Writing and using discussion guides

We create discussion guides to help us plan and do research activities, like interviews, visits, workshops and usability tests.

They help us to:

  • identify the purpose of the research activity and what we want to get from it
  • review planned activities with team members and stakeholders so we stay aligned with project goals
  • stay on track during research sessions
  • make sure different researchers cover the same topics so participants have a consistent experience
  • keep a record of what we did in each research activity

The parts of a discussion guide #

Introduction #

Recap the goals of the project and the research activity, describe the methods you’ll be using, and set out the overall structure of the research session.

Preparation #

Describe anything the researcher needs to have or do, to prepare for the session. Reference things like the information sheet to send to participants, describe how to set up the prototype you’ll be testing, and reference the notes template you want to use.

Welcome #

Set out the things you’ll say to the participant to let them them know what’s going on and make sure they feel comfortable. It can be helpful to write this out word for word, so you have something to fall back on when you’re tired, or get interrupted or distracted.

In your welcome you should:

  • Say thank you - Start off by letting the participant know you appreciate them offering their time (incentivised or not)
  • Introduce yourself - Let them know your name, role, company and who you are working for
  • State your relationship to the client - We are independent researchers, working on behalf of a client
  • Summarise the research purpose - Explain what you’re trying to find out, e.g. We’re interested in how you recruit teachers for your school
  • Remind them it is voluntary - They can choose to stop at any time
  • Reassure them that there are no right or wrong answers - We’re interested in how the participant thinks and what influences that
  • Ask them to be honest - As researchers we won’t be offended by any comments, we just want to find out what people really think about a service and how it might be improved
  • Describe how the session will go - Let the participant know who is taking notes or observing, how you are recording the session, how long the session will take, and what you’ll be doing in that time, so the participant knows what to expect
  • Check consent and non-disclosure - Has this been done? Do they have any questions?

Topics, tasks and activities #

Have a section in your guide for each of the main interview topics, test tasks or workshop activities.

For each one write out:

  • What you are trying to learn
  • For an interview topic, the starter questions you’ll ask along with likely follow ups
  • For a test task or workshop activity

    • the steps to do
    • explanations and instructions for participants, such asking them to think out loud during a test so you can understand what’s happening
  • How long the topic, task or activity is likely to take
  • The priority - is this essential, or could you leave it out if you’re short of time

Wrap up #

Describe how the researcher should conclude the session with the participant. This can include asking the participant for their final thoughts, asking them how the session went for them, letting them know what will happen next, and thanking them for their time.

Also include any steps for the researcher, like collecting and storing recordings, or deleting data from prototypes.

Three discussion guide templates #

We have template discussion guides for three different kinds of research activities:

Last updated: 9 May 2023 (history)