Market Research – How to Avoid Homework Pitfalls


Yes, homework assignments are a creative way to gain insights into respondents’ lifestyles, purchase processes, product usage, thoughts, dreams, aspirations and more. When done properly, homework assignments are a rewarding exercise for respondents and researchers alike.

But many researchers create assignments that are too long, too involved or too intrusive. And many times, respondents aren’t adequately compensated for the time they spend thoughtfully and thoroughly completing assignments.

The result?

Respondents who don’t take the homework assignment seriously eat up scarce resources and aren’t quality respondents. Respondents who decide not to complete the Homework Market usually cancel at the last-minute or don’t show for the focus group or interview.

What to do?

Give Respondents (And Field) Enough Time

When homework assignments are part of your methodology, give field services and respondents adequate time. Field services may need to purchase, package and ship materials to respondents. Respondents may need to purchase materials or do a shopping trip. And, of course, respondents need time to complete the homework assignment.

Explain in your screener invitation the level of commitment that you expect for the homework. Describe the assignment, the length and the items they should include. Tell respondents everything up front and give them the opportunity to decline the assignment.

Get homework assignments to respondents sooner than later. That way, field can follow up with respondents once they’ve received the assignment to make sure it’s what they were expecting. If it’s not, respondents may decide not to participate. Recruiters will need extra time to replace respondents who cancel (and cancel they will). Replacement respondents need ample time to complete the assignment.

When homework assignments are mandatory, an effective rule of thumb is to schedule more respondents than you need. This prevents last-minute scrambling to replace cancellations.

A Quick Word About Last-Minute Cancellations

Respondents who cancel last-minute, citing the difficulty, intrusiveness or length of the homework, are often just using the assignment as a reason to cancel. Explanations like, “it’s intrusive,” “it’s too long” or “I’m not comfortable putting pictures of my family in the journal,” may actually mean, “I’m not really interested in participating in your research and this is a good way out.” When respondents are recruited correctly, there should not be last-minute cancellations over homework concerns. Be prepared for last-minute cancellations, but remember that they are not always about the homework.

How to Encourage Participation

To help your respondents complete their homework assignments the way you want, encourage participation. Do this by making assignments interesting. Add a monetary incentive to persuade respondents to put real thought and effort into the project. And keep the homework short. Remember that respondents have more pressing issues in their lives. A sloppily done assignment is not going to help you. Keep assignments non-threatening, and respect each respondent’s privacy. Don’t be surprised if a respondent doesn’t want to include pictures of children in homework. Give other options in lieu of family photos, such as drawings or magazine cutouts.


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