8 Tips for Quick Research Notes

Whether you are the note-taker, or the researcher reviewing a recording, it is important to find a good short hand for taking notes. It must be quick, but also easily scannable and understandable by other. Below are 8 tips I put together a few years ago to help some co-workers with note-taking during my usability sessions.  

1. Use acronyms to reduce the amount you need to type. Quick written or typed shortcuts will be critical to increasing your note-taking speed and balancing note capturing with participant observation


  • FAC: = Facilitator
  • EE = Employee
  • DOP = Design Opportunity
  • w/o = without
  • n/a = not applicable

2. Focus on getting the users reaction to interactions, and their emotions about that reaction. Pay attention to side comments. This is often when the user expresses their goals and needs. Use italics and quote marks to show quotes.  When observations or feedback is long, emphasize areas of importance, and use “[…]” for areas that are inconsequential.


Likes “Mobility”, but doesn’t understand why it’s under Career & Education.


Mentions needing a way to search by people who have particular skills & responsibilities (focused on a retiring EE) “Will I be able to pull their names up and get information on them?”

Clicks the find by drop down, and moves around screen, hesitating “How do the successors get in here?” scrolls around, […]. See’s and clicks on the Add button to the right. “How do these names come up, is this everybody?” The results seem to cover too many business units.

3. Note facilitator interactions that impact the users flow, and potential video clip opportunities. This can be especially helpful when going back over your notes later to show where multiple assists were given versus those times that participants were able to breeze through with less assistance or prompting. This can also help the facilitator in pilot tests to understand if tasks are worded in the best ways, and where participants are most likely to stumble.


FAC: Rephrases Scenario.. scans nav…, FAC: Asks to re-read scenario.. she continues scanning…

She clicks the Back action button to return to Succession Plans, “I don’t see the director of sales position, should I try to find it?” [CLIP]

FAC: asks her to re-read scenario

4. When possible note the user’s passive actions as well, especially when it uncovers possible usability issues.


Lost Window, behind main window – FAC: Aided her back to window. DOP: avoid using a popup?

Continues to scroll around for more info, Awards> Previous Employment, Tests, etc. She likes separate full pages, and liked that Talent Profile was a summary of them.

5. Provide information on things that are missing as well.


She had to leave early – task not attempted


User seemed distracted, and kept asking the time. They did not feel the product applied to them.

6. When possible try to keep information grouped so that it is not missed in the review, if a participant skips around between tasks, simply note that.


[Task 11]

(Continued from Task 7) – Asked about the bold number, and number in parenthesis, could it be an open position?

She likes the ability to export the chart. – (Moves back to Task 7)

7. If a bug is discovered in the system, be sure to note it.


BUG: The Talent Factors page loads by default. (Should be Talent Profile)

8. As far as tools, I always recommend a pen and paper if the customer can see you while taking notes. However during review, or if remote I personally like to use a tool like OneNote or Excel because it easily allows for entering screenshots and remote collaboration, as well as tagging text with icons for easy reference. Hopefully these tips are helpful to you in reducing the amount of text you need to write to get to the good stuff.

Depending on the type of test you may also want to look out for metrics like time on task, SUS survey scores, task satisfaction ratings, and overall user confidence ratings.