Creating an Effective Discussion Guide

An effective discussion guide structures questions for user interviews. It ensures consistency and helps in exploring specific areas of interest. In this section, you see how to build a discussion guide that keeps your team on point. 

There are a lot of moving pieces even in simple usability tests. A discussion guide is a document that outlines how each individual session should be structured to ensure usability tests run smoothly and yield the desired insights. If a usability session is a “play”, then the discussion guide is its “script”. Here are some tips on how to create and implement an effective discussion guide.

Importance of creating a discussion guide

The importance of creating a discussion guide lies in its ability to bring structure, comprehensiveness, and consistency to the testing or research process.

  • Smoother Tests, with Less Bumps: A well-crafted discussion guide acts as a roadmap for the entire testing session, allowing all parties involved to move cohesively like a well-oiled machine. It offers structure and ensures that everyone involved, from researchers to participants, understands how the session will be run. By sharing this guide with researchers ahead of the test, it helps in minimizing surprises and allows for smoother transitions between different sections or topics. This level of coordination ensures that the session is both efficient and professional, reducing potential bumps or awkward moments.
  • Assurance That All Questions and Tasks Are Covered: The discussion guide serves as a comprehensive checklist, ensuring that all questions and tasks crucial to the research are addressed. By laying out the critical elements in advance, it provides a clear path to acquiring the necessary metrics and insights required for decision-making or recommendations. This systematic approach leaves no room for essential questions or tasks to be inadvertently skipped, thus maximizing the quality and relevance of the collected data.
  • A Guide for Each Participant Helps When Comparing Notes and Analyzing Results Later: Providing a blank guide for each participant to every person involved in the test can be a potent tool for note-taking and observation. As the session progresses, researchers can jot down their notes and observations, making sure they align with the structured format of the discussion guide. This consistent approach across different sessions or participants facilitates easier comparison and analysis later on. Having this organized record enables researchers to revisit their findings, draw more accurate conclusions, and make well-informed decisions or recommendations.

What to include in a discussion guide

Here’s a closer look at the essential elements that can be included in a discussion guide. As always, these items are for inspiration only; adapt to meet your needs:

  • End-to-End Session Flow: The end-to-end session flow is the blueprint for the entire session. It details the sequence of activities, interactions, and discussions that will take place during the session. This includes the introduction, main discussion topics, transitions between different segments, and the conclusion. By having a well-defined session flow, moderators can ensure a smooth and natural progression of the conversation while covering all planned areas.
  • Scenarios/Tasks: In usability testing or other types of interactive sessions, scenarios or tasks are often designed to gauge how participants react to specific situations or challenges. These scenarios should be realistic, relevant, and aligned with the study’s objectives. They guide participants through a series of actions or decisions, allowing observers to understand their thoughts, behaviors, preferences, and potential difficulties.
  • Questions: The questions section outlines the specific inquiries that will be posed to participants. These can be open-ended to encourage participants to share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences freely, or they may be more structured, targeting specific information. Questions should be crafted thoughtfully to avoid leading or biasing responses. They should also be sequenced logically to create a natural and engaging conversation flow.
  • Guidelines/Rules: Establishing clear guidelines or rules is essential for creating an environment where participants feel comfortable and understood. These can include assurances about confidentiality, the expected code of conduct, time management, and any specific instructions regarding participation. Clear communication about what is expected from participants and what they can expect from the moderator helps build trust and facilitates open and honest responses.
  • Inclusion of Visual Aids or Props: Depending on the type of discussion, visual aids such as charts, images, or prototypes might be used to facilitate understanding or provoke responses.
  • Probe Techniques: Moderators may include specific prompts or probes to delve deeper into a subject if participants’ initial responses are vague or require further exploration.
  • Adaptation for Different Audiences: If the guide is used across various groups or demographics, it might need adjustments to ensure that the content, language, and approach are suitable for different participants.

How to create and implement a discussion guide

Here are steps that you can take to create and implement your discussion guide.

  1. Determine the session flow: Begin by determining the end-to-end flow of the user testing session. This should include the introduction, setup, tasks, debrief, and closing. Having a clear outline of the session flow will help ensure that all necessary components are covered and that the session stays on track.
  2. Identify scenarios and tasks: Once the session flow is established, identify the scenarios and tasks that participants will be asked to complete. These should be based on the learning objectives for the user testing and should be designed to help elicit the desired insights. For example, if the goal of the user testing is to evaluate the ease of use of a new mobile app, scenarios might include navigating to a specific feature, completing a purchase, or submitting a form.
  3. Develop  questions: Along with scenarios and tasks, develop a list of questions to ask participants throughout the session. These questions should be designed to help gather qualitative feedback about the user experience, as well as any pain points or areas of confusion.
  4. Set guidelines/rules: In addition to tasks and questions, set clear guidelines and rules for the user testing session. For example, participants should be asked to think aloud during the session, and researchers should avoid leading questions or influencing the participant’s behavior.
  5. Review and revise: Once the discussion guide is complete, review it with the rest of the user testing team to ensure that all necessary components are included and that the guide is clear and easy to follow. Revise as needed to ensure that the guide is tailored to the specific learning objectives and user testing context.
  6. Implement the discussion guide: Finally, implement the discussion guide during the user testing sessions. Make sure that all researchers are familiar with the guide and that it is followed closely during the sessions. Encourage note-taking during the session to ensure that all feedback and observations are captured accurately.

Scroll to Top