Screening & Roles for Usability Participants & Testers

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  • 0:01 Usability Testing
  • 0:43 Recruiting Subjects
  • 1:25 Preparing Subjects for Testing
  • 2:05 Recording Reactions
  • 2:47 Incorporating Changes
  • 3:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught history, and has an MA in Islamic law/finance. He has since founded his own financial advice firm, Newton Analytical.

Before you send a document to be distributed, it is a wise idea to perform usability testing. In this lesson, we learn about the roles for both test subjects and those administering the test.

Usability Testing

If you've ever written a procedure, much less a manual, you may wonder what the point of testing it is. After all, it makes sense to you; shouldn't it make sense to everyone else? However, the simple fact of the matter is that just because a document makes sense to one person doesn't mean that it will make sense to everyone who has to read it.

This is even true in situations where the readership will be a definite group of people with the same professional background. Therefore, usability testing, or the process of making sure that a procedure works well with different users, is a crucial part of the technical writing process. In this lesson, we'll take a look at the steps of the usability testing system, starting with recruiting subjects and ending with incorporating the changes that they suggest.

Recruiting Subjects

First things first. You should make sure that the subjects that you are recruiting for usability testing are actually good for the job. This largely depends on the type of writing that you're doing. If you are writing a highly technical document to be read by rocket scientists, then you shouldn't ask John Doe off the street to be a usability tester. Instead, you should find some people who have some idea of what rocket science actually involves. By the same token, if you are writing a manual for how to put together a piece of furniture, you shouldn't just market it to carpenters. Instead, that John Doe from earlier would be an ideal subject for usability testing.

Preparing Subjects for Testing

Once you have your subjects, you should give subjects the opportunity to run through the process. If it is building a piece of furniture, then you should hand them the set of furniture and have them construct it. If it is cooking a recipe, then they should be in a test kitchen. Inform them that they should work through the directions as best as they can. Reinforce the idea that it is perfectly okay to ask for help or to point out when a step doesn't make sense. After all, that's what you're paying them to do! Also, encourage subjects to take notes along the way, as well as reflect on parts of the experience that were particularly difficult or, in their mind, ill-designed.

Recording Reactions

In an ideal world, your subjects would record every reaction that they have to the usability testing experience. However, the truth is that they won't. Therefore, it's important to record their reactions and their processes. If you see that a number of people are having difficulty distinguishing between the four millimeter wide bolt and the six millimeter wide bolt, then that is something worth recording.

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