15 Minute Read
Great design is born out of great research. You’ve conducted research, analyzed the data, & have synthesized it into some great insights to share.
Those insights are only as great as how effectively they’re communicated.
One way to communicate research findings with your team or client is with a UX research report, but far too often they’re locked away in decks and fail to inspire the team or live on past a single cycle of work.
We all want to see research go on to create change and make a big impact on the product and/or business. UX research reports will vary slightly, but all good reports share common elements. They are persuasive, engaging, and use a story arc.
In this guide, we'll describe what those elements are and how to write a great UX research report that won’t end up in the powerpoint graveyard.
A UX research report is an artifact that contains the findings from a user research study. It’s how you explain behavior in order to inspire and persuade stakeholders. The report should provide enough detail to understand what people said, why they said it, and what implications those findings have on the product and/or business.
A UX research report is different from a design report, which focuses on the specifics of how a product should be designed. It’s also different from a usability report, which assesses how easy it is to use a product and areas to improve the user experience.
While usability testing can be a part of user research, user research is a much broader field that includes activities like interviews, surveys, and focus groups. Therefore, a UX research report will often include data from multiple types of user research methods.
What’s special about qualitative research is that when conducted correctly, it’s factual.
You can’t argue with the research itself because it was something you heard and observed firsthand, at least once. They aren’t guesses; you discovered actual pain points and problems by real people. And those moments are unique. No one can ever replicate the exact experience you had with the people who participated in your research at that point in time.
This is important when thinking about how to deliver a UX research report because you should account for the nuance that each study will have and aim to structure a UX research report that does justice to those moments and appropriately communicates the value of what you learned.
Research is likely something few others in the organization have had direct experience with. Expect a variety when it comes to your audience, and don’t assume they understand design or research jargon and industry terms.
Due to the newness of the findings, those viewing your UX research report might be skeptical, confused, or defensive. For example, a viewer of your report might have contributed directly to an idea or concept that your research findings are in conflict with.
Try to be empathetic for where they are coming from and what questions or presumptions they have that you might want to change or confirm. Optimize for the time-crunched and include an appendix for the curious-minded who want to dig deeper.
Since we know our research is unique and rare, it should come as no surprise that the structure of a report may need to change slightly depending on the project, the company, and the audience.
However, research reports that want to avoid the powerpoint graveyard should follow a basic storytelling arc. This arc will engage and resonate with the viewer, taking them through the research project over time. The goal is to touch their hearts and minds, leaving them feeling inspired to do something meaningful with the findings.
A basic arc includes the 3 c’s: context, climax, and conclusion. They become the stakes in the ground for how we will structure our research story.
Lead your UX research report with context, sharing the current state of the business, who conducted the research, and goals for the project. Since all great UX research starts with a clear plan and valid research goals, everything that follows should lead back to “what are we trying to learn?”
This sets the stage for everything that follows and provides a valuable overview for the viewer. Not everyone viewing it will have context or you there in the room to share it.
It’s also helpful when analyzing the research in the future and deciding how applicable it still is to current business and product needs. This is good practice when building up your knowledge network or repository.
Next, document the methods and activities used to uncover insights and why you chose them. This is helpful to build trust with stakeholders unfamiliar with the benefits of research. It’s equally useful for other researchers (and future you!) who want to know which activities yielded better insights or just want an unfiltered look into how conclusions were drawn.
For example, if you conducted interviews with participants, you would describe how many people you interviewed, what questions you asked, and how you recruited and screened them. If you conducted a survey, you would describe how many people responded to the survey, what types of questions were asked, and how the survey was distributed.
Creating empathy is a huge part of effective storytelling in your UX research report. Avoid dense paragraphs of text and instead rely on lots of video and audio clips, and photos taken in the field, of both the participant and their environment. If it was a remote research study, ask the participant to share photos.
Use verbatim quotes, and direct observations. Share moments of reflection that stand out in your mind as the research expert and ignite the viewer’s imagination. These anecdotes provide a tactile sense of experience that blends emotions with information to establish a human connection with your viewer.
Even small details that are seemingly unrelated are helpful to set the scene and build up empathy about the people you spent time with and learned from. Take your viewers on the journey, put them in the room, and let them experience the research with you.
Not only are these effective storytelling techniques, but they center the story around the participant rather than relying on you to be that single throughput and represent their needs and desires. This builds trust and credibility before hitting the viewer with insights and findings.
Insights and findings are at the core of your UX research report. You’ve created an unbiased narrative so far based on facts and truths, and with insights you start to stack assumptions, make inferences, & decide what that data means. This is where you engage with the creative part of delivering research findings.
Good insight statements should be concise, memorable, and complete. You should avoid using words like “sometimes”, “might”, or “could”... that inject doubt. Insight statements are assertions, provocations, and should be written as “truths of the world.”
They should stand on their own without any explanation. Insights should also be traceable back to the themes and original source data that informed them.
This part of your UX research report is important because they’re the insight your team and the organization will contemplate about and lean on during ideation in order to take big bets and risks.
It’s important that UX research reports don’t stop at high level truths.
A good story runs on specifics, and people need to know what to do next. The end of one research project should be the beginning of another project. End your UX research report with a vision of the future, inspiring them with opportunities and recommendations to take action.
These could be long-term goals that the team can work towards or short-term objectives that need to be met before the project's next phase. Lay out opportunities to do additional research or recommendations for solving problems surfaced with design or technology.
This section is crucial because it shows that you're thinking about the project beyond the scope of your research. It also shows that you understand the team, organizational, and business goals and objectives.
An appendix is a helpful way to include more detail for those who want it, while keeping the rest of the report high level.
Here is where you can include all of the raw data from your research project, such as photos, videos, or notes. It's essential to retain raw data in an unsynthesized form if your audience wants to review it or conduct additional analysis. At Notably, we think of this as the “red thread” that connects insights to source data.
It’s common to conduct secondary or desk research ahead of your primary research, digging into things like whitepapers, surveys, or research previously conducted. Make sure to also include those references alongside the other raw data that informed your research findings.
In science and academic research, traditional UX research reports are long, text-heavy documents or papers. In applied research, such as in the field of UX, research reports are typically formatted as shared documents, emails, or as a deck.
Time-crunched executives and curious-minded creatives crave different things when it comes to the delivery format of your research.
While we don’t advise locking data and insights into a deck, we recognize the reality and corporate culture that surrounds presentations, especially with executives and clients. Using the storytelling arc and rich anecdotes and verbatim quotes, you can whip up a formal summary in the form of a presentation that will make an impact.
In addition to a final presentation, we recommend for those using the research to make day-to-day decisions that you introduce a specialized research tool that democratizes the research data and insights so that they can be searchable, referenceable, and traceable back to the original source data. It’s important to close the gap between those who did the research and those using it, and tools designed for research make that easier than a powerpoint.
You can also use lightweight communication tools like email and slack to share high level takeaways from the research and link to the research project for further reading.