10 Taking Notes during UX Research Interviews
In undergrad, I was rarely taught the concept of note-taking for interviews. Initially, I assumed because it was straightforward and it was the same thing as taking notes for my classes, so there was not much to learn.
While it is a simple concept, I’ve learned that there are ways to effectively take notes that ultimately help the team and analysis phase better. Keep in mind that the reason for note-taking in the first place is to alleviate the time spent on having to read back through the transcripts during analysis.
Here are some things I do for effective note-taking during interviews:
Write notes in first-person
I wasn’t formally taught this in academia, but this concept has come up in UXR books I’ve read and advice from mentors in the field. Writing down the notes as if you are the participant is helpful because it decreases cognitive load and makes for identifying quotes easier. So instead of writing “she only goes to the store once a week” the note should say “I only go to the store once a week.”
First of all, this helps with cognitive load because you’re literally writing down exactly what you’re hearing from the participant. This makes note-taking faster and seamless. Additionally, writing notes this way keeps you from analyzing in the moment. The most important part of note-taking is getting all the information down — if you’re analyzing one sentence that was said, the participant has likely said 5 more valuable sentences that you weren’t able to write down.
Additionally, since you’re taking things down verbatim, you can easily spot quotes!
Keep a lookout for potential quotes
Speaking of quotes, it’s also very helpful to keep a lookout for quotes you may want to use in the final presentation. Quotes and video clips are powerful tools to help tell a person’s story so we make sure to include them in all of our final research presentations. It can be a pain to have to go through all the recordings of the interview after the fact to try to find a quote so identifying them in the moment is a huge time saver. Keep potential quotes in mind as you’re note taking and jot down the time stamp to easily go back to that part of the interview if you want to clip it!
Note down the most relevant information
I want to reiterate that the purpose of note-taking is to alleviate the time spent going through transcripts. Essentially, as a note-taker, you’re creating a more concise transcript with all the relevant information. This means you can leave out the “buts” and the “ums” and all other completely irrelevant dialogue. Keep your notes on topic!
Have a structure to your notes
Another huge time saver for analysis is also creating a template for note-taking. Using the interview guide, you can easily create different sections based on each topic, for example, “Introduction,” “Task 1,” “Homepage opinions,” etc. It all depends on what your interview guide looks like. Although conversations won’t perfectly follow the guide, it still has the main topics that will be covered and any topic the interview is covering is a data point to analyze.
In terms of format, there are many different types out there. Our current go-to is excel sheets because it makes structuring the notes very easy. Additionally, each note-taker can have their own tab, allowing everyone’s notes to be under one file.
Note-taking is so powerful when it comes time for analysis, especially when done effectively.