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Three ways to improve user testing moderation skills

Kathryn, our Head of User Research, has been working in UX for over 10 years with clients ranging from the government to Vodafone and National Rail. In that time, she’s moderated hundreds (maybe thousands) of user tests. Every single one is different and you never stop learning so we thought we’d ask her to give us her advice on best practice.

Here are her top three ways to improve your user testing moderation skills:

1. Know what’s important

Sometimes you want to let a user ramble because what they are saying is useful and relevant to the project, or they’ve opened up new areas of insight and investigation. Sometimes though, they are just rambling. Be aware of the difference or you’ll run over time.

Tests are subject to time constraints. Keep in mind what the objectives of the project is. You don’t want to rush through without listening, but there isn’t time to explore every deviation so you need to be firm.

Ask yourself “ is this interesting and relevant?”. If the answer is no, gently guide the participant back to the matters at hand if not otherwise you’re at risk of failing to achieve what you intended.

2. Know what the answer is

Be prepared! If someone other than you wrote the test script and/or built the prototype, make sure you know what the ideal user journey is for completing the task.

This isn’t so that you can help the user to do artificially well. It’s so that you know when and where to skip steps if they are proving too complex or time consuming for them.

It can also be important to get to a particular area of the site with configuration in a particular state, e.g. filters set right, signed in as a particular user, or with prototypes, having taken a number of exact steps. If you don’t know what these are, it can lead to misleading or invalid results overall.

3. Know when to backtrack

Sometimes a participant will mention something interesting in the middle of completing a complex task. Rather than jumping back to it immediately, don’t interrupt them - after all, their current task is as equally important.

Instead, make a note and return to their comment either at the end of the task or the end of the test, where there is space to explore it more extensively.

If the participant says or does something and then later seems to contradict themselves, follow up on this as too. Even if it seems like you’re going over old ground, sometimes contradictions and assumptions can open up new lines of enquiry. This is especially valid if there is a difference between reported and actual behaviour

So there you have it - three simple rules around knowing what’s important, how the product or website works and when to backtrack. Armed with this easy to remember advice, you should find that you’re able to moderate your next user test better - leading to more useful results to work with!

Want to read more?

If, after this, you’re still unsure about where to start, let us do it for you. We specialise in remote moderated user research, delivering quality feedback in a timely fashion! Contact us for a chat.

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