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How to Write a UX Research Plan That Actually Works: 7-Step Tutorial
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How to Write a UX Research Plan That Actually Works: 7-Step Tutorial

How to Write a UX Research Plan That Actually Works: 7-Step Tutorial

Saviour Egbe
August 29, 2023

A UX research plan is like a map that will help you navigate the complexity of running a research project. It will help you define your goals, choose the right methods, and collect the data you need to make informed design decisions.

But UX research plans don't have to be boring. In fact, they can be quite funny. For example, one UX researcher I know has a section in his plan called "The Things That Make Me Cry." This is where he lists all the things that he's learned about his users that make him sad, such as the fact that they often have to deal with frustrating interfaces or unhelpful customer service.

But the primary use of a research plan of course is to make  sure that your research is effective. So, while it’s helpful to have a sense of humor, you also need to be serious about your research.

In this article, we'll consider:

  • What a UX research plan is and why it's important
  • How to create a UX research plan 
  • An example of a well-structured UX research plan and
  • A template for a UX research plan you can use to get started

So, whether you're a UX newbie or a seasoned pro, read on for everything you need to know about UX research plans!

What is a UX Research Plan?

A UX research plan is a document that outlines the goals, methods, and timeline for your research. It's a roadmap that will help you stay on track and ensure that your research is productive.

A good UX research plan should include the following:

  • A clear statement of the research goals: What do you hope to learn from your research? What are the specific questions you're trying to answer?
  • A description of the target audience: Who are the people you're designing for? What are their needs and pain points?
  • A selection of research methods: There are many different research methods available, so it's important to choose the ones that are right for your goals and target audience.
  • A timeline and budget: How long will your research take? How much money will it cost?
  • A plan for data analysis and presentation: How will you analyze your data and communicate the findings to others?

Why is a UX Research Plan Important?

A UX research plan is important for several reasons. It helps you:

  • Stay focused and avoids wasting time and resources.
  • Ensures that your research is relevant to the needs of your users.
  • Get buy-in from stakeholders & align on the goals for the project.
  • Provides a framework for organizing and analyzing your data.
  • Helps you communicate the findings of your research to others.

How to Create a UX Research Plan

Creating a UX research plan is an important step in ensuring that your product or service is user-friendly and meets the needs of your target audience. Here are the essential steps to create a research plan that drives meaningful insights and successful user experiences:

Step 1: Alignment & Requirements Gathering

Research rarely will happen in a vacuum. Usually you are working with a team—product, engineering, design, for example. 

When the need for a research study arises, the first thing you want to do is meet with your team to understand the questions they're trying to answer.

Depending on how formally set up your research practice is, you may even want to supplement this step with a Research Request document where stakeholders can explain the key questions they'd like to answer, why they're important, and any constraints (budgets, timelines) they're working with.

Step 2: Define Your Goals

Once you've gathered your data, the next step is to clearly define & write out your goals. What do you hope to learn from your research? What specific questions are you trying to answer?

Here are some things to consider when framing your goals:

  • What are the business objectives for your product or service? Are you trying to grow active users? Or reduce churn? What should the final results of this research project help you do?
  • Who are your target users? These are the people you’d like to learn more about.
  • What do you want to learn about their behavior and preferences? This will help you determine your research questions. Ideally the answers to these questions should also tie to your business goals so there’s a clear line between what you’re trying to learn and what that learning will do for the company.

Once you’ve thought about and drafted the answers to these questions, make sure to follow the below steps before starting interviews:

i. Assess Internal Data and Identify Research Needs

Before you start collecting new data, take some time to assess any existing data you have. This could include analytics, customer feedback, or previous research findings. This will help you identify any gaps in your knowledge and determine what areas need to be explored further.

Sometimes you’ll find you already have the answer to your research question in-house—saving you weeks of research effort and thousands of dollars of investment!

If you’re trying to build a repository to help you do this more effectively, check out this definitive guide on research repositories.

ii. Link Research Goals to Business Objectives

It's also important to link your research goals to the business objectives of your organization. This will help you justify the time and resources that will be required for your research. By demonstrating how your research will help you achieve your business goals, you'll be more likely to get the support you need.

As a bonus, once your research is complete, you can go back and track its impact against these business goals. This will help you build a case for your own work and the research practice at your company.

