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A reference tool that researchers use during qualitative research containing details about how each research session should be conducted.


  • A statement of what is to be discussed and how it will be discussed during each research session.
  • A tool to ensure consistency across research sessions, regardless of how many different researchers there are conducting sessions.
  • A discussion guide highlighting the important topics of conversation and the important hypotheses or objectives that the researcher needs to investigate.

Use when

  • You’re preparing for research sessions.
  • You’re in the middle of a research session and need to confirm you’re sticking to the plan and haven’t forgotten anything.

Discussion guides are not

  • Surveys to be read aloud – Most exploratory research sessions are not about asking a fixed set of questions and writing down answers – that’s what surveys are for.
  • Prescriptive about the order of topics for discussion – this is controlled by the researcher conducting each session.


Discussion guides are a good way of ensuring that someone else can replace you in a research session without much difficulty if needed. Make sure there’s enough detail in your guide to allow for this.

Create a mind map in your discussion guide that can act as an ‘at a glance’ reminder of the key elements you need to explore in the interview. Lists of questions to tick off often results in researchers reading through the list of questions, which is not the point. Mind maps help researchers stick to a plan while being flexible to the dynamics of real contextual conversations.

Reviewed 15 April 2020

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