Six tips for writing effective tasks for remote unmoderated studies
The benefit of conducting remote unmoderated UX research studies is that they enable you to quickly gather insights in as little as an hour.
The reason for this is that study participants can concurrently take part in your research on their own time and from the comfort of their environment with their own device. Another benefit is that tasks and questions can be asked consistently without any potential moderator bias.
However, with no moderator, writing clear and effective tasks is vital as there’s no opportunity for clarification. If participants don’t understand what they need to do, you won’t get great data.
With that in mind, here are six tips to keep in mind while writing tasks for your remote unmoderated research studies that will enable you to obtain the best results possible.
1) Avoid leading the participant
Use general terms that the participants would normally understand and use without leading them. For example, if you’d like to test the registration process for a newsletter and the site uses the term ‘register’, you could ask them to ‘sign up’ instead.
2) Be Direct
Participants need to be crystal clear about what you would like them to do. Ambiguous tasks leads to participant confusion and consequently bad data.
If participants need to find information, tell them. If you’d like to focus on the navigation and do not want them to search, then instruct them accordingly.
Tell them to talk out loud during the study, if you’d like to capture their verbal feedback. Although they may have been informed at the beginning of the study, a brief reminder during the tasks that require think-out-loud can’t hurt.
Avoid framing the task as a question. With think-out-loud studies, participants may just verbally respond rather than actually interacting with the site causing you to miss out on clickstreams, heatmaps and videos that could have been captured.
Consider these two examples…
Bad example: “Where would you go to contact someone for more information?”
This is too prescriptive and you’ll receive limited feedback. Instead try this…
Good example: “Imagine that you’re interested in learning more about the services provided by COMPANY X. Find the options available for contacting the company for more information.”
Bad Example: “Your name is Joseph Smith. You’d like to get an appointment to speak to a doctor about back pain you have been having lately, preferably over the phone if possible without having to go in. Your phone number is 555-555-1212.”
In the example above, participants are given information about their circumstances, but not explicitly instructed on what they need to do in the task. Try this instead…
Good example: “You’d like to get an appointment about back pain. You prefer to have a phone appointment and not go in if possible. Using the following information, start the process of setting up a phone appointment for your back pain. STOP before actually setting up the appointment.
Name: Joseph Smith
Phone Number: 555-555-1212”
3) Provide context
In order to provide good feedback, study participants need to have the appropriate mindset and relevant information. Instructions must include context. Remember these participants are not necessarily going to be familiar with your products or services prior to taking the study. You need to set the stage for them.
The context can be provided at the beginning of the study or in the task instructions. If participants are interacting with a prototype that might be slow, not fully built out etc., Let them know that they’ll be evaluating a prototype.
4) Provide all the information participants need to complete the task
If participants need to log in to interact with a site or with a prototype, provide them with the login and password. If they need to fill out form fields, provide them with specific information they can use or let them know that they can use fake information if the form allows for that.
If personal information is needed (e.g., social security number, credit card, email), provide a fake personal information that will be accepted by the site.
5) Be clear and concise
Avoid using unnecessary words. Use language that participants understand; don’t use unnecessary jargon. Don’t use acronyms without first explaining what the acronyms stand for.
6) Make tasks easy to consume
Even with clear and concise language, it can be difficult for participants to understand what they need to do with the limited real estate available in the taskbar.
- Use paragraph breaks for mobile tasks.
- Use bullets and numbering.
- Bold, italicize, underline, use caps or different colored text to highlight key information.
The concept of ‘garbage in, garbage out’ applies to conducting research. Writing straightforward and concise tasks is essential to getting valuable insights. Participants should have a clear understanding what they need to do, as well as the context behind the tasks. Otherwise tasks aren’t interpreted correctly and you won’t get the data you need.
Main image by Markus Spiske
Ann Rochanayon — Sr. Director UX/CX Research
Over 13 years of experience in management and conducting online studies, including mobile and international studies in a variety of industries.
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