As you proceed through Step 1, keep in mind that your research goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound (SMART). This framework will help you ensure that your goals are well-defined and actionable.

Step 3: Identify Your Target Audience & Plan a Recruiting Strategy

Knowing your audience is essential for creating a UX research plan that delivers relevant and actionable insights. In this step, we'll talk about how to define your target audience and plan a recruiting strategy for this set of users.

The target audience you’re considering this research study may overlap with your standard target users, or you may want to speak with a subset of this group.

For instance, if you’re doing a research study on why users churn, speaking to a regular active user won’t help. You’ll need to define and recruit users who can actually answer your questions well—in this case it could be “users who have churned in the last 2 weeks”.

When defining the audience for this study, think about whether your target user falls in a specific category based on one of these characteristics:

  • Demographics:  This includes basic characteristics, such as age, gender, location, and occupation.
  • Behaviors and habits: Are you interested in users who have or have not conducted certain actions on your product? For research on how well your Slack integration works, you may want to speak to users who have already installed it, for example.  
  • Needs and use cases: Sometimes one product can have multiple use cases. For example, a transcription product could be used by researchers, or journalists, or students trying to capture their class notes. Which use case or needs are relevant to your research study?  
  • Payment type: In today’s world products may have free, freemium / trial, or paid users and each of these groups may behave differently. Think about whether you need one or all of these user types as part of your research.

Now that you know who you need to reach, you also need to think about how to reach them.

Recruiting, as we all know, is a major pain point for (most) researchers. There are some ways to speed it up though.

If you’re running research for a B2C product or an easy to find B2B cohort, you may want to turn to an external recruiting software like or There are also local agencies to help you find more local audiences in international markets. 

If you are trying to recruit via an external paid channel like this, make sure to budget it in your research plan. These channels are very quick to set up research calls with, but they do come with an added cost.

If you’re running research with a niche B2B audience or are defining your audience based on behaviour on your product (e.g., user who churned in the last 2 weeks), you may need to use internal recruiting methods. This means reaching out to your own users via email, intercom, or via your sales / support team.

If you are recruiting existing customers, make sure to budget in the time it takes to recruit these users. It may take a few days to weeks to gather the relevant user emails and schedule calls, although paid incentives for research help this move much faster.

If you are planning to recruit your own customers, use our Ultimate Guide to Recruiting Your Users for Interviews and Usability Tests. This article has templates for outreach, incentive payment options, and many tactical tips to help you streamline internal recruiting.

Remember, the accuracy and relevance of your research findings depend on the quality of your participants. Take the time to identify and engage users who genuinely reflect your intended audience. This will help you create a research plan that generates insights that drive impactful design decisions.

Step 4: Choose Your Research Methods

Choosing the right research methods is necessary for getting the most out of your UX research plan. Before kicking off your study, make sure to review the possible ways you can answer your research question as well as any constraints you face regarding time, money, or tooling.

If you’re not sure which methods exist, read through this article on UX Research Methods. This article provides an overview of the different methods, so you can choose the ones that are right for your project. It covers everything from usability testing to card sorting, and it includes practical advice on how to conduct each UX research method effectively.

When you’re actually selecting the right method out of the available options, here are the key questions you need to ask yourself: 

  • Your research goals: What do you hope to learn from your research? The methods you choose should be aligned with your specific goals. For example, if you need to deeply understand user motivations, a user interview is much better fit than a survey.

  • Quantitative vs. qualitative: Do you want to collect quantitative data (numbers and statistics) or qualitative insights (in-depth understanding)? Different methods are better suited for different types of data. If you need to know the percentage of users using Zoom vs GoogleMeet, a 5-person user interview won’t get you that data but a 100 person survey with a representative sample might.

  • Resources and time: How much time and money do you have to spend on your research? Some methods are more time-consuming or expensive than others. For instance, an ethnographic study where you travel to see your users is obviously more expensive and time-consuming than a 30-minute remote user interview.

By considering these factors, you can choose a combination of research methods that will help you understand your users better.

Step 5: Define your timelines & budgets

Now that you know your target audience (and therefore recruiting method) and your research methods, you can define the timelines and budgets your stakeholders care about.

  • Timelines: How long will it take to conduct your research? This will depend on the methods you choose, the number of participants you need to recruit, and the amount of data you need to collect. For example, user interviews can typically be conducted within a few weeks, but usability testing can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the number of participants and the complexity of the product or service being tested.

