I learned about UX research by osmosis for about 15 years before getting any actual training in it. I took notes in sessions, slogged data, edited reports, and listened to countless executive presentations of findings and recommendations. It wasn’t until I understood the value of these 5 questions that I realized I could lead my own UX research project:

“What do we want to find out?”

Think about what kind of results you need/want before starting, and work backwards.


  • Need pie charts to show your supervisor? Use surveymonkey to create an online survey of 100 people
  • Need to know if people can find something? Start users on the homepage, and ask them to perform a task on the site. Measure success/failure and task time. Then ask them for a satisfaction rating (“Overall, how easy or hard was that?”).
  • Want to know what kinds of content is appealing to your users? Print out copies of 5 different homepages, and ask participants to circle the content areas that speak to them. Ask them to cross out all the ones that aren’t. Then ask “Why?”
  • Need wording for a label? Show people the destination page without a label and ask them what they’d call it

There are no rules about how to get input from users. Sometimes the best tests are the simplest.

“Who do we need to talk to?”

Five users is enough.

If your user groups are very distinct, choose 3 from each group (e.g., 3 diplomates, 3 candidates, 3 program directors, and 3 medical office staff). Just by being human, they’ll catch the most glaring issues, as well as whatever comes up within their particular content areas.

“How do we ask?”

Ask open-ended questions… but not too open.


  • “What is this page telling you?”
  • “Where might you click?”
  • “What might you expect to happen when you click here?”
  • “Does this page look easy to use? Why or why not?”

Not so good:

  • “Do you understand what this is?” (They might say yes, but be wrong!)
  • “Do you like this page?” (They’ll offer this info anyway, but it’s more valuable to you to know why, and whether they’re able to accomplish what they need to.)
  • “What do you think of this page?” (They may hate one photo and talk about why, without getting to the issue that you are wondering about.)

“What did we learn?”

Last but not least… listen. Listen during the session by letting them talk, and afterward by compiling and organizing your results.

From your results (the raw data), you can create findings. This is the part no computer can do, regardless of the software you use. Taking all the objective and subjective factors into account and in context is a unique human ability. If you’re present at the time of the research activity, you’ll find you can spout out a majority of what you heard without even consulting your notes. Quotables can help emphasize the main points.

“What do we do with what we learned?”

Remember, you’re not taking orders. Avoid giving participants the impression that they’re “voting.” You’re taking input from all perspectives and will consider all factors. Based on your findings, you might make an immediate change, adopt a new practice, or change your web strategy. Almost every test will invite you to perform a follow-up test, and the fun begins again.

UX Research Tip

The results of your study can be simple too. All you need is a brief summary of what you wanted to find out and from whom, then a list of findings. Pepper it with a few quotables for emphasis, and you’ve got your report. See this sample.