Learn the Lingo! A Glossary of Market Research terms

Learn the Lingo! A Glossary of Market Research terms

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Learn the Lingo! A Glossary of Market Research terms

Every industry speaks in its own language and market research is no exception. Whilst I try to avoid jargon on this website it is sometimes necessary to use words that are either particular to the industry or mean a particular thing when used to describe research. And you will often see these terms used elsewhere. A large part of my mission for OrangeSheep Research is to demystify the research process for non-researchers and let you into our world, a world of teledepths and tabs, of CATI and CAPI, and of panels and participants.  Below are some of the common terms you will come across when talking about market research along with what I hope are useful explanations as to what they mean.

I will edit this blog to add to this list as and when terms arise that I feel it would be useful to include, so if there are any words we use which have you scratching your head let me know via twitter (@orangesheepres) or the contact page of this website and I’ll add it in!

Ad-hoc research

A one-off study, not part of a tracker

Analysis variable

A subgrouping that the data will be analysed by, for example gender, age etc.


A description of the research problem that needs solving, including any background information needed for context. Sometimes also includes logistical matters such as timeframe and budget.  Researchers will use a brief from a client to design their research.


Computer-Assisted Personal Interviewing: an interviewer is asking the questions face-to-face and recording the responses on their tablet/laptop/computer


Computer-Assisted Telephone Interviewing: an interviewer is asking the questions over the telephone and recording the responses on their computer


Computer-Assisted Web Interviewing: generic term for online surveys, unlike CAPI and CATI these don’t usually involve an interviewer, instead the participant self-completes the questionnaire


The process by which open-ended responses are grouped into groups of similar responses so they can be analysed quantitatively

Cross break / X-break

See Analysis variable. Literally, a variable you “break” the data down by that goes “across” the top of the data tables (usually).

Data tables / tabs

Survey results shown in tabular form, usually with a row for each possible response and columns for each analysis variable to show the percentage of people that gave each response in each group

Depth interview

A qualitative research interview, conversational in style and seeking to probe participants to gather in-depth information into the subject being researched. See also teledepth.

DIY survey tools

Many companies now offer online software you can use to programme your own online questionnaire, saving time and money. Popular ones include surveymonkey, surveygizmo, google forms and my personal favourite Typeform.

Focus group

When a researcher brings together a group of people (usually 4-8 people) to discuss a topic in depth. This may or may not involve the group completing tasks. Focus groups can be held in person (often in a purpose-built viewing facility) or online, in a chat-room style format.

Market Research Society (MRS)

The industry body for the market research industry. They have a code of conduct all members must abide by, so it is worth checking any research supplier you use is a member to protect yourselves and your customers.

Mystery Shopping

Involves a researcher pretending to be a customer of the business being examined. The researcher will have a list of tasks to fulfil, for example asking for assistance with a task, checking the room layout or noting whether things are in place (e.g. menus on tables). They will fill in their own questionnaire without letting on to staff what they are doing. This is seen as an objective way of measuring the customer experience and checking that company policy and instructions are being adhered to.


A large survey comprised of many smaller surveys – clients will each have just a few questions on the survey and receive data only for their own questions plus any demographics they have specified.  A brilliant way to save on set up and running costs if you are trying to interview the general public (for example) rather than your own customers.

Open-ended questions

Questions in a quantitative survey which don’t have pre-defined response options, allowing the participant to type in their answer freely (or speak freely if the interview is being conducted over the telephone or face to face)


Many companies maintain survey “panels”, that is, a group of people who are interested in taking part in research. They sell access to these participants for survey purposes and will usually host the survey for you if it is online. This can be a very cost effective way of doing research with groups of people with particular characteristics, such as people who have bought a car in the last 12 months, as the panels will hold this sort of information about their people and will be able to target the invitations accordingly.


The person who is taking part in your survey. Often also called a respondent.

Qualitative research

Qualitative research is conversational in approach, questions are asked in an open fashion allowing the participant to elaborate on their responses. This allows for a greater depth of information to be gathered. Analysis usually highlights themes but does not quantify responses with proportions or numbers.

Quantitative research

Quantitative research is your classic “survey”, using questions with pre-defined response options to produce numerical data (“30% of customers think X”).


Any targets set on the number of responses you want to achieve in your survey.  For example, you might want 50% of responses to be from men and 50% to be from women.


The person who is taking part in your survey. Participant tends to be the preferred term these days.

Response rates

The number of people who respond to a survey as a proportion of the number invited. A good response rate is essential for reliable, robust survey findings.


The initial list of people you will invite to take part in your survey.  This could be a list of your customers, or a list of contacts with particular characteristics that you have purchased from a company.


“Selling Under the Guise of research” – some companies invite people to take part in “research” but the questions are all geared towards promoting and even directly selling their product. Definitely not allowed under MRS rules – sugging has an extremely negative impact on the public’s perception of research and erodes trust. This in turn affects response rates. A company that engages in sugging may find their customers less likely to be willing to take genuine surveys they wish to carry out in future.


A depth interview carried out by telephone.

Topic Guide

Like a questionnaire, but rather than set questions the interviewer (or moderator) has a list of topics they need to cover. Used for qualitative research such as depth interviews and focus groups.

Tracker / Tracking study

A survey that is repeated (e.g. monthly, annually) where changes in the results are as important as the results themselves. For example a survey to track satisfaction with a service, or awareness of a brand.


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