Stronger Findings the ‘Mad Libs’ Way
How a simple sentence structure helps me deliver more actionable findings.
When I was working as a UX research consultant, the pace was relentless, often having 4+ projects on my plate at any given time. All my reports needed to be concise yet thorough, especially since there was a chance that I’d never work with the client again after the project ended.
Findings are the foundation of your report and the driving force behind your recommendations. They’re what will spur your stakeholders or clients to action. So it’s important that your findings have all the key elements your team needs in order to take the next steps.
To do that — and to craft my study decks quickly yet thoroughly, I developed a findings formula during my consulting days. I still rely on it to this day:
Let’s unpack each of the elements:
[#] participants: I give the reader a sense of how many people my finding applies to. I don’t use actual numbers, but rather descriptive words such as “most,” “some,” “few,” and “none.” Using the word “participants” sets the context that this is a qualitative finding. (For a quantitative deck, you can replace “participants” with “respondents”.)
Verb: An action word helps the reader visualize what I saw or heard in my study. I write it in past tense because this data was captured at a point in time.
Observation: I state what I observed. Avoid jargon words or product names unless they’re widely known — especially if you want your finding to be used outside of your product team.
Because [why]: I always include the reason behind my observation — this helps your product team interpret the research and determine the best next steps. If you don’t share the “why,” your team could misinterpret the finding or come up with a solution that doesn’t address the actual need or problem. In the example above, if the finding were just “Most participants missed the timer icon,” a stakeholder might assume they should move the icon to where participants expected to see it, rather than changing it so that it stands out. Including the “why” focuses the team and takes the guesswork out.
How this formula helps me, as a researcher:
- Enables me to move quickly and ensures that I include all key elements to help my research live on.
- Pushes me to become a better interviewer because I know I need to understand the reason behind a participant’s response in order to complete the formula.
How this formula helps your team:
- Provides the reason behind the observation, which helps the team focus on the right opportunity and determine a solution that addresses the need.
- Is easier to understand because it forces you to write in the active voice.
- Makes your team see things from the participants’ perspectives, helping them gain empathy.
For the past 7 years, I’ve used this formula in every deck. It has sharpened my research communication by ensuring that my team can understand what I’ve learned — whether or not I’m available to discuss it — while including an appropriate amount of detail to inspire my team to take action.
What strategies do you leverage to ensure your findings are crisp, actionable, and have a long shelf life? Comment below.
Author: Beth Lingard, Research Manager at Facebook.
Illustrator: Sarah Lawrence