Conducting research, whether it is user, customer or employee research, can be a challenging and complex process, especially for new researchers. When I was a new UX researcher I often made these mistakes simply because they are easy to make. Even today with more experience, I have to check in with myself to make sure I don’t fall into some of these traps again. Although some of them are small they can lead to impacting your overall findings and recommendations.
Here are 4 mistakes I made when conducting research and how to avoid them:
Asking leading questions
The mistake: Leading questions are questions that suggest a specific answer or bias the participant toward a particular response. For example: “Do you agree that this product is difficult to use?” This question leads the participant toward saying the product is difficult to use when they may have not come to this conclusion on their own.
How to avoid it: The easiest way to avoid leading questions is to ask open-ended questions or if you ask a yes or no question then always ask why. This will give them a chance to provide their own feedback without bias.
The mistake: As a researcher, I can get very excited when a participant says something “quotable” or has a very strong opinion about something. I will think, “This will be fantastic to use in the final report and I’m really going to impress the stakeholders/clients!”. The thing is; however, that the loudest voice in the room isn’t the majority. In other words, even though a participant has insightful or strong opinions it doesn’t mean they are significant unless this comes up repeatedly across the participants.
How to avoid it: Always check that a theme is across a large enough group of participants. My rule of thumb is that it should always be a majority of people across a sample size before I will categorise something as a theme.
The mistake: Conducting good interviews is not as easy as some people think, and it’s definitely not just asking a list of questions. Instead, it is active listening. The mistake I made in the past was just asking my questions and not engaging meaningfully with the participants.
How to avoid it: We need to listen intently to what the participant is saying and refer back to what they said during the interview. If they already answer a question you had planned for later, don’t ask them to answer it again, rather dig deeper into their previous answer.
Moving away from the research objectives
The mistake: One of the things I love about conducting interviews is the conversation aspect of it, and the interesting things people say. The mistake I made in the past was diving too much into things that weren’t relevant to the research objectives just because the conversation interested me.
How to avoid it: There is a balance between speaking about things that aren’t relevant to the research objectives for the sake of making the participant comfortable and getting them to open up, and diving too much into these aspects that are not aligned with the research objectives. Strike this balance, and lead the participant back to your questions and the main focuses of the interview.
“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” – Henry Ford
In the end, researchers of all types and all levels of experience can easily fall into these traps. The best way to avoid them is to get feedback. Ask your note-taker if there is anything you could have done differently or watch the recording and see how you can improve for next time!