Eliminating bad user interview questions

Tomer Sharon
Jan 9, 2017 · 3 min read

Bad user interview questions make it hard for an interviewee to answer or come up with reliable answers. Scan your list of questions and either remove or fix the following types of bad questions.

Predictions of the future

We humans are very bad at predicting the future. Therefore, it is pointless to ask what people would do or think. Eliminate any question that starts with the words would or will. For example, “Would you pay for such a feature if we offer it?”

Instead, ask how your interviewee solves a problem today. Specifically, ask about and understand current (real) problems you think your future feature will solve (without mentioning it).

Double-barreled

Asking two (or more) questions in one is confusing to interviewees. They will either not understand the question or will answer only part of it. For example, “Tell me how you discovered and responded to this piece of information.” Double barreled questions are especially bad if used in surveys. During an interview, an interviewee can ask for clarification. In a survey, people just respond and you have no idea what they referred to.

Instead, split double-barreled questions into single questions.

Internal jargon

Terminology that is only being used and understood by people in your company confuses interviewees. Interviewees do not know what such terms mean and feel embarrassed when you use them in questions as if they are supposed to understand them. For example, “What did you do after you accessed your ADV Tiered Interest loan account?”

Instead, learn about your audience’s jargon by observing and listening to people discuss different topics related to your product and use it in your interview questions. If they use jargon you don’t understand, ask them what they mean.

Unknown terminology

Similar to internal jargon is terminology the interviewee just doesn’t understand. Very few interviewees will say they don’t understand certain terminology, and using it in a question puts them in an awkward, uncomfortable position. For example, “How does Facebook’s Ad Manager compare to the way ad campaigns are created on Google Adwords?

Instead, ask questions that lead to what you want to learn step-by-step to figure out what your interviewee uses or understands. For example:

  • When was the last time you advertised online?
  • Show me what you used to run your advertising campaign?
  • Did you ever try a different tool for online advertising?
  • (If so) How do you compare these tools?

Happy research!

Tomer Sharon is the author of Validating Product Ideas Through Lean User Research. Get a 20% discount when you purchase the book directly at Rosenfeld Media using the code tomernews.

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