The analogy I always use to talk about qualitative research is that it’s the illustration to the quantitative story. What my own analogy assumes is that qualitative data on its own is an illustration. However, it’s really up to the analyst to bring this data to life.

Creating a visual story to display your qualitative data is an equally important part of the research process as the analysis phase, and something that is often rushed and not executed well. In my last blog post, I highlighted the fact that qualitative research is not just “quotes on a page.” You are doing yourself and your respondents a disservice if you rely solely on quotes and text to tell your story. Here are my tips to create an engaging report:

  1. Kill your data darlings. My colleague Reineke Reitsma posted about this last month, and I couldn’t agree more. Don’t go overboard with numbers. Especially in qualitative research, too many graphics or percentages only distract from the story. Pick a few data points that strongly highlight your qualitative story, and challenge yourself to display them without using graphs and pie charts (i.e., via infographics.)
  2. Load up on infographics and imagery. Whether it’s a well-placed image or descriptive icons, these help reinforce the points and story you are telling. Particularly if you have a long deck or document, it’s easy to refer back to certain points when there are images there to remind you of what that page or slide covered.
  3. Use color and fonts. This is both a suggestion and a warning. I love having a variety of colors to work with, but they must all tie into each other. Your report shouldn’t look like a bag of skittles exploded all over it, but it shouldn’t be monochromatic either. I occasionally use varying fonts to emphasize key words and phrases, but that’s it.
  4. Formatting, formatting, formatting. Do your headlines line up from slide to slide? Do you use the same size/style font for headlines and body text? Are your images placed with purpose, not randomly hanging out in the corner of your page? Points three and four follow the general advice of presentation design, but I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen this go wrong in qualitative research reporting. The design reflects on you and your attention to detail — put in the extra effort!

A favorite example of mine that incorporates all of my tips above is the Microsoft Advertising report called “Meet The Screens.” Great use of quantitative and qualitative data, imagery, infographics, color, and formatting.

How do you bring a qualitative story to life? I’d love to hear about any tools you use to help with analysis and report creation. For example, where do you get your images? Have you ever tried a different presentation format?