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Moderating Usability Testing

Usability Testing | 10 Minutes

So, you have chosen your usability testing approach and need to start planning your testing sessions. How do you get started? 

Start by creating a usability test outline and a moderator’s script.  

What Do I Include in a Usability Test Outline?

The usability test outline acts as the backbone of the sessions you plan to conduct. It lays out your testing objectives, research questions, testing methods, and data collection points.  

Usability Test Outline graphic. Each test must have a strong backbone outlined with objectives (what you want to accomplish), research questions (what you want to answer), testing methods (what approach will you use), and points for data collection (when will you ask questions) before it’s conducted.

A usability test outline is only as good as the research questions you are trying to answer during the testing session. If your research questions are too straightforward, yes or no style questions, then your testing session will not lead to gaining impactful feedback or outcomes.  

Your research questions should be open-ended and be answered as your participants interact with your materials or service. The length and number of questions in your usability testing outline will depend on the service/product you are testing and your testing approach. With that in mind, your usability testing session should range from approximately 30 - 60 minutes giving you enough time to gain powerful user feedback without losing your users interest and attention due to testing fatigue.

What Do I Include in My Moderator’s Script?

Once you have completed a usability test outline, your usability testing team can create a moderator’s script.  

The moderator’s script helps you standardize the testing experience for each participant, helping you eliminate variables outside of the materials/service that might influence the feedback you receive.  

The moderator’s script includes: 

  • A participant welcome
  • An explanation of the session format
  • An explanation of your role as the moderator
  • An explanation of the notetaker and observer(s) role 
  • An explanation of the expectations of the participant during the testing session
  • Focused tasks and questions that test the materials/service
  • Debriefing questions for the participant after testing
  • Thank you message for the participant

As part of your moderator's script, you should give a specific focus to the intent and the order of the questions you will ask the participant about the tasks you want them to complete.

Each task should help you answer your larger research questions and should also help guide the participant through the materials or service. If you are testing a new version of an existing service, you should prioritize the tasks you want the participant to complete based on what tasks users had the most significant challenges with or provided the most critical feedback on while using/testing the previous version of the service.

Remember, each task and the questions you ask about it should be carefully crafted so that your testing sessions can accurately and reliably validate or disprove whether the newest version of a service (i.e., the one you are testing) solves the problems identified from the user feedback you collected about the previous version.

The Do's and Don’ts of Moderating

As the moderator, it’s your job to follow the script and observe how each participant interacts with the materials or service to gain critical feedback from each individual participant.   

Remember, you’re testing the materials or service, not the participant. 

The moderator controls the flow of the testing session, which can directly affect the amount and quality of the feedback you receive from your participants. A consistent flow to your sessions will result in higher quality feedback, which can lead to clearer and stronger insights into the materials or services you’re testing. 

Do’s and Don’ts of Moderating grahic. Do: Probe the participant to think out loud. Prompt the participant if they get stuck. Rehearse the script. Don’t: Teach the participant how to use the materials and/or service. Judge or answer questions related to the participant’s performance. Correct the participant.

Moderating Do’s 

  • Rehearse the script
  • Listen & suspend judgments/comments
  • Ask open-ended questions: Why? How? What?
  • Have a note-taker take notes on the testing session
  • Probe the participant to think aloud
  • If a participant gets stuck, prompt them with hints to move the testing session forward 

Moderating Don’ts 

  • Correct the participant
  • Teach the participant how to use the materials/service
  • Intervene unless the testing session has completely stalled
  • Show frustration if testing fails
  • Share other testing session information
  • Judge or answer questions related to the participants’ performance
  • Use confirmation bias

Remember, when in doubt, stick to the script. The more consistent you are as a moderator, the more you’ll get from your usability tests. 

In Summary

The usability test outline and moderator’s script help provide each of your test sessions consistency and reliability similar to a science experiment. If you follow the procedures before conducting a test, you will gain more valid and insightful outcomes. 

A usability test gives you valuable information about how real users interact with your materials, which helps you make informed decisions about how to improve your existing services and check the effectiveness, efficiency, and accessibility of new services. This is possible when you create an effective outline and moderator’s script.

  • What Did You Learn?

    Take our short knowledge check to find out how much you know about moderating usability testing.  

    Disclaimer: Responses and results are anonymous and may be used to improve the course offerings.

    Check Your Knowledge


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  • Reporting on Usability Testing

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Last Updated: 06/13/2024
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