Unraveling User Research Questions

What are user research questions?

user research questions are questions we want to answer through our research.

When conducting user research, researchers are trying to uncover unknown information. It is helpful to think about a research questions as a question posed by researchers to themselves about that unknown. Research questions are not questions we should ask study participants.

Here are some other examples of user research questions:

  • What are the biggest pain points users experience when using our product?
  • What features of our product are most important to users?
  • How can we improve the user experience of our website?

UX research questions can guide various research methods, such as surveys, interviews, usability testing, etc. By carefully crafting our research questions, we structure our study, which helps to collect the data we need to make informed decisions about our digital product or service.

The Connection Between User Research Questions and UX Research Goals

A pyramid diagram with three layers: research goals, research questions, and interview questions.
The research goals layer is at the top of the pyramid and contains the overall objectives of the research project. The research questions layer is below the research goals layer and contains the specific questions that the research project aims to answer. The interview questions layer is at the bottom of the pyramid and contains the specific questions that the researcher will ask during interviews to study participants.

Research goals are the overall objectives of your research project. They are broad statements that define what you hope to achieve by conducting your research.

Meanwhile, research questions are specific questions you want to answer to achieve your research goals.

In other words, research goals are what you want to achieve, while research questions are how you plan to achieve it.

Research questions must be aligned with research goals. It ensures that the research focuses on gathering the insights most needed to achieve the project’s objectives.

For example, let’s say that our UX research goal is:

“Learn how to improve the onboarding experience for new users.” In this scenario, the research questions might focus on understanding the following:

  • What are the biggest challenges that new users face during onboarding?
  • What are critical tasks that new users need to be able to complete during onboarding?
  • What information do new users need to perform main tasks successfully?

By answering these questions, researchers can identify areas where the onboarding experience can be improved. For example, if research shows that new users struggle to find the information they need, researchers can recommend changes to the onboarding content or navigation.

Types of user research questions

There are several different methods of classifying research questions.

Research questions by subject of question

The illustration titled: Research questions by the subject. Three boxes are labeled Questions by the problem, Questions by the people, and Questions by the product.

The first method classifies the research question by the subject of the question. It categorizes user research questions into:

  • Questions about the problem: they help you understand the pain points, challenges, and goals of your users. In short, they help you to understand the problem you are trying to solve. For example:
    • What are the biggest challenges that users face when trying to complete a task?
    • What currently are the most frustrating aspects of the product?
    • What are the most important features that users would like to see in a new product?
  • Questions about the people: help you understand your users’ needs, wants, and mental models. In a nutshell, they help you to understand the audience for whom you are trying to solve this problem. For example:
    • What are the different types of people who use our product? Are they students or professionals?
    • What are the different needs and goals of each type of user?
    • What are the mental models that users have of our product? Do our users think of our product as a learning tool, a research tool, or a productivity tool?
  • Questions about the product: help you understand how users perceive and use your product and whether it meets their needs. In other words, they help you to understand how your product is being used, how you should prioritize the features you are including, and how users feel about the content and the design.
    • How do users perceive our product?
    • What are the main tasks that users try to complete while using our product?
    • Are users able to find the information they need in our product?
    • Is our product easy to use on the mobile devices?

Research questions by purpose of question

The illustration titled: Research questions by their purpose. Three boxes are labeled Descriptive questions, Comapartive questions and Casual questions.

The different method assumes classification based on the purpose and scope of research questions. Some common types of user research questions include:

  • Descriptive questions: they aim to describe the current state of affairs. They are often used to gather information about user demographics, attitudes, behaviors, and pain points. For example:
    • What are the demographics of our users?
    • What are the biggest challenges that users face when using the navigation of our product?
    • What tasks do users most commonly complete with our product?
  • Comparative questions: they aim to compare two or more groups of users; or compare multiple products or services; or to compare two different versions of the same interface element. They are often used to identify differences between groups and to understand how different factors impact user behavior. For example:
    • How does the browsing experience of our product compare to that of our competitors’ products?
    • How does the performance of our app compare across different mobile devices?
    • What are the different ways that users complete a particular task with our product?
  • Causal questions aim to identify the cause-and-effect relationships between different variables in the design. They are often used to understand how changes to a product or service will impact user behavior. For example:
    • What impact does the color of a CTA button have on the click-through rate?
    • How does the length of a product description affect conversion rates?
    • What is the effect of a new onboarding process on user retention?

Research questions by UX aspect

The illustration titled: Research questions by UX aspect. Two boxes are labeled Usability testing questions and Accessibility questions.

