4 people standing around a table planning to run a pilot study for qualitative market research

Six Reasons to Conduct a Pilot Study for Qualitative Research

Pilot sessions are used extensively throughout market research in order to reduce risk or uncertainty.

A pilot study essentially does what it says on the tin, allowing you to ‘test’ your study before the full research project kicks off, so you can fine tune any issues and make any necessary adjustments to ensure your project delivers insightful results.

Whether it’s tweaking the wording, understanding the time allowed for the session, or enabling you to ensure your respondents are engaged, a pilot session is a great way to prevent any problems further down the line.

Why pilot sessions are important

Picture the scene: it’s research day, and your first participant walks in. You brief them on what to do, and they get started - but there’s a problem: they don’t understand what you’re asking them to do!

Whether it’s the wording of the study or a tricky task, the best-case scenario is that you lose valuable time - and if they are completing the study remotely, it could be impossible to get them back on track.

That’s why you need a pilot session to iron out any issues and ensure everything goes well on the day. Think of it as a dress rehearsal to make sure everyone is prepared! Not convinced? Read on to discover six reasons you should run a pilot session before starting your qual research…

6 reasons to run a pilot session ahead of your qual research project

1. Save time - and money!

Yes, a pilot study is an additional step in your qual research project timeline, which of course means you need to allow a bit of extra time and money in order to complete it.

However, a pilot session will actually save you time and money in the long run by enabling you to ensure everything runs in order and preventing you from making any critical mistakes.

Plus, it will also help you understand the scope and scalability of your project and could even result in you finding ways to trim costs as you go, too.

2. Check the tasks

Depending on your chosen methodology, your qual research project will probably have a range of tasks set up for your respondents to complete.

But participants can be easily derailed by poorly planned tasks which they could either find boring or, worse still, not understand how to complete. For example, you could use language that is easy for you to understand as a researcher, but your participants don’t understand the terminology.

So, it’s important that you find and fix any issues with your tasks before the study takes place to ensure you access the best possible results.

If you are conducting an online community, for example, you could test the tasks on someone with no insider knowledge to check they understand what’s being asked of them.

Often, a simple edit is all you need to keep your participants on track. Likewise, if you are conducting a usability test where your respondents need to use a prototype, your pilot session provides the perfect opportunity to identify any problems and ensure that your prototypes work.

3. Review the discussion guide

If you are conducting a focus group as part of your qual research project, it’s likely that you will have a discussion guide containing the questions and structure for the moderator to use when guiding conversations with the participants.

A discussion guide is essential to the smooth running of your research - and a pilot session is the perfect chance to flag any areas that need adding to or improving to ensure the conversation flows as well as possible on the day, or even to identify new avenues that need to be probed.

From the phrasing of the questions to the depth of insight generated and even the structure of the guide, it’s important to make sure that your discussion guide equips the moderator with everything they need to conduct the session properly.

Plus, on occasion, the end client might want to view the pilot study and suggest tweaks to the guide as well.

4. Think about timings

Another benefit of running a pilot session is that it gives you a chance to review the session length.

Have you allowed enough time for the research session as a whole? Are your participants able to complete the assigned tasks in the time you have provided? If you are using a discussion guide, is there enough time in between questions to allow conversation to flow naturally?

When it comes to qual research and uncovering in-depth insights, the last thing you want to do is disrupt the flow of the session by having to stop abruptly due to time constraints.

So, running through everything beforehand to check your timings work is a great way to ensure you get the most from your research.

5. Make sure the methodology works

Choosing the right methodology is an essential piece of your qual research puzzle - so it’s important to be sure you’ve selected the right methodology for what you want to achieve.

When you undertake a pilot session, you will be able to check whether the methodology you’ve chosen is effective or if you need a change of direction.

From interviews and surveys to focus groups and usability testing, pilot sessions can help test your methodology and enable you to make any necessary changes before it’s too late.

6. Talk to the right people

When it comes to successful qualitative market research, it’s essential that you recruit the right respondents to generate insightful results - and a pilot session is a great way to tell whether your screener questions have enabled you to capture the right demographic group.

If you aren't sure who you should speak to in order to elicit the insights you need, you could consider only recruiting participants for your pilot study initially, before making any necessary changes and starting recruitment for the full sample once the pilot is complete.

After all, it’s much better to know at an earlier stage if you aren’t reaching out to the right people, rather than run the risk of ruining your entire research project and incurring significant costs and delays.

Need further advice on running a pilot session?

In conclusion, when it comes to successful qual market research studies, it makes sense to start slowly and walk before you run - which is why pilot sessions are such an integral part of the research process.

For very little additional outlay, a pilot session can deliver a huge amount of value by allowing you to save money, avoid wasting sessions, and ensure objectives are met.

By learning what can be improved or changed, you can make sure you get the most out of your research.

Perhaps it is a new question you want to add to your survey, or maybe you decide to restructure the flow of your discussion guide to improve engagement - whatever changes you make will improve your market research for the long-term.

If you are keen to include a pilot session in your next qual research project and want to find out more about how we can help, contact Angelfish today - we’d love to chat!

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