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Writing a discussion guide for user interviews

How to write a discussion guide

Video transcript

A discussion guide is a set of questions and topics that you would like to discuss with a participant during a user interview. It typically consists of an introduction, warm-up questions, exploratory questions and a debrief. Today, I’m going to walk you through how to create a discussion guide.

Introduction

Introduce yourself and let the participant know what to expect during the interview. Give them a chance to ask questions. Most people won’t have been interviewed before so take some time to put them at ease. Prior to the interview, you should have already obtained written consent to record and possibly share the conversation you have with the participant. However, it’s a good idea to double check verbally that the participant is still happy to be recorded and for the conversation to be shared.

Warm-up questions

Start by asking the participant a few easy questions about themselves and their job. This will help the participant get used to the process of answering questions. It’s also an opportunity to begin building rapport with the participant, so that they are more inclined to open up to you when you begin asking exploratory questions. Listen closely, their answers may help provide context for any later responses they give. Some warm-up questions you could ask are:

Exploratory questions

When you start writing your exploratory questions, you’ll want to group questions into common topics, so that your interview naturally flows. As you begin to structure your questions, allocate time for each topic. This will help keep your interview on track. Move from general questions to more specific questions related to your research goals. For example ‘How do you currently go about this task? to ‘What’s the hardest part about task?’ to ‘What could be better about how you currently do this?’. At the same time, don’t leave your most important questions until the very end in case a user spends more time than you anticipate answering an earlier question.

It’s okay to ask questions about past experiences, as long as you recognize the limitations of people’s memory. The human memory is fallible and it can often be difficult for people to remember specific details. For example, if I asked you whether you had breakfast three days ago? You could probably tell me yes or no. Yet, if I asked you to recall how long your breakfast took to eat, you’d probably struggle to provide an answer or you might even be tempted to hazard a guess. Ask questions which delve into participants’ general experiences and opinions but don’t press participants for details they can’t provide. Otherwise, they may be tempted to make up their answers.

Participants can’t predict the future. If you ask them a question like: 'Would you use this feature?' their response may not be an accurate reflection of what they would actually do. For example, some people might say ‘No’ because they might not be able to visualise how the feature would work from a description alone. Others might say ‘Yes’ because they don’t want to rule out the possibility that at some point in the future the feature might be useful to them.

Debrief

Thank the participant for their time and explain what happens next with the feedback they have given you today. Give the participant a chance to ask any questions. If you are paying a participant for taking part in your study, ensure you share details of how they will be paid and when they can expect payment. Leave your contact details with them in case they have any follow-up thoughts they want to share with you.

Once you have written your discussion guide, you should rehearse and test out your guide, this can be with a colleague. This will give you a sense of how long your script will take to run through and it will help you spot any questions that people may have difficulty answering.

Remember your discussion guide, is just that, it’s a guide. It’s a reference tool which helps facilitate conversation. If a participant says something interesting, which is not covered by your guide, listen to them and explore what they are saying. You may uncover something you hadn’t previously considered. Active listening is key, you should react to what your participant is saying.

Example questions for user interviews

Warm-up questions

Exploratory questions