Three Levels of Online Probing

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

thanks to Ninja M. for the photo
In asynchronous online research, I've observed three different levels of online probing:

1. No probing - passive watching
2. Clarification/completion probing - to get folks to fully respond, or to clarify things they've said
3. Iterative probing - a building question that tells folks not only are you listening and digesting what you've heard, but that it's sparked a new level of thinking that you'd like to further understand

Good activities inspire participants, helping them to release their full potential.  Good activities often result in emails at the end of the study like, "I'm so sad this is over! I loved getting to think about and contribute to this study!"  No, it's not ultimately about how much fun that participants have - that's not the end goal.  But, when folks are engaged like this they give MUCH more than they'd ever give if they were bored.  In fact, good activities make the researcher's job easier because there's no need to beg for full answers.  Participants volunteer them up with joy.  Good activities help to eliminate level two probing.

The third level of probing generates a sense of co-creation or partnership for the folks participating in the study.  In my experience, good activities help to get the researcher 98% of the way - avoiding clarification and completion probing.  I tend to use this type of probing for laddering, or complex ideas that require building on previous answers.

I'm a strong advocate of protecting participant time and valuing them through the study by utilizing probes that truly enable them to release their full potential.  I'm an advocate of level three probing - and using level two very sparingly.  What's your probing philosophy for online studies?

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