How to Uncover Valuable Insights From User Research

Analysis and synthesis of your user research data is critical if you want people to act upon your study and ultimately make an impact on the product, service, or organization.  It involves identifying and interpreting patterns and themes found inside your raw data to produce insights. If action cannot be taken as a result of your efforts you risk creating “vapor research.”

There are many methods and approaches to analyzing research data and there is no single or best way to do it.

Your exact process will depend on:

Below are five simple steps you can use to ensure good practice and not get overwhelmed as you analyze your user research data you’ve collected. The five steps are:

  1. Prepare Guiding Questions
  2. Immediately Process Preliminary Research
  3. Reduce Data
  4. Group Similar Items
  5. Create a Summary Report

Step 1: Prepare Guiding Questions

Whether you are doing analysis on your own or with a team, it’s important to prepare a few guiding questions and keep them in mind as you progress. These guiding questions serve as guideposts and help you focus your analysis and organize your data.

Here are some examples of questions to ask yourself throughout the analysis process:

  • What was the purpose of the research?
  • What did we observe?
  • How might we explain what we observed?
  • What patterns or themes are emerging?
  • Are there any clear deviations from these patterns?
  • Do these deviations have explanations as to why they occurred?
  • What have we learned from these patterns or deviations?
  • Do any of the patterns or deviations suggest additional research?
  • Do the patterns that emerge support findings during previous research efforts?

Step 2: Immediately Process Preliminary Research

As soon as data is received or collected from a research session, start processing the information while it’s still fresh in everyone’s mind. Immediately analyzing the information as it comes in helps you identify early patterns or themes, and will help you refine and focus future research sessions.

One common practice you can use to capture key pieces of information when doing preliminary research analysis:

Debriefing & Memo-ing

Once the research session is over, record (or memo) any key notes, thoughts, reactions, highlights, or insights. If you are with a team, this is a great opportunity to debrief and reflect on the session together.  This allows for conversations about individual interpretations and take-a-ways each team member may have.

Doing this will help you analyze and iterate on the interview and inform high level preparation for the summary report outlining your study findings, recommendations, and action items.

Step 3: Reduce Data

After all the study data has been gathered, your goal is to identify and capture all the relevant information. A lot of data may have been accumulated, but not all of it may help answer your guiding questions.

Here are some basic steps to follow to help determine what information to highlight and what data can currently be ignored:

  1. Review

Read and review the raw data you’ve gathered several times to get a holistic sense of what has been captured. This will help you and your team begin to understand how to narrow it into meaningful, usable, relevant, and significant information.

  1. Reduce

Once you have a good understanding of what has been collected,  start to identify and capture key pieces of information. Examples might include: issues, opportunities, observations, behaviors, feelings, actions, comments, quotes, concerns, suggestions, strengths and weaknesses, similar experiences, program inputs, recommendations, outputs, outcome indicators, etc.

Reducing the raw data can be done in a spreadsheet, post-it notes, or on Insight Cards inside a user research and insights platform like Handrail.

Step 4: Group Similar Items

After you reduce or “chunk” the raw data into significant and meaningful pieces of information, then you can start classifying and categorizing information into groups that share similar meanings, qualities, or attributes.

Once sorted into preliminary groups, you will likely start to notice additional insights or themes within the data. Record these new insights and themes and then move, group, filter, and sort the data repeatedly to find and capture new patterns or themes. This process helps to reveal broader meaning allowing for deeper immersion and analysis.

If you ever feel stuck, consider grouping your information by redundancy, intensity, and novelty.

Step 5: Create a Summary Report

Now that you and your team have analyzed and synthesized the research data, it’s time to create a summary report of your study findings, recommendations, and action items.

There are many ways to organize and format your summary report. Creating it will be influenced by how the data will be used, the audience that is consuming it, and how quickly you need to deliver the results.

Here is a basic outline to consider when creating your summary:

  1. Executive Summary
  2. Methodologies Used
  3. Study Participants
  4. Findings
  5. Recommendations & Next Steps

As you work to focus your findings make sure to provide information that your stakeholders will find interesting, relevant, and actionable. And if you need a little help, let us know!

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.

Mat Winegarden

Product manager at Handrail. Sometimes I have ideas...other times I am brilliantly late to the party.

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