Creating UX Research Plans, Moderation Guides, and Screeners

Moderated by Helen Lee Lin as part of the UX Researchers’ Guild
This is an abridgment; view the full video presentation here.
Session 2 – December 3, 2022

As you approach your UX proposals, there are three crucial documents: a Research Plan, a Moderation Guide, and a Screener. Becoming familiar with these will help you be successful as a UXr Freelancer.

Compiling a Research Plan

Research plans, or research briefs or proposals, are similar from team to team. They use similar formats, although the headings may differ or be referenced by different names. Some teams may even have their unique format but they will likely revolve around the same information. 

To begin with, list the stakeholders with whom you have worked. Whenever you get to the interview stage with a company, they will want to know if you have experience working with project managers, engineers, or developers, as well as people in the C-Suite, including heads of Strategy, Content Designers (also known as Ux Writers). A potential employer or client wants to know with whom you’ve communicated and from whom you have gathered ideas. When you work on a team, research is collaborative. You may be the only researcher in the group, but you will receive feedback from different functions and give recommendations that will impact these areas.

Be sure and talk about your background. This is analogous to when you were in academia and conducting your Lit Review. You will create similar documents in industry although they might look different and be shorter. For these reviews, choose the best resources you have used internally at your company, helpful academic articles, or a mix of both. This helps explain why you are doing this study, why you are doing it now, what is the question, and why it is important to address.

Research plans don’t have to be long; shoot half a page to two pages at the most. Include relevant products you’ve worked on as well as past research you have done on the topic. Then you will discuss your research questions at a very high level to focus on general themes.

The research questions are not the actual questions you would ask in a survey or interview. These questions give your stakeholders an idea of what will be covered so they can give feedback and make suggestions. This information will help shape your survey or Moderation Guide when you get to that point.

Within the research plan, talk about what methods you’ve chosen. Typically you would not include why you chose the methods that you did. However, be prepared to explain this in an interview. Preparing and documenting this information while it is still fresh in your mind will also be helpful down the road when the details of a previous research plan might be forgotten. 

The need for incentives is something that we take for granted in the industry. Usually, there is money to pay participants, but in the case of research, you might do as a freelancer, think of some nonmonetary incentives. 

Materials you would use might include a survey or Moderation Guide, designs, or a live website or app – anything to illustrate your plan to your users.

Preparing a Moderation Guide

For your Moderation Guide, don’t overlook the basic logistics of a one-on-one interview. Make sure you start the recording and that your participants have signed their research participation agreement. 

You would then prepare an introductory script which should:

  • Set the context for the interview.
  • Verify if participants have done this type of research before.
  • Make them feel comfortable about participating, especially if it’s their first time.
  • Get their consent to be recorded.
  • Notify participants that they’re agreeing to screen share if you need them to do an on-screen walkthrough.

Communicate that there are no right or wrong answers; in research, we’re looking to improve. That means that they should not shy away from being critical and negative in sharing their thoughts and experiences. They will give more honest feedback if they know they are not going to hurt your feelings. 

Below the introductory script will be your question guide with questions organized by theme or task, followed by probes and links to stimuli.

Creating a Screener

A screener helps you select the right users for your study. If you have a niche product and already know and selected people to recruit, you may be able to just ask some demographic questions.

But if you are planning to recruit in some more anonymous, or large space, with people you are not familiar with, you need to know their motivation. Do they want to participate to troll you or because you have a great incentive? You want to be very careful with the questions you ask to weed out those who don’t qualify without tipping them off to what you’re looking for.

Here are a few tips for creating an effective Screener.

  • Knockout questions placed at the beginning will help eliminate unqualified participants so they don’t waste their time going through the Screener.  
  • Avoid leading questions which can keep potential participants from trying to guess the “correct” response.
  • Consider including open-ended questions for one-on-one interviews. These will help vet participants for insightfulness, level of detail, and fluency of thought, and allow you to understand better what you might be getting with that particular participant if you choose to interview them.

As a freelance UX researcher, you will frequently use Research Plans, Moderation Guides, and Screeners. Familiarize yourself with them to be prepared for every client and their UX needs that may come along.


About Helen: Helen Lee Lin received her Ph.D. in Social Psychology and has worked in applied research in adolescent literacy and children’s nutrition, and with combat veterans with traumatic brain injuries. She took a career pause while living in Ankara, Turkey for 6 years and then transitioned to UXR in 2018. She volunteered for Hack for LA for six months and broke into industry in January 2021 with a contract at TikTok. She is currently a contract UXR at Meta, working on Facebook Groups.

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