Different classification focuses on different aspects of the user experience that the research question aims to answer. For example:

  • Usability testing questions: Usability testing questions aim to identify usability problems with a product or service. They are often used to test new designs’ usability or identify problems with existing products or services. For example:
    • Can users find the information they need on our website?
    • Are users able to complete tasks with our product without difficulty?
    • What are the most common usability problems that users experience with our product?
  • Accessibility questions: Accessibility questions aim to identify accessibility issues with a product or service. They are often used to ensure that products and services are accessible to users with disabilities. For example:
    • Can users with visual impairments navigate our website?
    • Can users with motor impairments interact with our product?
    • Can users with hearing impairments understand the audio content of our product?

Depending on the stage of the product development lifecycle, you may want to focus on one type of question more than the others. Consider this classification as a way to narrow your research efforts and help align your user research questions with your research goals.

How to write good research questions?

A good research question follows a SMART framework. It is a set of criteria to guide setting goals and objectives – a framework proposed by George T. Doran in 1981. According to this framework, a SMART research question is:

  • Specific – it focuses on a narrow topic. 
  • Measurable – it allows for the collection of data to answer that question.
  • Achievable – researchers can answer the question with the resources they have.
  • Relevant – the answer to the question will help us improve the product or service.
  • Time-bound – the research question includes a clear timeframe for when the study will occur and when results can be expected.

This approach provides a clear roadmap for choosing the right user research goals and research questions. 

Step 1: Define your research goals

As mentioned before, defining your research goals is essential in writing good user research questions. Researchers must ask themselves: What do you want to learn from your research? This should make your efforts more efficient and help you focus on the subject you are trying to learn about.

Once you know your research goals, you can develop specific questions that will help you achieve those goals.

Step 2: Gather available data and existing insights

Before conducting user research, you should gather as much available data and insights as possible. This data will put your research in context and help you define your research questions. You may collect this data using the following methods:

  •  Secondary research: Look for existing articles and reports of research studies that have already been conducted on your target audience and that answer your research questions.
  •  Analytics and customer feedback: If you are working on an already launched product, analyze your website analytics and customer feedback data to identify trends and patterns.
  • Stakeholder interviews: Talk to people who have a good understanding of your users and have existing knowledge about the subject of your study.

Gathering this preliminary data can help you to refine your research questions and to choose the most appropriate research methods.

Step 3: Write your user research questions

Finally, to write research questions, consider the decision your team needs to make, the type of information it needs, and the stage of the design cycle you are in.

Consider your resources and the timeframe of your research. Then, refine vague requests from stakeholders into practical questions.

Researchers should be able to answer their research questions with specific metrics or evidence of user behaviors.

A tip: narrow your research questions to 3-5 questions. More than that will make your study hard to manage.

How to map interview questions to your research questions?

Research goals result in user research questions. Similarly, interview questions come from research questions. If your chosen method of research is a user interview, you want to write your interview questions in a way that they answer your research questions.

However, it is worth mentioning that the questions you ask your study participants are not your research questions. Knowledge of your research goals may change how participants will answer questions and, as a result, bias your research.

To map interview questions to your research question, you should start by breaking down your research question into smaller, more specific questions. Then, for each specific question, design an interview question that will help you gather the information you need.

For example, let’s assume that your research goal is to understand how users shop on their phones and what features they would find most valuable in a shopping app.

In this scenario, your research questions might be: 

  • How do users shop on their phones?
  • What features do users use the most while shopping in an app?
  • How do users navigate through the shop on their mobile devices?

In order to find answers to these unknown pieces of information during an interview, the researcher should ask the participant questions:

  • Please walk me through your standard shopping session on your mobile phone. 
  • Where on the shop page would you find information about the product?
  • What information is important to you when you are comparing products?

This way, data gathered during this interview should help you answer your research question, which will help you reach your research goal.

How to create good interview questions?

Here are some tips for writing good user research questions:

  • Use open-ended questions: Instead of asking questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no, ask questions that encourage users to provide their own thoughts and experiences. For example, instead of asking, “Do you like our new design?” ask, “What do you like and dislike about our new design?”
  • Be specific: Instead of asking general questions about the user experience, ask specific questions about specific tasks or features. For example, instead of asking, “How can we improve the user experience?” ask, “How can we make it easier for users to find the information they need on our website?”
  • Avoid leading questions: Leading questions are questions that suggest a desired answer. For example, instead of asking, “What did you like best about our product?” ask, “What are your favorite features of our product?”
  • Use plain language: Avoid using jargon or technical terms that your users may not understand.

Tools and Resources for Crafting User Research Questions

There are a number of tools and resources available to help designers and researchers craft effective user research questions.



User research questions, along with research goals, help researchers to structure their research. They are essential for the gathering of the insights needed to improve products and services more efficiently.

By understanding the different types of user research questions, researchers can collect the data better, which will result in making informed decisions and creating a better user experience.

Further reading

What, When, Why: Research Goals, Questions, and Hypotheses by Maria Rosala

How to Write a Research Question the SMART Way by Vappingo