UX Research: 3 tips on unmoderated research

Why use unmoderated research?

Unmoderated research takes place when the researcher is not present and the research participants complete the research alone.

This research method can be a good alternative to the traditional face-to-face interviews when budget is tight, working with a limited timeframe or the objective of the research is small (like identifying quick usability issues) which don’t require a full session.

Unmoderated research sessions tend to be short (around 15–20 mins), take place remotely and there are online tools available to help researchers recruit participants and host research studies.

Whilst the researchers are not present during the research, preparation is still very important to make sure you get the insights you need.

Participant completes unmoderated research remotely on their own

So I’d like to share with you my three tips to stress-free unmoderated research.

1. Be clear on who to include and exclude from the study

Before you set up your study on an online tool consider the demographics and characteristics of participants you’d like to recruit. Unlike recruitment for face-to-face research, it may be difficult to specify the exact number of participants you want to recruit per demographics or characteristics. To illustrate, if your study is interested in comparing and observing any differences between two age segments you might need to set this up as two separate studies so that you are able to recruit users accordingly.

You may also want to use a screener to exclude certain characteristics. If your study is about online shopping then including users who haven’t shopped online before wouldn’t be suitable.

2. Create a detailed task script

Since the participants will be doing the research on their own it’s very important to make sure the instructions and tasks are very clear to them. The researcher won’t be available to prompt the participants to speak aloud, ask follow-up questions or help them if they get lost with the test materials.

The task script needs to stand on its own and sometimes your script may need to be more detailed than if you were doing face-to-face sessions.

So to reduce some of these risks, you can consider:

  • An introduction that outlines what the study is about
  • Highlight the importance of speaking out loud and being honest with their feedback from the start
  • Include follow up questions as part of the main task to give you more detailed feedback. You can include questions such as: Why did you say that? What made you think that?
  • Some online tools will also allow for post-task questions, which can be good for task summary or survey questions to gauge understanding. For example: Can you summarise the task you just did? (This is to check if participants understood the task and why they gave those responses); Rate how easy or difficult you found this task (This is to quantify how participants experienced the task and give you a basic metric).

3. Run a pilot with real users before launch

You may have gone through your script in detail and may have added instructions or follow-up questions along the way to elicit responses, but you won’t know how the study will really work until you put it out.

Before you launch your study, it’s a good idea to test it with a couple of real users so you can iron out any issues that would make your study better. Once you have launched a study you may not be able to make any changes if you spot any mistakes or want to make any changes.

Running a quick pilot can help you iron out issues such as:

  • Technology- Do the participants understand how the online tool works and can easily navigate between the tasks? You don’t want you study to be biased towards comments related to online tool. It’d also be helpful for yourself to get familiar with the software so you know where you might have to give more detailed instructions
  • Instructions- Observe if participants are speaking out aloud throughout the session and consider if you need to add reminder prompts, for instance, at the start of each task.
  • Task understanding- Are the task wordings, descriptions and follow-up questions comprehensible to participants? Sometimes, we’re so knee deep in our designs that we can over simplify questions we want to ask. So running a pilot gives you a chance to ensure the questions make sense to participants. You don’t want to get participants to misunderstand your questions and give answers because it didn’t make sense to them.

Have you got other tips on unmoderated research? I’d love to hear them!


I founded Melon Experience Design to help clients gain better research insights from their users and make a social impact, get in touch if you would like to work with us