Summarize each research session to save time synthesizing your notes.

There’s something interesting that happens at the end of a given session with your participants — you may not know it, but you already have 90% of the salient facts floating around in your mind.

The status quo for user research is to run multiple sessions with your participants, and then synthesize that date after the fact. The problem with this approach is that it becomes very heavy, very quick. Having to run through hundreds of notes, reestablishing context, and synthesizing all that information in your head is not an easy task. You’ll tend to go back and forth between notes, and it ends up being fairly tedious and sometimes is the barrier preventing many people from running research.

An approach to try that will help save a lot of time and effort is to summarize your thoughts after every session. The majority of the important information you need will need in the end can be found in these summaries, as opposed to sprawled over many notes. This leverages the fact that you, as a researcher, have the ability to distinguish important information in the moment and at the end of your session.

This is an instinctual approach, but can be a very useful tool for researchers.

What to make note of

Barriers — if your participant runs into pain points in an digital or real world experience, you should make note of that as a problem that could potentially be addressed by your team.

Patterns in feedback — if the same points of feedback keep coming up, from an individual or across many participants, that should be noted.

Language used — how did the participant talk about their experience, and how did they phrase it? This is useful information to collect because it can help inform how you communicate your product feedback to your team.

Important feedback — while this is entirely subjective, trust your instincts. Whatever feedback stuck out for you in the moment likely did so for a reason. You can analyze it further once you are done all of your sessions to see if it still holds weight.

Issues and bugs — depending on how big they are, they might be fixable before your next session. If not, it should at least inform what needs to be fixed moving forward.

One summary for each participant

It is important to note that right now you’re not synthesizing the data, you’re simply noting any important or interesting things you noticed during your session. The synthesis will still happen after you’ve run all your sessions with your participants, but instead of hundreds of individual notes, you now have a handful of summaries to read through.

If it helps, talk to your research partner about the things you thought you saw and what things they thought they saw, and capture all of that as a post-session summary.

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