7 Tips for Moderated Research

Let’s Get Started

Once you’ve decided that moderated research is the right approach for your project, you will want to make sure you are well organized and have all your ducks in a row. Laying out all of the research criteria and goals for the research project is an important first step but there are a lot of other things to keep in mind. We’ve developed a checklist that helps guide our researchers and we think they’ll help you too.

Be Prepared

Before you conduct your moderated research session, you need to develop a questionnaire. These questionnaires allow you to ask right questions to participants and help to gather valuable answers.

In addition, well-designed prototypes and tasks enable you to conduct effective testing sessions, discover usability issues, and answer critical questions. Your questionnaires and tasks should match the fidelity of your prototype (low, mid, and high).

Image via Brenton Ceaglske


When you start to interact with your participants you need to clarify research objectives and goals. It would also be great to explain the reasoning behind your questions and let them know you are testing your prototype/tasks, not them. Clarification from a moderator helps your session to be well-structured because clear instructions and communications lead to higher quality research.

Image via Brenton Ceaglske

Understanding & Empathy

Moderators are humans too! Moderators can set participants at ease by showing them that they are understood and appreciated. Participants will be more open when they trust the moderator so developing rapport quickly is key.

In addition, having a genuine connection with your participants will build empathy and helps the moderator gain deeper insight into user needs. To make this connection, you might want to start with an ice-breaker or light conversation before jump into the testing session.

Let Them Do

After you briefly introduce and explain the product or task, let them explore. If you describe the task too much, you will not be able to capture your participants’ real reactions. Moreover, it is highly possible that your detailed explanation will bias the participant.

Just let your participants operate the product and task their own way. They will try to figure out how to use it based on what they see in the interface, and eventually show us what we need to improve.

Image via Brenton Ceaglske

Be Neutral

During the session, you should try to be as neutral as possible. Be careful not to show what you are thinking and feeling about the product to your participants. Your participants are human as well. They may glance at you to see how your face changes during the process to pick up on nonverbal cues. If you express how you feel during the session, it can create bias in your results.

Try to not suggest any certain way of performing a task. Do not comment if something goes wrong during your participants’ exploration. It is up to you, as a moderator, to observe how they interact with the product and not judge their interaction, reaction, and operation with the product.

              Image via Brenton Ceaglske

Session Pace

Session pace is also important in moderated research sessions. If a moderator goes too fast, it is difficult to catch what participants think and to record how they interact with the product. If a moderator’s leading is too slow, participants might lose focus and get distracted if the session starts to get boring.

A moderator should provide enough time for participants with appropriate session pace when they tried to answer or explore some tasks. Proper session pace can be decided during a dry run or practice session.

Image via Brenton Ceaglske

Dry Run

Conducting a dry run or pilot testing is considered a necessary phase in moderated research. Several practice runs will help to find any problems that might occur during the test.  Practicing the session will also estimate the actual time of sessions and reveal any problems with the prototype or questionnaire, as well.

About Handrail

We built Handrail to help teams collaborate throughout the entire user research process. Plan, collect, analyze, store, and share your research all in one location. Sign up for a free 30-day trial today.

Eui Yang, Ph.D.

Eui is a UX analyst/researcher at ConnectFive. She loves to see how people interact with products and systems.

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