The qualitative research homework assignment

The Dreaded Qual Homework Assignment

HCPs (and let’s be honest, most people) have mixed reactions to homework assignments of any kind. On the one hand, they appreciate that qual homework can save time and make the interview more effective. If the topic or assignment itself is particularly interesting or novel, they may enjoy getting the extra time to prepare, and it could even be fun!

On the other hand, there are also reasons they don’t like homework. HCPs may worry they won’t have enough time to complete the assignment when it is convenient for them. They may think the homework is difficult – that it is too involved or requires too many steps to complete. Or the homework may seem redundant or irrelevant to the interview from their perspective.

However, qual homework is a valuable tool in healthcare research and is part of many qualitative projects.

What do we mean by Homework?

In qualitative research, homework is a task the participant completes before the interview. Homework can include collecting information from patient charts, a short survey about their prescribing history and regimens used for specific ailments, or a breakdown of patient types. The homework assignment might also deliver information to the participants, for example, a pre-read of background information for the research or data to set expectations about the interview. It could involve the HCPs downloading technology for data collection. The HCP’s homework assignment could ask them to bring examples of something to the discussions, such as tangible items for a packaging study or providing photographs and screenshots.

Homework helps researchers make the most of their time with the HCP by ensuring everyone has the information they need to make the interview most productive. For that reason, it makes sense to do everything possible to ensure that HCPs can complete the homework easily and without anxiety.

Homework Best Practices

Here are some qualitative homework best practices for research with HCPs:

  • Determine early in the project design if you will ask participants to complete homework. That way, completing homework can be included in the recruiting process and will allow for ample time for both you and your client to have the assignment prepared for participants AND for participants to complete the assignment in advance of their interview.
  • Give an accurate time estimate of how long the homework will take and remember that shorter is better.
  • Explain the purpose of the homework to the participants. Understanding why you are asking them to do it will automatically increase their willingness to participate.
  • Explain how you will be using their homework to the participants and ensure you are obtaining adequate consent from participants during recruitment. Is it possible an HCP might have HIPAA concerns if you are asking for information from patient charts? Have you asked for videos or other personal identifiable information? You can preempt these concerns when you craft your homework assignment.
  • Pay your participants for the time they will spend completing the homework assignment. Including this time in estimating your honoraria will earn higher cooperation rates (and less ill will).
  • Make it easy to complete and submit the homework assignment. Short, digital submissions are easier for everyone, so think mobile, or a brief online survey. Keep it short for better and more timely responses. And forget paper and pencil – HCP handwriting is too difficult to decipher! 😉
  • Instructions should be clear and accurate. HCPs have no patience for confusing instructions, so be sure that you identify the requirements and that directions are perfectly clear. Ideally, they should not have to call for assistance. If you’re asking respondents to complete multiple steps (i.e. downloading an app and completing tasks within that app), providing technology support contact information (an e-mail address is better than a phone number) to help respondents troubleshoot when needed is imperative.
  • Allow time for completing the assignment. You should plan for generous time for HCPs to submit their homework, and even with that, some specialists will always require more time. Your research provider can help you plan a realistic schedule.
  • Reschedules due to not completing homework are inevitable. Build in extra time to your availability for these reschedules. Alternatively, you might want to consider allowing respondents to complete homework after their interview. This option is especially effective if you have an especially tight timeframe in field.
  • Monitor completions and follow-up. Don’t just assume the HCPs are submitting their homework. You will need to monitor this and gently remind them that you are waiting for their assignments. If you are using a third-party platform or app, make sure you use one that has a robust monitoring function that will send daily updates on each respondent’s completion. 
  • Use the homework information in the discussion. HCPs will not appreciate having completed homework, only for it to be ignored by the interviewer. At a minimum, if you are not using it in the interview, explain why and how you will be using it.
  • Listen to respondents! They often have good feedback about the assignment and making simple tweaks can enhance data quality.
  • Thank them! Completing homework for a qualitative marketing research project is extra work for the HCP and far outside their usual work behavior. So be sure to acknowledge that and show your appreciation to your participants.


Use these best practices to set your study up for success by knowing your target audience and increasing participant compliance to ensure maximum value-add. You can make sure that your homework assignments add to the discussion and help make the process easier, enhancing both the client and respondent experience while the insights you gain are even stronger. And you’ll be less likely to hear that old excuse, “The dog ate my homework!”

Learn more about using Homework to enhance Healthcare qualitative. Contact Reckner today