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Asking good user research interview questions

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Use this page to ask the right kind of questions when you're planning user research interviews. If you want to know more about what user research is first, start with our guide to planning user research.

Don’t ask users what they want

Don’t just ask people what they want. Instead ask why they want it. That has much more value. Even better is asking about past behaviour. Behaviour is more reliable than predictions or views and opinions.

Not this:

  • When you need legal advice, what do you want to happen?

Try this instead:

  • Can you tell me what you wanted to happen when you needed legal advice?
  • Followed by 'Why did you want that?'

Even better:

Can you tell me what happened when you first looked for legal advice (from us)?

Watch this short video from CAST on why we can't just ask our users what they want.

Don’t ask leading questions

Leading questions prime the user by unintentionally suggesting a response.

Not this – do you like receiving training online?

Try this instead – how do you feel about receiving training online?

Even better – how often have you attended training online in the last six months? Followed by 'Can you talk me through how one of them went?'

Ask open questions

You need details, which is why open questions are good. Asking closed questions will bring out 'yes' or 'no' answers. You won’t get those useful insights and observations. Although, sometimes a closed question can help lead into an open one.

Not this – Have you looked for advice online?

Try this – Can you tell me about a time when you’ve looked online for advice?

Or sometimes

  • Can you remember finding useful advice online?
  • Followed by 'Can you recall why it was helpful?'

Avoid asking about future behaviour

People tend not to be great at predicting their future behaviour. Ask about what they currently do.

Not this – would you use this app when you were feeling low?

Try this – can you tell me about a time when you were feeling low and used an app to help?

Even better – can you tell me about what you usually do when you're feeling low and using your computer or phone?

Avoid jargon

Describe what you’re talking about. Use words and language likely to be understood by the user.

Not this – have you used an IAPTUS service to get CBT?

Try this

  • Can you tell me about a time you got help online for your mental health?
  • Followed by 'Can you tell me how that was?'

How to ask about technology habits

Knowing what devices your interviewees use is not as useful as how they use those devices.

Not this – what device do you use?

Try this

  • Yesterday, how did you use your phone?
  • Followed by 'How about your computer?

Or this – What do you use when you want to go online?

Be specific

If a question can be answered with 'it depends' or 'maybe' it needs to be rewritten to encourage a definite answer.

Or, if it happens during an interview, be sure to follow up to get to the bottom of what they're thinking.

Not this – do you think you'd use a forum to get help?

Try this

  • In the past six months, have you used a forum to get help?
  • Followed by 'How was it?'

Be wary of people saying ‘yes’

Interviewees can have a habit of overreporting predicted behaviour.

'Oh yes, I’d definitely do that...' can be a common response to a question about an action associated with a new service directed at them. This is often due to wanting to please the questioner and appear positive. Avoid getting users to predict what they might do in the future. Instead, try basing your questions on actual lived experience.

Not this – would you continue to do our online music sessions?

Try this instead – why did you take part in our online music sessions?

Even better – what made you decide to do our online music sessions? Followed by 'And why have you carried on?'

Having a backup plan

If everything falls apart and the interview is difficult, what's the one thing that you might be able to salvage to make it a tiny success?

Some backup stock phrases you can use.

  • Could you explain that to me?
  • Why was that?
  • Could you talk me through how you achieved that?
  • What was it that prompted you to do that?
  • Is that something you’ve come across before?
  • What did you expect to happen?

Last reviewed: 02 March 2021

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This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 02 March 2021

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