Usability Techniques
Methods for Successful "Thinking Out Loud" Procedure

Additions by Usability Analysis & Design, Xerox Corporation

In General

Don’t joke, indulge in sarcasm, flirt, or betray your own nervousness

Maintain a professional, neutral persona

Keep yourself "small" in relationship to the participant. Sit slightly back from the participant, in a chair that is lower.

Avoid wearing heavy perfume or aftershave. The participant may have allergies to the odor or find it distracting.

Don’t wear suggestive, revealing, or tight, uncomfortable clothes.

Don’t betray your own views or opinions of either the participant’s level of skill

Don’t let the participant become aware of any bias you may have about the product.

Don’t expect the user to tell you how to fix problems

Don’t expect the user to answer other design questions

Always keep the focus of attention on the user, not yourself. Avoid "I" statements and long explanations of how the system works.

Stay in the relationship with the participant. Don’t worry about the next question you are going to ask.

Write down design ideas so that you don’t need to worry about forgetting them after the test.

When the participant seems to have a problem, they can often unravel it without your help.

When you feel you should jump in, count to ten first.

If you jump in too soon, you lose valuable data and they become dependent on your help.

Techniques that encourage thinking out loud


Don’t ask "Do you like that dialog box?" but "Did that dialog box help you reach your goal?"

Don’t be too quick to assume that the user is lost or having a problem.

Don’t say, "What is your problem here?," but ask, "What is your goal?" or "What are you thinking you should do here?"

What is your goal?

What did you expect when you did that?

How did you expect that to work?

Can you tell me what you were thinking?

What do you want to accomplish here?

Describe the steps you are going through here.

How did you feel about that process?

Tell me about your thinking here.

What did you expect to happen when you . . . .?


Echoing sets up a social dialog and reinforces social conversation expectations: they say something, you repeat it, they say the next thing because that is what is expected in conversation.

If they say, "I’m not sure what to do here," don’t say, "So you are confused because the menu bar is unclear?"

If they say, "That didn’t happen like I expected, don’t ask, "So you thought that the task menu would be displayed here?"

"Conversational disequilibrium"

"And you were expecting. . .?"

"And your goal is . . .?"

Summarizing at key junctions

This article is part of the Usability Toolkit.
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