Using the iPad for Qualitative Research

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My current research examines the interface between sales and marketing functions within organizations. In a nutshell, I examine how the often sub-optimal structural, relational, cultural, and process-related dynamics between these two functions have deleterious effects on a company's strategy development processes and business outcomes. The primary data collection methodology I use in my research is qualitative- that is, my data come from the in-depth interviews I conduct with sales and marketing managers across different industries. The interviews range from anywhere between 45 to 90 minutes and I try to conduct a majority of the interviews in person.

For over a year, I have been thinking about better utilizing technology to aid my research activity. Thanks to a multi-year Research Grant from the Faculty Development Center at UST, I was able to purchase an iPad recently from the grant funds and take a deep dive into experimenting with how technology may make my research process more streamlined and effective.

I must say that the experience so far has been overwhelmingly positive. The iPad has become my primary and a favorite “research assistant.” In the past, I used to carry around a digital audio recorder for recording interviews, which I would manually transfer to my laptop later. At times, I have endured the frustration that results from the recorder battery running out half-way through the interview. The iPad solves this issue fully. I use an app (iTalk) that turns my iPad into a recording device that can easily store large audio files. Further, since the iPad has almost 10-hour worth of battery life, I am able to recharge the device through any electrical outlet. So, the iPad now records and stores my interview data with minimal complications. I have also downloaded a dictation app (Dragon Dictation) for data transcription. This app allows me to speak into the iPad and it transcribes my speech. I am currently training this software for increasing the transcription accuracy.

Since I do qualitative work, I often show my informants my working models during the interview- for example; I may show them the strategy implementation framework I am currently developing based on the previously collected data and seek their feedback. My iPad not only allows me to pull up the necessary documents on the screen; the GoodNotes app I have downloaded actually allows the informants to “interact” with the framework. That is, they can offer their ideas/suggest modifications to my frameworks by drawing diagrams/figures/boxes/arrows with their fingertips on the iPad screen itself. From a qualitative research standpoint, such contextual interaction with, and feedback from the informant is priceless!

I am currently experimenting with the “Document To Go” app that allows one to “convert” the MS Office (Word, Power Point) files into iPad compatible formats. I am hoping that this will further enhance the interface between my laptop and my iPad by allowing them to communicate with each other seamlessly. The recently launched iCloud service is turning out to be extremely helpful, too. I am currently in the process of moving all my research-related material to the “Cloud.” Once it is done, all I will need is my iPad and a wi-fi connection no matter where I am and I will be ready to go.

Overall, I must say that I am very impressed with my new and versatile “research assistant.” I know that I am barely scratching the surface. But using an iPad has made doing research more fun and seamless. The connectivity it offers to me while still being mobile is an added bonus. Whether this wonderful assistant will help me publish more remains to be seen. Only time will tell!


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