneficial. Depending on the nature/subject of the concept work, it often lends additional insight to not only have respondents “circle what they like” but to provide a word or phrase on what attitude, feeling or emotion the word or phrase brings to mind. The same should be done for negative words along with asking respondents for alternative language. This more lengthy process also helps combat group think by making respondents commit to their initial thoughts and feelings.

Flip Chart/Whiteboard

Use of a flip chart or whiteboard seems to depend on an individual moderators personal preference, however specific thought on use should be more deliberate. Writing information down allows respondent to better process the conversation and forces them to review and think about what has been stated in the group. The ability to summarize, review and edit the information is also beneficial as it allows respondents to add detail or eliminate ideas or words that initially seemed correct, but on reflection do not fit or accurately portray their thoughts.

Note Pads

The challenge for the moderator with any group discussion is to ensure that what individual respondents are saying represent their true thoughts and feelings and not simply those of the group. Inexperienced moderators who let respondents continually offer “I agree with what she said” or allow respondents to simply repeat other respondents are not getting the most out of their discussion. Even when a respondent does agree with what has previously been said, it is important to have the respondents re-articulate a response in their own words. Using a note pad and having a respondent write down initial thoughts/feelings is a useful way to help combat group think. Again, even if respondents universally agree, it is important to understand the nuance and language a respondent uses in voicing their opinion.