The Science of Influential User Research 

Understanding human psychology is essential for getting buy-in for ongoing research at all levels of the company. 

As research experts, we know that even when companies invest in user research, they often fail to incorporate the findings into their business decision making. A slight revision of an old existential question might be: If research work is never consumed, did it ever even exist? 

What Makes Research Reports Compelling?

High-quality research generally shares the same criteria; it is:

      1. Consumable
      2. Trustworthy
      3. Contextualized
      4. Relevant
      5. Integrated
      6. Actionable

We have found that the biggest stumbling block for researchers is presenting their findings in a highly consumable format. When provided with research that fails to meet that bar, stakeholders lose interest, spend less time with the findings, don’t use it to inform decision-making, and—worst of all—sometimes never even look at it. 

Let’s turn to science to better understand what exactly makes user research highly consumable. Most importantly, user research must present a story—and a good one. So, what makes a good story? To find the answer, we looked at the research of Kendall Haven, the leading subject-matter expert on the neuro- and cognitive science on stories, story structure, and story architectural design. Haven is also the author of the book Story Proof: The Science Behind the Startling Power of Story

According to Haven, our brains are wired to process information in story form. As information comes into our brains, it first passes through our neural-story net before reaching our conscious minds. The neural-story net attempts to fit the new information into your pre-existing mental model and performs a range of mental gymnastics to make that happen, including changing facts, creating false information, ignoring pieces of the story, making inferences (right and wrong), and misinterpreting the story altogether. 

If the brain ultimately can’t make sense of the information, it also can’t pay attention to it. 

In research, a compelling story helps people to avoid the above pitfalls. It enables them to make sense of the information, to not rewrite the facts, and, of course, to remember the results. All of this increases the likelihood that people within organizations will find the research compelling, and leaders will use the research to make better business decisions. 

How to Create an Influential Story with User Research

Let’s look at the elements of a good story and then see how they relate to user research. 

According to Haven’s research, a compelling story has eight essential elements. The chart below shows that each one has a counterpart in user research. 

Chart of research elements vs. story elements

Now, let’s talk format. At Tetra Insights, we believe that video is by far the most compelling way to tell a story (a view backed by research, of course). Think about it: Would you rather comb through a text-heavy research report or watch a video that reports on the same findings? Perhaps unsurprisingly, most people prefer watching videos. In fact, people are 12 times more likely to watch a video than read text. This is even more important for business stakeholders, who have limited time and a greater need for concise data. 

What Makes Research Reports Compelling?

It’s important to use best practices to ensure your video research reports attract and retain interest. I recommend taking some inspiration from Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok. The most successful videos on these platforms are:

      • Short
      • Passive
      • Explorable
      • Digestible
      • Curated
      • Shareable
      • Conclusive

Perhaps the most essential part of the user-research process is how the findings are presented to stakeholders. Researchers who follow the best practices outlined here and utilize compelling storytelling—particularly via video—are more likely to have a positive impact on their leaders’ business decisions and to show the value of customer research.

At Tetra Insights, we’re always following the new and interesting science about user research and will continue to share our knowledge with you here. Subscribe to our newsletter to stay up-to-date on the latest news. And if you’re interested in learning how Tetra’s software platform helps researchers create compelling video research, our free version is packed with powerful features. Click here to sign up for a free account. 

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