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Stage 2: Conducting your research

How to create a discussion guide, facilitation guidance and the important of consent.

Create a discussion guide

If your chosen UX research method involves asking the participant questions or getting them to complete activities, it is important to create a discussion guide. A discussion guide outlines the questions/topics/activities that you will run through with your participants and ensures your research stays focused and meets all your research objectives. Depending on the nature of your research, your discussion guide could be very strict in structure, or it could be a used as a rough guide.

When structuring your interview try to start with broad topic areas, and then gradually introduce more specific topic areas or activities. It is always a good idea to start the interview by getting to know the participant. Ask them questions about what they do during the day and any other high-level questions. This format helps participants get them relaxed and comfortable with answering questions. Remember most people won't have been interviewed before and are likely to be nervous.

The discussion guide helps you to plan according to the time you have available. You should not leave your most important questions/tasks till the very end in case you run out of time. It's also important to use the discussion guide as that, a guide. It is there as a reference and does not have to be followed in perfect order. Use your instinct during the session to ensure the discussion flows naturally.

When writing your questions ask open-ended questions, that is, ask questions that cannot be answered with a single word response. Open-ended questions prompt more in-depth responses and usually start with "How", or "Why". If you do happen to ask a closed question, follow it up with an open-ended 'Why" question. As well as asking questions think about what other activities you can do during the session to keep the participants engaged and to assist with your data capture.

It's also important to ensure you aren't framing your questions in a leading way. This means being careful that you don't include or imply your desired answer in the phrasing of your question. Here are some useful tips on how to Avoid Leading Questions to Get Better Insights from Participants

A discussion guide should always begin with an introduction. The introduction is vital to the success of an interview and should not be overlooked or bypassed. The objective of the introduction is to make the participant feel comfortable and set expectations as to what they should expect during the session and why you've asked to speak to them. Explain the following:

  • Who you are
  • What the research is about
  • Broadly how the interview will be structured
  • Confidentiality
  • There are no right or wrong answers
  • To speak out-aloud during activities (if applicable)
  • Obtain consent for any recording (see below)
  • Opportunity for the participant to ask questions


Impartial facilitation is essential to ensure that your participants can contribute comfortably. Facilitation is a communication skill that can be developed with time and practice. Here is some great advice on How to talk to participants in a usability test .

A good tip to get the most out of your research is to listen more than you talk, after all you are there to gain an understanding of your participants. To that end, practice:

  • Active listing, positive body language and eye contact
  • Be comfortable with silence. This can be hard to do, but by leaving room for silence, it gives the participant an opportunity to fill in the awkward silence and expand on their thoughts
  • Speaking at a natural pace for the participant and emulating their vocabulary
  • Echoing participants' last words in an inquisitive way to solicit more information where further clarification is needed
  • Passing questions back to the participant instead of answering them yourself
  • Applying gentle pressure so that you can stick to the schedule
  • If tasks or questions have a particular answer or steps that must be completed, have in your mind when to declare task success or failure to that you can watch for signs that it is time to move on.
  • Being conscious of your biases. We all carry around unconscious biases in our day-to-day lives, and it's important to try and be aware of them when conducting testing or interviews. Easier said than done!

It is recommended to interview in pairs, where one person facilitates and the other takes notes. Having a note-taker allows the facilitator to be fully present in the interview and offers more than one perspective on the session when you are looking back. It is important to have no more than two people in the room, otherwise it can be uncomfortable for the participant and can feel more like a panel interview.

The note-taker should be capturing everything they hear, and see the participant do, including quotes and facts, as well as body language. Notes don't have to be word-for-word, and over time you will start to learn what is important to capture and what is not.

Before you start recording a session, you need to get your participants' consent. Each session will be slightly different, so you will need to adjust the consent form to reflect your research approach. The main information you need to convey in your consent form is:

  • Why you are conducting the research
  • What you will be recording (e.g. audio, video, or just notes)
  • What you will do with the recordings, and who it will be shared with

Participants should read and sign the consent form before the beginning of the session.

Use the following consent form as a template and adjust according to your project and requirements.

UX research consent form
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You must respect your participants' privacy and de-personalise their data. For more information see the How-to guide: How to manage online records and the How-to guide: Protect privacy.