As user researchers, we all hit a point in our career when we receive a research request and think, "Is this really right?"
Or we ask, "Should I be doing this research?"
If neither of these has ever crossed your mind, consider yourself lucky. However, you will inevitably be in a circumstance where the number of research requests outweighs the number of hours you have in a given week. That means prioritizing one research request above another.
This may sound like a dream-like reality where people are very eager for research—but it happens. In some organizations, there is too much research to do. This can be a dreadful feeling. As a researcher, you want to do all the research, and saying no to research can leave you feeling unorganized, unworthy, or frustrated.
So how do you deal with and prioritize the requests coming in? How do you know you are doing the right research at the right time?
That’s why I use a user research request intake document. (You can borrow my template here).
What is a user research request intake document?
A user research request intake document is a form you share with stakeholders or anyone requesting user research. You give them this form to fill out at the beginning of the research project, as soon as you hear about the request.
(Bonus points if you can get them to fill it out before they even approach you!)
This intake document serves as the jumping-off point for a research project before it starts. This document allows the potential research project to be fully vetted and thought through before putting together a research plan.
I send the document to stakeholders as soon as they request user research. This happens before we meet or discuss the research any further. I ask them to fill out the entire document (or as much as possible) and then receive the document. Once I get the document back, I review it (including any comments or questions I have directly on the document) and then set up a meeting to discuss the research request further.
I rarely meet to discuss a research request before the intake document is completed. It has taken some time to build up the courage for this but saved my sanity in many cases. When I was a user researcher of one, I tried to juggle an impossible amount of projects, which made me a less effective researcher. That is when the first version of the intake document was born.
Why should I use it?
There are many reasons I started and continue to use an intake document. As soon as I started implementing this document, the results were immediate.
Here are some changes I experienced:
Better prioritized user research requests
With the intake document, you can understand the strategic potential for a project and how many teams the insights could help. You can see how impactful the research might be in an organization. Also, you can understand how the research ties into the organization's goals.
This information really helps prioritize one request over the next because you want to be focusing on the most impactful research that benefits the most teams. Additionally, you can gauge how long a project might take and understand if you can squeeze an extra smaller project in.
Reduced the number of meetings
Once you start using the intake document, you will notice the number of meetings you have about research requests decrease.
There are two reasons for this:
- The first is that the entry barrier is higher, so fewer research requests will come through.
- The second reason is that you don't have to chase people and have follow-up meetings as often since everything is in one document. You can easily comment and assign a question within the document, reducing the need for meetings.
Increased meeting efficiency
The intake document holds a lot of information and answers many questions before you even have to ask them. You can go into your first meetings with stakeholders with much more information than starting from scratch.
Your meetings will become faster and get to the most important issues quicker.
Gave back time
Between the fewer meetings that were also faster, you will get more time to do what you actually want: user research.
My calendar became freer as soon as I implemented this approach, and it allowed me to become more effective at my job again.
Passively educated stakeholders on research
When you provide stakeholders with this document, you are passively teaching them the different components in user research. Sometimes user research can be viewed as easy or, "Let's just do some usability testing." This document helps stakeholders understand all the different components we must think about during a project.
How to create a user research request intake document
Warning: there is a lot of information that goes into a user research request intake document. You might look at this and think that it is way too much, but bear with me. Each of these questions was carefully selected and crafted to give you the most optimal experience.
I have put together this intake document based on working with many different stakeholders and organizations. Despite this experience, the entire document may not be the best fit for you! I highly encourage you to adapt it to your needs and make it your own. Once you do, feel free to share your experiences and changes in the User Research Academy slack community.
Here’s the questions you should ask:
- Have you ever done user research before (with the team)? This will help you understand how much education you may need to put into the research project.
- What led you to request research support now? Timing is everything! It is important to know why it is important to do user research right now because it can help you determine the timeline and reasoning behind the request.
- What would be the organizational and strategic impact of this project? What would be the impact on the team? Please provide any relevant links. Even if you shorten the document, include this! This question helps you prioritize research projects, and gives you an understanding of how the research could impact an organization and teams.
- What level of support do you anticipate needing for this project? This question helps you determine how much time and energy you need to put into the project. For instance, if the team is empowered and can do their own research, but just need an interview guide review, maybe you can squeeze them in.
- What are your questions for the research project? This will help you understand what questions the stakeholders have. Knowing this, you are equipped to have an effective meeting asking why these questions are important to stakeholders.
- What would you like to get out of the research? What is the expected outcome? This question gets everyone on the same page on what the expected outcome of the project could be. This can also help you determine methodology later on.
- What customer problem/need is your proposed solution trying to solve? If you have any documentation, summarize and link it here. This question ties it back to the customer/user. We want to be doing research that benefits the customer, and this helps highlight whether we are actually looking at customer problems or just researching "cool ideas."
- How do we know this is a customer problem or a customer need? This gives back-up on the above question, in the form of data or previous research.
- How have you acted on previously completed research that backs up the solution you’ve designed (User Research, Market Research, Business Intelligence, on-site data, A/B testing, Analytics?) This helps you understand if there has been previous research done and can save you the time of copying research that is already complete
- What important and unanswered questions do you still have after evaluating past research? This question encourages stakeholders to go through previous research and come up with questions that are still lingering. This way you know you aren't doubling efforts from the past.
- What recruitment criteria do you have in mind? What types of participants do you need? This question isn't totally necessary but can help save time in meetings by thinking about recruitment needs. Since recruitment can take a long time, the sooner you discuss this, the better!
- If you have a solution (ex: concepts or prototypes), how did you come to the solution you propose? Please mention any other solutions you have considered and link any prototypes. This can help you understand what type of research the stakeholders are looking for (generative versus evaluative) and if they are too far down into the solution-space.
- What will you do with the insights generated from this research? Is there someone (ex: designer, developers) “ready” to act on the insights generated from this research? This is another important question - the worst feeling is doing research and then having no one act on it. You want to make sure someone can act on the insights from research.
- When do you need insights in your hands (i.e. analysis of the research is completed) to move forward? This will give you a better indication of the timeline
- Is there any other information you think is important and useful as we begin to discuss your project? Just an area for them to write additional comments
FAQ on research requests
Here are some frequent questions I get asked about the intake document:
- What if my stakeholder doesn't want to fill this out? I know this is difficult and my former self would have cringed reading this. Don't take meetings until people fill this out. Educate stakeholders on why this is important and how it will reduce the amount of time spent on meetings and get the research through quicker if it is a priority. Do your best to honor your time. Alternatively, you can start with a shorter version and adapt it as stakeholders get used to the process.
- Is this relevant for b2b work? You can definitely use this for b2b work as well. You may need to change a few words (such as customers), but it is the same sentiment. Your b2b research should still hold all these elements.
- When do I give this document to stakeholders? Aim to give this document to stakeholders as soon as they request research from you. Ideally, you will have it easily accessible so stakeholders can fill it out as soon as they have a request.
- Do I use this for every research request? For very small research studies, you don't have to ask stakeholders to fill this out. However, for the majority of studies, I give this form to stakeholders. If you know the stakeholder, you can advise him/her to fill out the relevant parts for the study.
If you’re interested, check out and download the template!
Nikki Anderson is a qualitative user experience researcher with about 5 years in the field. She loves solving human problems and petting all the dogs. Read more of her work on Medium.