How do you know which research method to use?

Aakriti ChughFollowJul 13, 2020·7 min readSaveHow do you select the right research method for a project?There is a wide range of research methods available in the field of user exp

How do you know which research method to use?
Aakriti Chugh

Aakriti ChughFollow

Jul 13, 2020·7 min read


How do you select the right research method for a project?

There is a wide range of research methods available in the field of user experience and cracking a UX research job interview not only requires the understanding of research methods but also, figuring out the reasons why a particular method should be used. Some of the common questions asked during a research interview are, If you had a particular goal, which methodology would you use?, How would you select the right method for your project?

In reality, there is no right or wrong answer to the above-mentioned questions. When working on a real-time project, it is not realistic to use a full set of any given methods. Instead, different projects benefit from the usage of multiple research methods with a combination of various insights. If that is the case, then how do you make a decision as to which research method to use?

The most important part of a research project is to decide which methodology to use because that can make/break whatever needs to be achieved through the project. In order to be able to choose the right technique, you need to delve into the problem that needs to be solved.

It might sound ironic but realizing what the end result would be is the first step towards mapping the entire solution. It gives you an overall picture of what needs to be accomplished while letting you carefully examine the problem in detail. This will also facilitate the selection of the right technique for research methods.

Now that you understand the importance of mapping the process before making a decision about what research methodology to use, it is essential to list all your goals. On a personal level, I follow the order mentioned below:

  1. What is the main problem that we are trying to solve?
  2. What do we want to achieve through this and what would the end result look like?
  3. Who are the primary and secondary users?
  4. What are their behaviors, goals, motivations, and needs?
  5. What do I want to learn from them?
  6. What is the best way to collect data from these users?
  7. What type of research method can be used for the assigned project?

When following these steps, it is possible to not be able to answer all these questions in one go. If thats the case, you can go about filling the problem spaces. To do that, you should start by asking yourself  what are the knowledge gaps? What do we already know about the users? What else do we want to know about them? Asking these questions will help you narrow down and eventually figure out which research methodology you should use.

Research Methodologies

After mapping the entire process, you can proceed with the selection of the right research method. One way to break down the research methods is to figure out the source of the data collection  would you want to observe the users through the entire process to get to your answers or would you rather ask them questions.

This is the point where the distinction between attitudinal or behavioral research methods is made. Observing a user and understanding what they do falls under behavioral research because you are essentially trying to look at their behavior. On the other hand, asking questions or basing off your answers on what they say makes up the attitudinal research method.

What people do vs What people say.

Behavioral Research

As part of your research, if you need to understand what people do, you can start by studying their behavioral patterns through observations. This source of data collection can not only be used during the early phases of research but can also be beneficial in the early phases of the design process. Behavioral research can be conducted in the following ways:

A/B Testing  This is used when comparing two versions of the same design/idea to see which one performs statistically better against a predetermined goal. The tests are normally run by randomly assigning different people down two paths  the A test and the B test until the statistically relevant sample size is reached.

Field Observations  This fundamental research skill requires attentive looking and systematic recording of the phenomena including people, artifacts, environment, events, behaviors, and interactions. The researcher may have a guiding set of questions in mind but is primarily observing with an open mindset.

Attitudinal Research

The purpose of attitudinal research is to understand or measure peoples stated beliefs and to find your answers through what they have to say. This can be achieved by talking to users, asking them questions, and listening to them carefully. Hence, if your goal is to determine whether users like or dislike your product and what they have to say about it, you get their opinion through self-reported methods such as interviews, surveys, and focus groups.

Surveys This is a method of collecting self-reported information from people about characteristics, thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and attitudes. Surveys are commonly used for collecting information from large samples of respondents.

User Interviews Interviews are a fundamental research method for direct contact with participants. This technique is used to collect firsthand personal accounts of experiences, attitudes, and perceptions. These are often one component of research strategy utilizing complementary methods such as questionnaires or observations.

Another criteria to help us decide which research method to use is by determining the statistical significance of the results. When a result is statistically significant, it means that it is highly unlikely that the result occurred by chance alone. When you need numbers or metrics you use quantitative research methods. On the contrary, when you need stories, events, and examples you can use qualitative research methods.

Qualitative research methods

Qualitative research is multimethod in focus, involving an interpretive, naturalistic approach to its subject matter. The most important focus is for researchers to accurately capture the existing experiences and perceptions of users. Research methods that are qualitative in nature generate data about behaviors or attitudes based on observations.

Observing what people say or do.

Several techniques including infield studies, participatory design, and usability studies can be used for qualitative research. The analysis done using these techniques of these is not mathematical in nature.

The results can be used in the following ways:

  • To add more detail to the existing knowledge of research obtained from the quantitative method
  • To better understand a scenario or user by studying it simultaneously.
  • To answer questions like why and how to fix a problem

Diary Studies  This is another term for infield studies. Diaries or journals are guiding artifacts that allow people to conveniently and expressively convey personal details about their daily life and events to researchers. They are useful tools in exploratory research and involve both behavioral and attitudinal research.

Quantitative research methods

If you need definitive, clear, black-and-white, highly data-driven research results, or if you are generally looking for statistically significant answers, then quantitative research methods can be used. As part of this, quantitative data and large sample sizes factor in to provide the data.

Quantity is the key.

Quantitative methods do a much better job of answering how many and how many types of questions and are used to measure product performance against itself or its competition. Quantitative data is often useful for exploring an issue. It helps you understand the thought processes of the user.

It can be used to :

  • Compare two or more designs while doing usability testing.
  • Compute expected cost savings from the changes you will make.
  • Conduct quick easy and dry research.

Mixed Methods Research

Mixed methods research combines elements of qualitative and quantitative research approaches in a single study, concurrently or sequentially. Mixed methods research attempts to consider multiple viewpoints, perspectives, positions, and standpoints using both qualitative and research. It provides strengths that offset the weaknesses of both methods, hence provides more evidence.

It can be used because:

  • It provides strong evidence for conclusions
  • Increases the ability to generalize the results.
  • Produces more complete knowledge necessary to inform the problem.
  • Uses the strength of one method to overcome the weaknesses in another method.


User research is at the core of every exceptional user experience. As the name suggests, UX is subjective  the experience that a person goes through while using a product. Therefore, it is necessary to understand the needs and goals of potential users, the context, and their tasks which are unique for each product. By selecting appropriate UX research methods and applying them rigorously, you can shape a products design and can come up with products that serve both customers and businesses more effectively.

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