I’ve been involved in quite a bit of formal usability testing over the years and the one thing I’ve noticed that seems to be most often overlooked is observational note-taking. The moderator is likely to be the person with the best insights, but unfortunately she’s busy at the time the notes should be taken, so that leaves it to observers.
In some studies, the end result of each task is the important information. However, in a usability study, it’s the path to the end result that matters most. For instance, while it is important that the participant was able to get to the correct page, it is much more important to know that it took him four tries. And it’s important to know the details. Where did he go those first three times? Did he realize he had made a mistake, or was he prompted to try again? Why did he make the choices he made? All these things give us a wealth of information about where issues may lie in the website being tested.
Whether you’re using eye-tracking equipment or standard click and trace-tracking, you want to remember a few key things when taking notes.
- Consistency – make sure that you use consistent terminology from one task to the next and one participant to the next. That will ensure that any good analyst can decipher your notes.
- Details – this can’t be overstated. Write as much as you possibly can. Those who review your notes will not have the benefit of seeing the testing live; they won’t be able to observe body language, maybe not even facial expressions or tone of voice, so it’s critical that you note everything you possibly can.
- Precision – be precise with your language, with your time-codes, and with your descriptions. Make sure to note exactly what the participant was looking at (if you’re using eye-tracking) or what he hovered over, and what he said. Make sure your notes include task numbers and that if there is a good quote, you note a specific time code if you can’t get it written down.
If you are the only analyst working on the test and want to use shorthand that you understand, that’s fine. But if there is anyone else working with you, or even potentially working with you, it’s tremendously important you remember to take good notes.