10 Essentials for Every Research Summary
Making research findings clear, compelling, and known
One of our primary responsibilities as UX researchers is to make sure our research findings are clear, compelling, and known. In a company as large as Facebook, a well-done research summary can quickly and effectively bring people up to speed on what we know, help teams beyond the core product team utilize the research, and document methods and insights to avoid repeating what’s already been done.
Below is a list of the practices we’ve found essential for an effective research summary. While some may seem obvious, we’ve found that referring to a list or template can remind us to consider long-term as well as short-term utility (an especially valuable reminder since we’re always trying to Move Fast). Your needs might be different, depending on the size and nature of your organization, but we’ve tried to make the list broad enough to apply to a lot of contexts.
1. Briefly explain why you did the research
Give a little context about the project and why it matters, or a brief description of the goals of the research. This will ground the reader and help them understand the scope of the work. Consider that a year from now, a new team member might read your report. Will they understand why you did this and how it may be relevant to them?
2. Spell out your research questions
Being explicit about the questions your research addressed ensures that you’re on the same page as your team about the aim of the work, pre-empts questions like “Why didn’t you ask xx question on the survey?”, and provides context for the findings.
3. Clarify key terms and acronyms
Try to avoid jargon. If you can’t, make sure to define potentially unclear terms. Project code names, acronyms, and other jargon that your team understands now might be baffling later on. People on other product teams will just abandon reading your report if they don’t know what you’re referring to. Consider defining terms in an appendix to keep your main summary brief.
4. Define who you studied
Cite the study’s sample size and other relevant participant criteria or attributes. It’s important to provide context to stakeholders, including the scale and characteristics of the group you focused on, how they relate to the general population, and how generalizable the results are. For example, think about how you might build off of findings from a random sample of 1,000 people who completed a survey versus an interview study with 8 participants.
5. Describe your methods
Include at least a basic explanation of the methods you used to conduct the study. Without understanding the methods, people may not be able to interpret the findings appropriately. For people further removed from your product team, understanding how you approached a research question makes it much easier to replicate or extend the research.
6. Include study questions verbatim
As researchers, we know that how you ask a question can greatly influence the findings. If you’re reporting findings from a survey, for example, include the questions that were asked, as well as the response options. For interview findings, you might consider including the main questions from your interview guide, noting that follow-up questions varied from participant to participant. People should have access to how you asked a question to ensure they can accurately and reasonably interpret the data. Including this information also enables other researchers to replicate your study later on.
7. Highlight key findings
Include the most important findings people need to know. Ensure that these stand out in the report via something like a “tl;dr” (too long, didn’t read) slide or a separate section. If you only had one minute to tell someone your findings, what would you say? Ruthlessly prioritize! People have limited time and attention, so make the most of it. A succinct high-level summary near the beginning of your report sets the stage for what’s to come and whets people’s appetites to learn more.
8. Explain product implications
What do the findings mean, and why do they matter? Help your stakeholders interpret the findings by saying how they relate to the product you’re building. UX researchers are storytellers, and great stories convey more than just “what happened.” The key findings require interpretation on your part. If you stop at simply telling people the data, you’ve missed an opportunity to help your team determine where to go next.
Another responsibility we have as UX researchers is to think about how the results could be misinterpreted. If you can identify wrong conclusions people might easily jump to, address them explicitly.
9. Recommend what to do next
Research has impact when it’s used to help your team make decisions and take action. Make this as easy as possible for your stakeholders by telling them how to use your research! You might consider getting buy-in from key collaborators about the recommendations before the summary is done. Then you can frame these as next steps and specify who owns them — design, engineering, research, etc.
10. Be creative with your format
If we want our research to be known, our summaries have to be engaging and easy to consume. This list doesn’t dictate the length, format, or sequencing of your research summary — but that’s not because those factors don’t matter. Don’t be afraid to get creative in how you share your findings (check out these ideas). Use slides, a one-pager, a longer narrative summary, a poster — whatever tells your research story in a clear and compelling manner. The goal is to make sure people walk away armed with the information they need to understand your work.
Beyond the fundamentals
Our list is focused on what to include in a summary, not on the finer points of how those ingredients are presented. We intentionally didn’t include data visualization or research best practices here, each of which deserves far more extensive attention.
Spending time on your research summary can feel frivolous, but it’s actually one of the easiest ways to ensure that the research benefits your organization. A compelling summary can mean the difference between findings that are used to make decisions over the short and long term, and findings that are ignored or forgotten.
Any list of essentials is bound to raise questions and concerns. What have you found to be essential when you document your research? What’s missing or superfluous on our list?
Authors: Lauren Scissors, Research Manager at Facebook and Laura Rivera, Researcher at Facebook (from left to right)
Illustrator: Sarah Lawrence