How to step up your UX research efforts with effective note taking


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As user researchers, our strength lies in planning the research and interviewing real users of our product. The research we carry out allows us to have a solid base of ideas rather than a cloud of intuitions or assumptions that arise within the team. However, ideas are just the tip of the iceberg and what we don’t see is what lurks below the surface. The entire research structure is an elaborate process.

When observing research studies with a close lens, observation will always remain the research priority and is also a very important user experience practice. It requires researchers to be competent to listen to and understand users, delve into their needs, frustrations, motivations, behaviors, and finally determine observations. Such practice is highly efficient when a team of people participates in the research study to witness users and their problems.

But is observation the only critical responsibility when conducting research?

Well, no. Observation is only half the puzzle we are trying to solve. The other and often neglected half is Take notes. Observation and note taking go hand in hand, as a team, where different actors can bring different perspectives and lenses to the data collected.

Read: [How I use note-taking to understand my team better]

This teamwork can be accomplished by clearly dividing the roles between a moderator and a note taker:

Moderator – Conduct the session and interview the user.

Note taker – Observe and document the sessions, capturing comments, actions, behaviors and environments through notes. Here, the note taker can be another researcher, designer, prime minister, developer, business analyst … ANYONE!

Why is it important to take notes?

Unfortunately, note-taking is not easily accepted, and like me, many researchers must have been trying to explain its importance to the larger group with which they interact.

1. Taking notes is a basic user research skill

Is it really important to take notes? We are already observing this correctly, can we write only the interesting points?

“The report is not the only artifact of an investigative vision.”

The notes are the laymen who build the analysis and synthesis. What we capture shapes the way we understand the user, their experiences and problems. Each idea must have a genesis and must be traced to raw data, i.e. notes.

2. Responsibility

How does having such detailed notes help in the analysis?

While sessions can be recorded with informed consent, the notes are used to speed up the review process. Notes are easier to access than recordings, you can find what you’re looking for faster instead of revisiting your 45 minutes to an hour-long recording.

3. Facilitates monitoring

“The user mentioned something really interesting and wanted to know more about it. I really can’t remember at the moment. “

By Take notesYou may have opportunities to dig deeper into the research by asking follow-up questions.

Notes are useful when the observer wants to follow up on some questions based on user responses for maximum information or better understanding. These questions can be easily written down and asked at the end of the session.

4. Lack of reliability

“We can listen to the recordings later once we get back to work and complete the notes as well.”

Viewing the video / audio recordings after the investigation is a tedious task. After the investigation, the focus is on planning the analysis process and time is something we do not have on hand. Also, sometimes many of the people who accompanied you during the sessions may not be free to actively assist in the analysis as the work builds up, creating a backup record in your plan.

It is important to record the notes while present in the session, with this, you can capture more about the user than the video / audio recorder. You can also write down body language, behavior, and personality.

Lastly, the technology cannot be trusted 100%, the camera battery could die, the audio might not be captured, or there could be a technical problem. Therefore, it is always good to have documented notes as backup.

How to plan note taking?

Although you have managed to establish the importance of the note taker, there may still be some apprehensions:

“We cannot write notes as an investigator. You have been doing this for a long time.”

“I am too distracted listening to what the user says, so I miss everything”

“I make a lot of spelling mistakes, so I don’t think I can physically write notes”

Yes, taking notes comes naturally to some and is a chore to others. So here are some ways to start motivating your stakeholders to take notes during a research study and if you are someone who is not a researcher and having difficulty taking notes, I hope this helps …

Disclaimer: When writing notes, I do not mean the notes from the minutes of the meeting or a workshop, users’ research notes should be and are different. But these pathways can push you into the habit of writing anything and everything.

1. Identify your comfort level

Be sure to stick to a tool you are comfortable with; you can use a pen and paper or a laptop. Understand the conditions under which the investigation would take place (remote, walking, an unknown space, an investigation room) so that you can be prepared for it. Publicize your strengths to be taken into account and taken into account when planning the structure of the notes.

2. Know the type of study in which you will participate

Understand the type of study your team would be following and the amount of data it would extract. By being prepared, you ensure that the correct data is collected in an appropriate format that your team can work with.

A spectrum that shows how Take notes It varies from a small usability study to an ethnographic study.

The extreme range of grades depending on the type of study.

3. Familiarity with the script

For those involved in the research, it is essential to review the questions that will be asked and to know the flow of the session. This would help avoid confusion on the main day so that you can focus absolutely on capturing as much detail as possible.

Train yourself to take effective notes

The notes are not only good to have, something to elevate us as the voice of the user. In order to do something with them, we need to make sure that the notes are captured in the right way.

Here are some tips that worked while taking notes (trust me, that’s all I had to do for a couple of months as an intern) or when I involved people to observe my research sessions:

1. Establish a structure

This is where your research guide would help you prepare a document divided by the general themes mentioned in the interview question. Notes can be added to each section when covered during the interview. Discuss with the people you will be working with to make sure you have covered everything important.

A table with one column breaking down the interview from the main topics and the other column blank for notes