How to plan user research

We must reorganize our documentation. Our team of four is acutely aware of this. We have all been here less than a year and have a lot of work ahead. 

Fortunately, I was asked to do a card sort user research project. This will help us determine how to best organize our topics so that users can quickly find the answers they need.  

If you have never planned a user research project, this article describes how I planned this card sort.

Create a landing page

As a startup, we had no documentation about user research. I created a page on our internal wiki to describe user research, as well as several methods such as A/B testing, card sorts, individual interviews, and tree testing. This will evolve, but it gives us a starting page for our projects.

Create a research plan

I created a wiki page for my project that includes the project name, owner, and stakeholders. This plan is useful for transparency and historical purposes. Then, I added the following headings:

  • Research Goal: Provides a project overview with the intended goal of the research.
  • Proposal: Describes the proposed methods such as card sorts followed up by tree tests.
  • Optional: Planning: Links to a document where I created the topics for the card sort.
  • Participants and recruiting methods: Lists the number of participants, personas, and how I will recruit the participants. As I began recruiting, I added a Participant screening sub-section with links to the recruiting software I am using and a Participants sub-section with links to my notes pages for each participant.
  • Research questions: Lists the questions that I will ask the participants in the session.
  • Research protocol: Describes the participant session in detail. This includes how much time the session will take, a reminder to start recording, and a script with how to describe the task to the participants.
  • Risks: Lists risks that I might face when performing the study such as scheduling, budget, difficulty or recruiting participants.
  • Schedule: Defines when testing will start and end.
  • Deliverables: Defines the expected outcome such as a recommended Table of Contents.

Prepare your study

While I was working on my research plan, I created the topics for the card sort. I am running two studies simultaneously. I reviewed our existing topics and consolidated them into a concepts to use as “cards” so that the participants would not be overwhelmed.


I believe that consulting others is always important.

  • I reviewed my cards with my manager to get feedback.
  • I consulted with a UX colleague and learned that they often use to recruit non-customers.
  • While waiting to see if we had budget approval, I did test runs for each test with internal employees to verify that the study went as planned and to determine how long they would take.
  • After receiving budget approval, I talked a UX colleague again to get prewritten screening questions. In addition to saving me time, I also got an opinion on the card sort that I had not considered. I even reached out to a former colleague for their opinion on this advice. It is always good to keep those connections/friends from previous engagements! 


I reached out to my colleagues through email and Slack.

I also used and was happily surprised at how quickly I received qualified potential participants! My schedule started booking up so quickly that I had to slow things a bit. 

I have 30 interviews to do (15 for each persona). I am still recruiting, but I only started one day ago!

Participant pages

As I set up interviews, I create a wiki page for each participant. This page has the following so that on the day of the interview, I only have to visit a single page.

  • Name, Title, link to LinkedIn profile, link to calendar invitation
  • Date and time of interview
  • Link to the test
  • Protocol (copied from the Research plan)
  • Recording: After the session is done, the recording will be linked here.
  • Notes: This is where I will take notes.
  • Questions (copied from the Research plan)

User research report

This page is to be completed after the research is finished. Currently, it has the following blank sections:

  • Link to detailed report
  • User research method used
  • Results
  • Test notes
  • Recommendations
  • Next steps

What’s next

Next week, I start interviewing. After the interviews, it will be time for data analysis!

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