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Tips for establishing an ongoing user research and reporting habit—including a sample outline for consistent monthly or quarterly reports.
Okay, so we’ve identified the problem: Your research habits are garbage.
I’m joking, of course. But only a little... The fact is, building (and maintaining) better research habits is a common and persistent challenge for UX researchers, regardless of experience level. And you don’t read an article called “Building Better UX Research Habits” if your research habits are already pitch perfect.
So, let’s try to fix that. In the rest of this article, we’ll go over how to build a simple (i.e. easy to follow, i.e. easily repeatable) framework for more meaningful reporting that will give your team—and the insights that you generate—a seat at the decision-making table.
First, a couple prerequisites:
It’s hard to sway people you don’t understand. It’s equally hard to convey nuance to someone when you’re not speaking the same language.
So make things easier for yourself and get to know your audience.
If you haven’t already, it’s time to conduct some stakeholder interviews. Treat these initial interviews like you would discovery interviews with users. Keep things open-ended and find out what motivates people working in different parts of the organization. What does their day to day look like? Who do they collaborate with most often? Why (and how) do they care about the customer?
The insights you glean from these interviews should influence the way you deliver research results to respective stakeholders—everything from format to word choice to the information you choose to include.
Read more: Building a Research Practice at User Interviews: The First 30 Days — Our VP of User Research, Roberta Dombrowski shared her own approach to getting to know internal stakeholder needs during her first 30 days on the job.
Once you’ve got a handle on general stakeholder needs and motivations, you can start to dig a little deeper.
It’s a good idea to re-interview key stakeholders before kicking off a research study to find out what “success” would look like in their books. What are the kinds of insights they’re hoping to glean? What decisions are they trying to make based on the research?
But you don’t have to have 1:1 interviews with dozens of people before each project—an open-ended survey or questionnaire will typically serve just fine. If you find yourself needing more information from certain folks, follow up.
Why are you doing this research?
No, really—whyyyy? What are you trying to learn that you don’t already know? What will you do with that information? What decisions will this research impact?
Our VP of User Research, Roberta Dombrowski recently shared an excellent framework for doing more decision-driven research. It’s a tool that our own UXR team uses to do high-impact research that is used to make key business decisions.
Like all frameworks, the Decision Driven Research framework works by introducing constraints—tying research efforts to actionable answers is a forcing function for doing more focused research that meets the demands of stakeholders.
When you know how you’re going to use the research, defining clear study goals becomes a lot easier. Success = answers to the questions blocking confident, informed decisions.
Now that we’ve got the foundational work out of the way, let’s skip past the bit where you, you know, actually research, and jump to the part where you’re ready to share your findings.
The first step toward better habits? Just doing the dang thing.
Here’s an outline that you can adapt to whichever reporting format you think you’ll be most useful for your team:
In this section, outline the parameters of your study. Share what company goals and pain points you’ve been studying and why this information is valuable. Hook your audience with information that you know (because, stakeholder research) they’ll find interesting.
What key decision do you have to make? What research questions did you want answered to help inform your decision?
In this section:
Tie your research to top-line business metrics—show a path between your research and overall revenue/growth goals.
In this section, include:
Explain your methodology and approach in plain language that non-researcher stakeholders can understand.
In this section, include:
What did you learn as a result of your research? Summarize your learnings as concisely as possible. Remember your stakeholders aren’t researchers and don’t have the context you do—help them make sense of the data.
In this section, include:
Share potential solutions to problems that you observe. In some cases, your users may even nominate solutions during their interviews. You might also develop potential solutions, along with your research team.
In this section, include:
If you can guide leaders through the process of choosing a path forward—a feature to build, for instance—that supports your organization’s bottom line, you’ll leave stakeholders with no questions about the value of research or the importance of having UXR at the decision-making table.
Note: Take care not to confuse your own opinions with agnostic recommendations based on data and informed observations.
Give stakeholders and teammates the opportunity to become more invested in your work. Build a simple form (we use Google Forms) and let people contribute research question ideas or share recommendations for interview questions..
If non-researchers want to participate more actively, make the next steps clear. Let folks indicate the roles they’re interested in playing, such as: people who are interested in planning studies, administering interviews, authoring a report, or simply learning.
Hands down, the best format for communicating user research results is the format that stakeholders and team members will actually use.
The people reading your research reports, clicking through your slide decks, or watching live presentations probably don’t have the time to read, react, and respond to all your findings and recommendations.
It’s up to you, as the researcher, to choose which details are most relevant to your audience. Sometimes that means sharing the same research in multiple different ways with different stakeholders—the insights that hook your sales leaders, for example, are likely not the same as the ones that jump out to the design team.
Over time, you will identify themes that you can continue to reinforce and share information about in more depth. Again, these themes may differ depending on your audience.
Since figuring out what to include in your reports is tricky enough, we put together a collection of 31 user research report and presentation templates and examples to make the rest of the reporting process a little easier.
There is no one-size-fits-all to a successful reporting process, but having a degree of standardization will help establish predictability and accountability. Well-defined reporting processes add structure to open-ended, generative research methods. And structure is essential for making sure that you’re communicating the right information to stakeholders, getting buy-in into your insights, and aligning efforts with revenue.
A consistent company update, sent monthly or quarterly, will help your entire organization understand the value of the work you’re doing and, eventually, come to rely on user research as the key to confident decision making.
Content marketer by day, thankless servant to cats Frodo and Elaine Benes by night. Loves to travel, has a terrible sense of direction. Bakes a mean chocolate tart, makes a mediocre cup of coffee. "Eclectic."