How to Get the Most Out of a Research Project

Approach research with the right mindset to make your work more effective.

User research is an important part of the design and development process. It helps you understand problems and validate ideas so you can create a better experience for users. If your company has embraced user research, it’s important to approach this work in the right way. Whether you’re working on a research project with an external agency or an internal team, there are a few steps you can take to get the most out of your research project.

Leverage existing data.

Don’t start from scratch every time you conduct research. If relevant data already exists, use it. Before you start a project, compile and review existing data. Share this data with the research team so they can hit the ground running and not waste time looking into questions that have already been answered.

Define what you want to learn.

It’s critical for research projects to have a purpose. Discuss what you want to learn and why. A clear understanding of what you’re trying to achieve will help the research team identify the most appropriate research methods and questions.

Understand how the data will be used.

Don’t wait until the analysis and reporting stage to determine how you’ll use the data. Discuss the intended usage and audience at the beginning of the project. You may collect and analyze data differently depending on how the data will ultimately be used and by whom.

Put a plan in place.

Create a research plan that outlines your research questions, as well as data collection and analysis processes, logistics, and timeline. It’s important for the entire team to be aware of what’s supposed to happen and when, because even small delays can have a negative impact on the overall project plan.

Adapt along the way.

Your research plan is a starting point. Research is a fickle process, and many things can negatively impact your plan. For example, you may decide that some tasks don’t yield useful insights. You’re not conducting scientific research, so the data collection and analysis process doesn’t need to be rigid. If something isn’t working, make a change.

Be willing to be proven wrong.

Research isn’t a box to be checked or a chance to confirm all of your assumptions. It’s an opportunity to learn what’s working and, more importantly, what’s not working. Learning that an assumption is invalid is just as beneficial, if not more so, than finding out that you’re right.

User research can sometimes feel intimidating, but approaching research with the right mindset makes a big difference. These steps should make your research process more effective.

Laura Sweltz

Laura is a senior user experience researcher in our Durham, NC office. She helps clients like Rotary International, AARP, and Time Life understand the needs and behaviors of their users.

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