Skip to content

Qualitative by the Numbers: Blog Nine – Seven Ground Rules for Respondents

Posted on December 3, 2021 by Riva Market Research Training Institute

Ground Rules are a basic component of the foundation for a productive qualitative research event (QRE). They are therefore delivered by the qualitative researcher (QR) in the introductory stage of a qualitative research event (QRE).

The set of guidelines or ground rules for behavioral expectations that a qualitative researcher (QR) delivers sets the stage for respondent participants which helps everyone stay focused on the topic, rather than go on individual tangents.

It has been observed that norms for behavior are more likely to form quickly when rapport/cooperation is established, and everyone is aware of the rules of the “game” they are playing.

It is within the stated guidelines that an essential part of the framework is formed in which the “magic” of group dynamics occurs and that gives focus groups their power to uncover POBAs that provide insight to decision-makers.

Ground rules are usually done in the same time frame as disclosures and informing respondents of environmental conditions (recording, mirrors, observers etc.). These ground rules help to reduce issues related to speaking volume, equal air time, time management, and indeed may foster discussions in which participants listen with interest to others’ points of view thereby often stimulating them to go deeper within themselves.

Research Guidelines for Focus Groups

RIVA has a set of guidelines that, no matter what type of project, have always worked to help keep everyone in the “game” focused and on track with the purpose statement.

Guidelines to make a discussion the most productive and enjoyable for everyone and what makes them important:

  1. Please talk one at a time.
    Since most sessions are recorded, this is optimal for important points to be captured as they were delivered. In addition, it assists participants in hearing everything clearly.
  2. Talk as loudly as the moderator (so that all may hear).
    This needs to be stated for the reasons listed above AND because respondents may not be accustomed to speaking in a voice easily heard within a group. The researcher may indicate the he/she may cup their hand to their ear to indicate the need for more volume when a participant is speaking too softly.
  3. Avoid side conversations. (All comments are important to research.)
    Every point of view in the group is important to be captured and may foster other’s participation whether they agree or not. A point to be made here is “I’m interested in all your views on this topic.”
  4. Work for “equal air time.” (No one talks too much or too little.)
    This can help to alleviate dominators and participants who are not accustomed to jumping into group discussions. It gives the QR a platform to call forth quieter respondents and to slow down more assertive participants when necessary.
  5. Allow for different points of view. (There are no wrong answers.)
    Please avoid saying “no right or wrong answers.” That is a misnomer. It’s either “no wrong answers” or “only right answers,” since all answers are equally important. Moderators/Interviewers are smart to demonstrate this point by maintaining neutrality and avoiding cheerleader responses. In other words, demonstrate interest in all comments.
  6. Say what YOU believe (even if no one agrees with you).
    Important how this point is made: avoid asking people to be ‘honest’ since this could sound as if you think they might be dishonest. This is where you underline that all points of view are valid – pro and con.
  7. One person up and out of the room at any one time (Keeps the session flowing and allows the group to end on time).
    For a productive session, you need respondents/participants in the room to maintain a flow of varied opinions from the majority in the group. This statement allows participants to manage themselves in terms of bio breaks etc. without disrupting the session.


It is highly recommended that ground rules be stated as the framework for the discussion. It is NOT housekeeping! The ground rules stated may apply to any group discussion and may be altered for individual interviews or modified slightly for online events. Asking respondents if they have questions is not recommended because they will ask on their own if they do and most likely have been given all relevant information when they were recruited for the group. The mindset of the qualitative researcher is one of giving people information that’s useful for the QRE.

Ground rules allow the qualitative researcher to maintain research rigor and keep their QRE on the train tracks to discovering the POBAs of their respondents.

Written by: Romaine Bailey, Master Coach