If you ask most people to think about survey research, the majority will probably conjure up a vision of the multiple choice assessments typically used to summarize and/or rank responses according to predetermined and generalized themes. However, a lot of good research, especially good market research, relies on researchers figuring out what they don’t yet know. And in order to do this, they must craft questions that allow survey participants to formulate organic, free-form responses. Whereas the oft considered close-ended question survey relies on researchers anticipating certain answers and asking respondents to choose among only them, a questionnaire with open-ended queries allows consumers to fully express their own unique points of view, thus permitting researchers to examine ideas, motivations and issues they might never have otherwise contemplated.
The problem with open-ended questions, then, becomes, “How can analysts condense and make meaning from the nearly endless possible outcomes they expose?” It’s a lot simpler for researchers to evaluate A, B, C, and D answers, but what happens when there are as many different answers as there are respondents?! That’s where verbatim coding comes in. Take a look:
The Gist of Verbatim Coding
With verbatim coding, free-form answers are given a numerical value, making it easier for analysts to interpret and predict actionable results; the number of comments with certain codes will point to themes that are important to examine more fully.
Consider the following example:
Survey Question: “What do you think about our new packaging?”
Respondent Answer: “It’s difficult to open. The plastic is too hard, and there are too many twisty ties holding the product in place.”
With verbatim coding, either computers (via machine learning algorithms) or actual people shift through survey answers and assign a code to recurring themes, phrases, words, pictures and sounds. In the above scenario, one number might be assigned for “Difficult to Open” and another for “Too Many Twist Ties.” Other likely codes might correspond to “Colorful,” “Easy to Open” and “Poor Protection.” Some answers might be split with codes representing several different themes (as above), and some might have only one. Other answers might be blank, irrelevant or “NA,” meaning they don’t get assigned any code and can be culled from the final results.
After the initial sorting of comments, some codes might need to be further refined, especially when there are too many or too few of them. For instance, if one question has a particularly high number of “Other” comments with a certain word or phrase used, instead of simply labeling a number to signify it as “Other,” verbatim coding would allow you to assign the specific word or phrase used with another specific code.
The Benefit of Verbatim Coding
The beauty of close-ended questions is that they are unambiguous. All answers are clearly defined and not subject to interpretation (by respondents or researchers). They also make it easy for researchers to compare and/or analyze a population’s answers. Verbatim coding allows open-ended questions to yield these same benefits, but it also further permits a deeper and richer exploration of consumer wants and needs, making it a valuable resource for companies wanting the best of both worlds!
Ready to Learn More
When verbatim coding is done with precision and consistency, it quantifies data, making it easier to manipulate meaning and draw conclusions. Our team at Communications for Research (CFR) has over 20 years experience designing studies, recruiting respondents, coding answers and analyzing results. We help our clients get actionable results. Contact us to learn how we can assist you, too!