The following is an excerpt from an ebook I wrote with Rachel Price, User Research for Taxonomy Design. We wrote it as a companion piece to a presentation we gave at Taxonomy Bootcamp 2016, because we think there’s a lack of good information out there about generative qualitative research for taxonomy. In our book, we break it down into simple steps so you can do your own research.

We always start off a research project by deciding what our objectives, or goals, actually are. What do we really need to find out? If we could wave a magic wand and know anything about our users, what would it be?

Why do you need research objectives?

Objectives help you focus on the things you really need to learn, so your study leads directly to actionable information. Documenting them also means that you can validate them with stakeholders now, rather than after you’ve done the work and they are questioning your findings.

How to determine your research objectives

To help you identify your true research objectives, here are a few questions to ask yourself and your team:

  • When this research is done, what questions should you be able to answer about your users?
  • What triggered you to think about doing this user research in the first place?
  • What is it that you need to know about users in order to move forward with your work?

What makes good research objectives?

Good research objectives for the kind of research we’re talking about in this guide are

  1. Open-ended
  2. Finite
  3. Addressed by the kind of study you’re planning to do
  4. Directly applicable to taxonomy

To make these guidelines clearer, let’s look at some examples of bad research objectives:

  • “Determine if socks should be placed with clothing or with shoes in our product taxonomy.”
    • By only presenting two options, you’re limiting your findings from the beginning. What if your users really think they belong in accessories?
    • Better: Determine where socks and other hosiery fit in our users’ mental models.
  • “Analyze how our employees interact with information.”
    • All employees? All information? Ever? In what ways? This is a huge question, and way beyond the work of one study.
    • Better: Identify which information sources underwriters need to access on a regular basis and what they need to do with those sources.
  • “Assess the usability of our faceted navigation.”
    • This is a great objective for a usability test, but it’s not really addressed by the kind of generative research we’re talking about here. Are you sure you’re offering the right facets? Are you sure the taxonomies are addressing the issues the users have? If so, then absolutely, do a usability test. This objective needs a different tool.
    • Better: Determine users’ needs and expectations around faceted navigation.
  • “Identify the touchpoints, content delivery mechanisms, and brand interactions that make up the user’s journey.”
    • These are really important things to know about when you’re doing any kind of service design or user journey mapping, but most of them aren’t directly applicable to taxonomy, without a fair bit of other work.
    • Better: Understand the key pieces of information users need to find the right document.

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