The 5 key elements of a solid UX research plan

Follow this structure and keep the rest of the project on track

Lawton Pybus
3 min readApr 12, 2022

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A hand holding a smartphone displaying a maps app UI.
(Credit: henry perks)

A good research plan acts like your phone’s maps app.

It keeps you headed in the right direction at each turn. You can share the route with fellow travelers, and use it to explain why you won’t be taking an alternative path. But if you get off track, the map reroutes you to get where you need to be.

Rarely do UX researchers run a project so routine that we can go in blind, without needing any directions. Each project has different needs and goals. So before you start recruiting participants or writing a moderator’s guide, get clear on the research plan.

Here’s what I include in mine:

Project background and goals

What’s the broader context of this project?

The product or design team may be in early stage discovery and need research to define the problem space. Or they may be iterating on design concepts and want your help refining them. The feature may be launched and in production, and they want data to understand how it measures up.

Get clarity with your stakeholders on their goals and where they are in the product lifecycle.

Research questions

How can data address those goals?

A good research question is limited and specific. Continue to refine vague research questions if you’re not sure how you’d be able to answer them. And don’t try to boil the ocean with grand questions beyond the scope of your organization’s influence.

Translate your stakeholders’ questions into something you can work with.

Methodology and stimuli

How will you investigate those research questions?

The phrasing of the question implies the methodology. If the question asks what, how, or why users do something, it may be best addressed with a qualitative approach such as interviews. If it asks how many, how likely, or which users do something, those are quantitative questions best addressed with a larger sample study.

Get concrete about how you’ll get the answers you need.

Participant profiles

Who will you collect data from, and how many will you reach?

There may be multiple audiences, or segments, of interest — for example, customers and prospects, or iOS and Android users. You’ll need enough people in each group to detect meaningful differences. Going back to your methodology, fewer participants are needed to reach saturation in qualitative studies, whereas dozens more may be needed for statistical comparisons in quantitative research.

Describe the total sample size and the key criteria for recruiting the right participants.

Timeline and deliverables

How long will the project take?

Each UX research project has similar phases: preparation, data collection, analysis, and reporting. And along the way, there will be milestones, touch-points, and deliverables — such as a finished study script or report. If you use Google Suite, consider making the plan a living document, adding links to these artifacts as the project goes on.

Document what stakeholders can expect in a simple table, timeline, or Gantt chart.

TL;DR

Just like a map, a proper plan can guide you and your stakeholders throughout the life of a research project. These are the key ingredients:

  • Project background and goals
  • Research questions
  • Methodology and stimuli
  • Participant profiles
  • Timeline and deliverables

Writing out these sections will clarify your thinking and next steps. Getting agreement from your stakeholders on the plan before you start work will help prevent scope creep, or ever-growing requirements. And it will make sure you’re giving them the information they need.

Use this structure to craft your research plans and make your next project a success!

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Lawton Pybus

UXR Manager at UserTesting · Human Factors PhD · Top writer in Design · Views mine · I share monthly UXR insights at https://www.quarterinchhole.com