Qualitative research is used to understand human behavior. There are a variety of qualitative research methods that can be used to gather data about users and their needs.

In this blog post, we discuss when to do qualitative research, the different methods to collect data, and tips for choosing the right method or combination of methods for your research. 

Plus, a handy UX methods cheat sheet to reference in a time crunch. 

Align on depth and rigor of research

Ahead of any research project, it’s important to first consider how much research needs to be done. This will also help to narrow down the right method(s) to choose for your project. Not all research can be approached with the same depth and rigor due to the realities of business constraints, so tradeoffs need to be made. 

Framework Credit: Jeanette Fuccella
Source: https://uxdesign.cc/building-a-framework-for-prioritizing-user-research-ed46622ead99

Ask the following to yourself, your team and/or stakeholders:

  • How much time do we have for research?
  • What’s the risk if we don’t do research?
  • How clear are we on the problem?

Once you have aligned on the time and scale of research, there are a couple more steps ahead of choosing the right research method(s).

Define your research statement

Before you can determine which research method(s) to use, you should first define your research statement. This will be a short sentence that clearly explains what your project is trying to achieve.

For example, suppose you are working on a redesign of a website. In that case, your research statement might be "To understand how users interact with the current website and identify areas for improvement."

When it comes to this research statement, be as specific as possible. This will help you expand on your plan with clear and actionable research goals.

Determine your research goals

After you have defined your research statement, you need to determine your research goals. These are the objectives that you want to achieve with your research.

Some possible research goals for a website redesign could be to understand user needs, identify pain points with the current design, and generate ideas for the new design. Again, be as specific as possible with your research goals. This will help you choose the best method to answer your user research questions.

Here are five common research goals:

  1. To understand user behavior
  2. To uncover user needs
  3. To generate new ideas
  4. To validate assumptions
  5. To compare designs

Decide between generative or evaluative research

The next step is to decide if it makes sense to do generative or evaluative research. Generative research is used to generate new ideas, while evaluative research assesses the effectiveness of those ideas. 

Continuing with the website redesign example, you’ll want to do generative research to discover opportunities for new ideas. However, if you have already designed the website and want to test whether or not it’s usable, you would want to do evaluative research.

Choosing either generative or evaluative research will significantly narrow down the methods to choose from.

Choose your method or methodologies

Now that you have aligned on the depth and rigor of research, defined your research statement and goals, and decided on generative or evaluative research, we can choose our method(s).

Something to keep in mind when reviewing this list is a mixed methods approach. Mixed methods are when you select more than one method of collecting data in a single research study to achieve greater insight. This can be a combination of quantitative and qualitative research, too. For example, you may find that you want to ask users to complete a survey and also do a follow-up 1:1 interview.

Generative research methods

  • 1:1 interviews: Here you'll be speaking to a user for up to 90 minutes to understand what they think about certain concepts. You'll want to be prepared with a guide or script with questions to ask the user so that you can get as much information as possible.
  • Lightweight interviews or intercepts: These are short, sometimes only 5 minute interviews where you catch a user at a particular point in the journey in their natural environment to gather immediate feedback.
  • Focus groups: These are facilitated group discussions about their attitudes and feelings about a specific topic. They can be useful for gathering a large amount of data in a short period of time
  • Mental model interview: With this method, you'll be trying to understand the journey that a user goes through. This is all about understanding the needs and wants of a user, through their own experiences.
  • Diary study: A diary study is where you ask users to document their thoughts and experiences over a period of time, which can be anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.
  • Participatory or co-design: As with 1:1 interviews, you'll be discussing a certain concept with the user. During such interviews, the user will ideally design an experience with you.
  • Journey map interviews: This technique is used to understand the different steps a user goes through when trying to accomplish a certain task. This can be done through 1:1 interviews, or by observing users as they use a product.
  • Contextual inquiry: This type of interview is where you observe the user in their natural environment. This can be done in person or remotely.

Evaluative research methods

  • Usability testing: With this method, you'll be testing how easy it is for users to use your product or service. This can be done through in-person or remote testing.
  • A/B testing: This is a method of comparing two variants of a product to see which one performs better. It's important that you test at a large scale, making small differences to each version to see which performs better.
  • Eyetracking: This is a method of tracking the eyes of a user while they’re using a product to find out what capture’s their attention and where they get stuck in a task flow.
  • Surveys: This is a great way to collect quantitative data about how users feel about a certain product. Surveys can be done through online platforms or in person.
  • Heuristic evaluation: With heuristic evaluation, you evaluate a product or service against a set of defined criteria. This can be done by oneself or with a team.
  • Card sorting: This method is used to understand how users group information. This is primarily used for information architecture.
  • Benchmarking: This is a method of comparing a product or service against other similar products or services. During benchmarking, you'll need to track metrics to see how well users perform.

Now that you've selected your user research methodology, it's time to start collecting the data. First, prepare your questions.

Write your research questions

Once you have chosen your method or combination of methods, it's time to write your research questions. This is an important step, as your research questions will determine the quality of the data that you collect. For generative research in an interview setting, you’ll want to ensure questions are open-ended and generate conversation. For evaluative research, they should instead be specific and tactical. 

Some examples of research questions include:

  • Describe the last time you did [task].
  • How are you currently solving [problem]?
  • What is your first impression of [solution]?

In Notably, you can add research participants ahead of conducting interviews or sending out your survey and set up documents with your research questions and guide.

How your methods inform data collection, analysis, and synthesis.

Collect the data

Choose the appropriate tool for collecting and analyzing your data. If you chose a survey as your method, then consider options like Typeform or Survey Monkey. If you chose 1:1 interviews, you can use Notably’s Zoom integration to automatically collect and transcribe videos into a project.

Analyze the data

The type of research method you choose will determine the best process for analyzing your data. For example, if you asked users about their experience navigating a series of events then it makes sense to organize those research notes in a journey map for analysis. If you had open-ended conversations, affinity mapping could be effective for finding patterns and themes.

Synthesize into insights

Finally, once you have analyzed the data, it's time to write up your findings. This includes writing insight statements that are backed with data as evidence, bringing people along on the research with you. Notably, you can use insights to present your research goals, methodology, findings, and recommendations clearly and concisely.

Create your own AI-powered templates for better, faster research synthesis. Discover new customer insights from data instantly.

UX research methods cheat sheet

We've taken all of the above and summarized them into this handy UX research methods cheat sheet. If you need something short and sharp to guide you through your next qualitative research project, then we recommend this cheat sheet as your guide.

Framework Credit: Jeanette Fuccella
Source: https://uxdesign.cc/building-a-framework-for-prioritizing-user-research-ed46622ead99

Download this cheatsheet as a PDF


Next time you’re faced with choosing a research method or combination of methods, use the cheat sheet in this article and move forward with confidence that you’ll learn what you need to in order to deliver value and meaningful insight to your team.

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