Editor’s note: Desirae Cox is the senior project director at Echo MR. This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared under the title “Do your participants have “the write” stuff?” 

In the past few decades, research has seen a massive expansion to the virtual world. Online discussion boards, co-creative activities and various other methodologies have emerged as fruitful ways to gather insights, all while participants sit comfy and cozy behind a screen. Research in the virtual space has endless benefits, but also presents new challenges. Nonverbal long format and interactive research activities come with their own challenges, especially in our era of internet slang and shorthand.

Written articulation is most important when there’s little to no verbal component of your research design. The significance depends on where you’re relying most to find your insights. If you’re conducting one-on-one interviews or focus groups, a participant’s ability to write down their thoughts is likely not as relevant. Every person has their preferred method of communication and many people excel at verbal expression but fall short when it comes to putting their pen to paper. This isn’t to say that including a short open end in your screener or questionnaire isn’t necessary, but we’ll touch more on this later. 

Checking a respondent’s ability to thoroughly write or type out their thoughts is most critical when your research consists of such. Are you encouraging everyone to interact with one another in forum style chats? Is this a live session where participants are typing out responses and thoughts in real time? How about a diary study, where you’re wanting candidates to track their day-to-day habits and perceptions? If your data depends on the participant’s ability to relay the bulk of their information from a pen or keyboard – then you’ll most definitely want to build in written articulation questions i...