Tips For Choosing A Coding Partner

If you work in marketing research, you’ll probably need a coding partner at some point.

Open-ended questions can provide valuable, spontaneous insight that can’t be captured with scale questions, answer lists, or text analytics. The most accurate way to reveal those insights is to manually code the open-ended comments. Manual coding identifies and groups together similar comments so that the patterns of meaning can be quantified and reported.

If you find yourself needing a verbatim coding partner, how do you go about finding one? Here are a few tips to help you navigate the process.

Things to Think About

As you consider evaluating a new coding partner, think about your coding or reporting needs. Are your coding requirements pretty simple, or are they somewhat complex? Do you need consumer verbatim coding, medical coding, technical coding, image coding, IVR coding, video/image coding or social media coding?

What data-collection method are you using? What format is the data in? Which languages do you need verbatims to be coded in now, and will your needs change in the future? Do you have an existing codeframe (a list of proposed codes) to work from? Do any codeframes need to be shared across questions? What threshold do you want codes set at (1%, 2%, or 5% mentions)?

Do you prefer detailed coding or broad code categories? Do you have a maximum size for your “all other” codes? Do you want the output formatted in a particular way? Do you want to approve the codeframes once they’re set.

Questions to Ask a Potential Coding Partner

It would be good to know how experienced the coding staff is and where they’re located. What quality procedures do they follow? Do they have intercoder reliability checks? What software do they use, if any? Are they providing human coding or machine coding? If you’re paying for human coding, then that’s what you should get. And if you’re looking for a long-term coding partner, ask for references. It’s important that the coding company can provide them.

Ask what languages they can code in and whether they provide native, in-language coding (which saves time and money and provides an understanding of cultural nuances). Should the codeframe be in English or in the native languages? If all other things are equal, language capabilities might be a tiebreaker for you.

What Other Services Could the Coding Partner Offer?

You’ll want to find out what other research services they offer besides coding. Do they offer translations? What about text analytics, data entry, or tabulation services? Do you want a quality audit of your open-ended responses to identify poor respondents and eliminate them from the research? Do you need full-service consulting? Do they have professionals who can help you with research design or who have specific industry expertise?

The Proof is in the Pudding

Ask to see a sample of their coding work, using a small sample of data you’ve already coded (if possible). Check to see how well they follow your rules or standards, that the codes are easy to understand, and that codes are applied in order of mention. Do they accurately group similar codes into “nets”?

A good coding partner will be happy to invest a little upfront time and effort into you and your potential partnership. Getting a coding demo will give you a sense of their coding ability, quality standards, and comparability to any previous coding you’ve done, as well as what their deliverables would be and how well you would work together.

Do They Respect Your Time?

If you find that your initial emails and phone calls don’t get a quick response, then chances are you won’t get a quick response later on when you really need it. It’s likely you’ll often need information fast and won’t have time to wait half a day, wondering if your email has been read or if your voicemail message has been received. A person’s—or a company’s—responsiveness is a good indication of what kind of partner they’ll be.

What Is the Price?

You’ll find that the standard way of pricing is cost per coded response, with separate costs for full-verbatim responses versus brand codes or other-specify responses. There may be a setup fee per project or a charge for the creation of each codeframe. Additional factors that affect the cost are the language(s) of the verbatims, (non- English languages cost more) and the type of verbatims (consumer, technical, medical, etc.). To help you determine which coding partner offers the best value, also consider how experienced their coding staff is, as well as the company’s ability to provide a range of services.

Final Thoughts

With the help of today’s technology, respondents are willing and able to share opinions now more than ever. The inclusion of open-ended questions in surveys is on the rise, and there is tremendous value in these open-ended survey comments. They can provide understanding that you just can’t get any other way. If you’ll keep these tips in mind the next time you’re searching for a coding partner, I’m sure you’ll find a good one.

About the Author

Lisa Hazen has more than 30 years of marketing research experience and leads a team of experienced and quality-driven coders. Lisa is happy to talk with you anytime about your coding needs or to answer any questions you might have.

If you have questions or would like more information about our coding services, contact Lisa Hazen, President (Lhazen@nuancecoding.com), at 1-817-640-6170.