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For more information concerning Critical Insights' research practice and capabilities, please contact MaryEllen FitzGerald at (207) 772-4011 or via email at

Research Methods & Approaches

Qualitative research

Qualitative research is generally used for formative, exploratory purposes with data gathered from only a small number of respondents. While useful for examining issues in-depth and “drilling down” below the surface, results are not projectable to the population as a whole.

However, qualitative research is a valuable and fundamental step in many of our clients’ research efforts. Whether conducting a brainstorming session with consumers, gauging audience perceptions concerning a new brand positioning platform, or assessing reaction to marketing communications materials under development, qualitative research enables Critical Insights’ clients to hear the voices of their target audience and their thoughts and ideas – first hand. Deploying qualitative research allows clients to gain a firmer grasp of the rich context behind an audience’s attitudes and preferences.

In our qualitative research efforts, Critical Insights’ moderators employ probing and data gathering techniques developed over the course of having facilitated thousands of discussion sessions. Their broad experience and well-honed moderating skills allow us to flesh out the details and provide clients with answers to their most challenging business questions and problems.

Critical Insights’ experience encompasses both traditional, as well as more innovative, non-traditional methodologies in the area of qualitative research, including:

  • Traditional Focus Groups

  • Non-Traditional Data Gathering, such as friendship cells and ethnographic research. Please review the capsule below for a brief example of using non-traditional qualitative methods.

    Critical Insights recently conducted a large-scale, exploratory research effort on behalf of a health organization to assess the current attitudes, opinions and catalysts of tobacco use among college students. Instead of more traditional qualitative efforts – some of which have come to be seen as ineffective data gathering tools for this audience – we utilized a range of alternative qualitative efforts ranging from casual discussion groups convened in bars and taverns, to “friendship cells” designed to assess the impact of peer influences in small group settings, to using Blackberry handheld messaging devices in order to chronicle specific real-time thoughts and situational cues around smoking.

  • In-depth Interviewing. Please review the capsule below for a brief example of merging in-depth interviewing with a web-based interface.

    In needing to gather input from a specific and tightly-defined cohort of C-level executives regarding television advertising concepts under development, Critical Insights utilized a web-enabled solution coupled with in-depth interviewing. Instead of the expensive and time-consuming process of convening executive-level focus groups, Critical Insights developed a proprietary website to house the advertising materials and recruited participants to take part in the research online, directing them to examine the executions via the Internet in advance of a pre-scheduled appointment for an in-depth interview. Busy executives could simply view the materials at their convenience and the follow-up interview could be completed in less than 40 minutes. The research was completed in under a week, with results provided to our client in a fraction of the time it would have taken to convene traditional focus groups across the country – and at a fraction of the cost.

  • Our qualitative research staff has coordinated and conducted numerous qualitative research engagements – small and large – both locally (through our on-site, state-of-the-art focus group suite in Portland, ME) and nationally.


For more information concerning Critical Insights’ qualitative research practice, please contact MaryEllen FitzGerald at (207) 772-4011 or via Email at

Quantitative Approaches

While qualitative research uses small samples and is often used to explore issues with depth and detail, quantitative methods involve larger numbers of respondents and are typically employed in order to arrive at projectable, statistically-valid conclusions which can be inferred from the study sample to the population as a whole.

When a quantitative research solution is required, Critical Insights is well-equipped to deploy a variety of data gathering techniques on behalf of our clients: telephone surveys, Internet-enabled surveys, and self-administered mail surveys.

With a core focus on using data to help our clients solve business problems, Critical Insights offers cutting-edge quantitative expertise and an in-depth understanding of methodological design, sampling, and statistical analysis.

Critical Insights' quantitative research staff is experienced in working closely with our clients to guide them through the entire research process, including clarifying the research issues at hand, recommending an appropriate sampling approach fitting their unique needs, designing research instruments that cut to the heart of the matter and obtain the necessary information, and conducting the appropriate analyses.

We feel our approach to data analysis and reporting is unique and differs from many research providers. All too often, clients conduct quantitative research, only to have the work result simply in a "data dump" with no discernable conclusions, implications, or direction for implementation of the results. As a result, clients sometimes spend significant sums of money not on actionable research, but on reports and binders of quantitative data that sit -- largely unused -- on shelves or in filing cabinets. It is out position that the mark of good research is how often the results are accessed and the degree to which the research generates additional areas of inquiry. The latter tends to feed out of the former, but in the opinion of Critical Insights, a true indication of research quality is, essentially, how “dog-eared” and often tattered the research report is. Critical Insights is a firm whose work does not sit on the shelf untouched, but rather informs clients' decision-making and strategic planning, often on an on-going basis.

In short, we believe that understanding research results and their implications is essential to translating numbers and facts into action. Our analyses focus on the strategic and tactical implications of the research findings, with an emphasis on “next steps” and how client can turn the research findings into action.

Therefore, it is our practice to provide useable, pragmatic reports and presentations to our clients so that they might fully grasp the significance of the results, as well as consider ways in which action steps might be applied to the issues at hand. As a company policy, we do not place a limit on the number of presentations or workshops required by a client. Aside from any travel-related expenses and photocopying charges, there are no additional fees for this component of our work.

Through our on-site data collection facility at our Portland, ME corporate headquarters, our quantitative research staff has coordinated and conducted a variety of research engagements. Critical Insights’ broad experience includes both local efforts as well as large-scale, national assignments.

For a sampling of our recent quantitative efforts and how they helped our clients succeed, please see the brief capsules below:

  • Large-scale Telephone Surveys

    Critical Insights recently completed conducting the most recent Maine Adult Tobacco Survey (ATS), a year-long surveillance effort designed to provide population-based data on key health indicators ranging from the prevalence of tobacco use to the incidence of hypertension.

    The study involved a stratified sampling of 4,800 adults within the State. In this effort, we worked closely with the Centers for Disease Control and the Maine Bureau of Health, Department of Human Services.

    Although other states have historically garnered low response rates for surveys of this kind, we targeted an aggressive response rate for the Maine ATS. Our stringent efforts yielded response rates in the 55% + range and provided the Bureau of Health and the CDC with highly projectable data currently being utilized for health planning efforts at various levels of state- and federal-level agencies.

  • Large-scale Web Surveys

    Working with a non-profit health organization in the Midwest, this assignment was deployed to assess the attitudinal and behavioral impact of a media education campaign focused on health risk behaviors among college students. The study (still active) has involved four waves of cross-sectional surveys of students on four college campuses across the state of Minnesota, with nearly 6,000 completed surveys collected to date.

    As a means of collecting data from the transient, elusive and difficult-to-reach audience of college students, the study successfully provided not only evaluative data to gauge the campaign’s impact, but also ongoing diagnostic data that allowed for ongoing fine-tuning and adjustments to the campaign materials and related intervention efforts.


For more information concerning Critical Insights’ quantitative research practice and capabilities, please contact MaryEllen FitzGerald at (207) 772-4011 or via email at