How to Conduct User Research: Getting the Right People

The following is a short extract from our new book, Researching UX: User Research, written by James Lang and Emma Howell. It’s the ultimate guide to user research, a key part of effective UX design. SitePoint Premium members get access with their membership, or you can buy a copy in stores worldwide.

Once you’ve decided who you want to include in the research, and defined it in a recruitment brief, you’ll need a way to ensure that you’re actually getting those people. There are two ways to do this.

  • Evaluating against the recruitment brief: Once you’ve identified a potential participant, you just size them up against the criteria in the recruitment brief, based on what you know about them or an informal conversation. This is the rough-and-ready method, and is most commonly used in DIY recruitment (see later in this chapter).
  • Using a screener: Once a potential participant has been identified, they’re asked a series of questions that evaluates them against the criteria in the recruitment brief, and allocates them to a quota. This is the more robust, credible approach, as used by recruitment agencies.

There are pros and cons to both approaches. Evaluating against the recruitment brief can be inaccurate, risking misleading results and undermining the credibility of your project. On the other hand, a screener takes additional time to create and apply.

There are some workarounds. If you hire a recruitment agency, they will often write the screener on your behalf. If you’re conducting guerrilla research, the screener will be very short. We’ll say more about both of these scenarios later in the chapter.

Creating a Screener

A screener is a set of questions that are asked to potential participants, based on the sample criteria you defined in your recruitment brief. These questions are designed to figure out how suitable participants are for your project.

You can see an example screener here, showing the key questions you would want to ask to recruit for a project about outdoor gear. It establishes what activities the potential participants do without leading them to give certain answers. The other questions are written to probe more into their experiences and habits when buying outdoor equipment, without being leading. The final question is written to catch out anyone that is trying to trick their way onto the research.

Screener questions contain several elements:

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