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ITC298 » Preparing for and Conducting Your Research Activities

So, you’ve made the decision that you think your website, or someone else’s website, could benefit from some usability research activities. Well, what now?

The Proposal of Work & Activities

The first thing that you are going to need to do is to create a proposal that describes the research study that you plan on running.

Why should we create a proposal?

First and foremost, you should always always have a proposal of work. This will serve to keep everyone on track with what the scope of the project is and determine the cost if you are an outside vendor.

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Proposals will come in all shapes and sizes and will be significantly different for each project. But, they all should at a basic level clearly outline the scope of work involved in the project.

In the case of doing research, we need to remember that this project will depend on the participation of multiple people, including the (human subject) participants.

What are the sections of a research activities proposal?

There are a number of key elements that should be included in your research activities proposal:

1) History: This is the section that can give background information of the company or organization that own the website or product that you will be researching. This can and should any business objectives of the company or organization and should also discuss any research (and findings) that has been performed in the past.

2) Objectives, Measures & Scope: This is where you will discuss what you hope to achieve by conducting this research, including goals and data. This will help define expectations of the project and the activities.

3) Methods: This is where you will detail the methods that you will be using in your study and how you plan to analyze the data. Often times the one reading this proposal (the project stakeholders) may not be familiar with the research activities. Therefore you will need to give background information on each method you plan to use in your study.

4) User Profiles: Here is where you will need to research and describe the people that will potentially be participating in the study. Be as specific as possible as you will need to recruit the participants at a later date.

5) Recruitment: This is where you will need to describe how many participants you will potentially need, how you will recruit them for your study, and who’s responsibility it is to actually recruit them.

6) Incentives: Because we should not expect anyone to participate for free, we will need to describe how we plan to compensate the participants.

7) Responsibilities & (Proposed) Schedule: As many proposals do, you will need to set a proposed schedule of your activities. This should include assigning roles, responsibilities and deliverable dates. This is incredibly important meow.

Recruiting, Screening & Informing Participants

Basically, you cannot run a study if you don’t have participants. But, where do you get them from and what do you need to tell them before you use them as human subjects in your research?

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How do I recruit participants?

In an ideal world, our user requirements study should represent every user. However, when conducting our studies we need to be practical and strive to test a truly representative sample of users from all of our demographics to assure that our study accurately represents the user demographics.

See Also: Sampling (statistics) | The WikiPedia Machine

In reality, this may not be possible. So, once you have defined your user demographics you should be concerned with recruiting a convenient sample of users.

For example you may post this recruitment survey on your website and blast it out to your Facebook community because 75% of your Facebook friends are your target demographics, current students.

Or, let’s say you are conducting this study and you need participants. Let’s also say that you teach writing for the web at the college you are standing in right now. Why not use those students as your test subjects? #brilliant.

In other words, take a close look around you to find your test subjects. Then create a recruitment survey that represents your target demographics and place it as an somewhere. If the incentive is big enough, you will get participants.

How do I screen the applicants correctly?

We all know that you are going to get people that think they are your demographic apply to get that freebie you are offering. So, how do you make sure that you get the correct demographic? Screen them.

This will require a follow up phone call or email to the applicant. But, I’m sure that you have used the phone or email before.

What do I need to inform these participants of?

Because you are using human subjects as research participants, you will need to make sure that you inform them of the procedures (including any risks) and gain the participant’s consent before moving forward with the study.

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Conducting the Study

Now that you have proposed your study and recruited participants, you will need to actually conduct the study. Shocking, I know.

Choosing the Right Facilities & Equipment

Every study is different and so are the facilities and equipment that need to be used. But, every study should be conducted in a comfortable environment for you, your team and your participants.

For many studies, like traditional usability testing a conference room that has access to a computer will suffice.

See Also: Seattle Central Community College (SCCC) Usability Testing Presentation (pp. 7-10) | Mike Sinkula, Asmi Joshi, Bob Kittle, & Yoel Sumitro

For other studies such as card sorting, you will find the appropriate software online to conduct the study remotely.

See Also: Card Sorting the Human Centered Design & Engineering Website Information Architecture | Mike Sinkula & Rose Beede

Using the Correct Protocols During your Study

One way shape or form, you are going to need to give your participants direction on how to perform the task required for the study.

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This portion of the Premium Design Works website is written by Mike Sinkula for the Web Design & Development students at Seattle Central College and the Human Centered Design & Engineering students at the University of Washington.

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