  • Budgets: How much money will you need to conduct your research? This will depend on the methods you choose, the number of participants you need to recruit, and the cost of data collection and analysis. For example, user interviews can be conducted for a few hundred dollars, but usability testing can cost several thousand dollars, depending on the number of participants and the complexity of the product or service being tested.

Step 6: Identify your assumptions

Sometimes without realising it, our research study comes packaged with a set of assumptions about who users are and what they want.

Before kicking off your study, it’s important to identify these assumptions in writing and align on them with your team.

For instance, if you’re running research on how to improve a Slack integration, your in-built assumptions may be:

  1. Users already use this integration
  2. It’s worth improving this integration further

Once you’ve laid out these assumptions in advance of your research, you can check them against existing data and keep them in mind when you’re reviewing your research findings.

For example, if analytics data shows that no users use your Slack integration, it may call into question the research you’re running today or change the audience you speak to about it.

Instead of speaking to existing Slack integration users, your audience may need to be companies that have Slack but have not downloaded your Slack integration.

Your research questions may also shift from “Why do you use the Slack integration?” to “Why not?

In general, taking a moment to review research assumptions helps you be more aware of them throughout your research study.

Step 7: Define the research questions

This is a pivotal phase in the UX research process. It's when you define the questions that will guide your data collection efforts. These questions will be your compass, directing your research toward meaningful insights that drive product improvements.

Here are some tips for crafting and structuring your research questions:

  • Make sure each question is aligned with your overall research objectives. This will ensure that your findings address the core goals of your project.
  • Make your questions clear, concise, and specific. Ambiguity can lead to varied interpretations and muddy insights.
  • Frame your questions from the user's perspective. Use language that aligns with your target audience to ensure your questions are relatable.
  • Avoid leading questions. These are questions that nudge participants towards a particular response. Aim for neutrality to get real insights.
  • Use a mix of open-ended and closed-ended questions. Open-ended questions allow participants to provide detailed responses, while closed-ended questions offer predefined answer choices.
  • Structure your questions logically, moving from broader inquiries to more specific ones. This will help participants to follow your thought process.
  • Limit the number of questions. You want to get comprehensive insights but don't want to overwhelm participants with too many questions.
  • Cover the core areas relevant to your project. This could include user pain points, needs, preferences, expectations, and perceptions.
  • Pilot-test your questions with a small group of participants. Their feedback can help you to identify unclear or misleading questions.
  • Make sure your questions are relevant to the research methods you will be using. For example, usability testing may focus on task-oriented questions, while interviews explore broader experiences.

Here are some examples of well-defined research questions:

1. Usability testing:

  • How easily can users navigate the Looppanel account setup process?
  • What challenges do users face when uploading their recorded calls to Looppanel?
  • How intuitive is the process of setting up Calendar integration on Looppanel?

2. Interviews:

  • Can you describe a recent experience you had with the Looppanel customer support?
  • What motivated you to sign up for Looppanel for your user research needs instead of other platforms?
  • In your view, how does the platform assist in taking your user interview notes effectively?

By carefully defining your research questions, you can ensure that your data collection efforts are focused and meaningful. This will help you to gather the insights you need to improve your product or service and deliver a better experience to your users.

Step 8: Align with your team

Now that you’ve thought through the basics, it's essential to get buy-in from your team and stakeholders on the final plan.

A lot may have happened between your first requirement-gathering meeting and when your plan is finalized. Take the final plan to stakeholders and make sure they are aligned:

  1. The research question you’re going to answer
  2. How your study ties to business goals
  3. Which users you’ll be engaging with
  4. Which method you’ll be using
  5. What your timelines look like
  6. What your budget looks like (if applicable)

This step is really important because if there’s a lack of alignment between you and your key stakeholder, you may end up with findings nobody is going to act on.

Example UX Research Plan

Here is an example UX research plan for improving the onboarding experience of a mobile app. Use this example as a guide to help you create your own plan!

Psst… we also have a template below that you can copy and use!

Project Title: Research study to improve onboarding experience on DuoLingo 

Business Goal: We want to increase the activation rate of new users on the app.

Project Goal(s):

  • Identify key drop-off points on the onboarding flow
  • Identify why users are dropping off at these points

Target Users: People from the 15-40 age group in North America who have not used Duolingo before.


  • MixPanel analytics data to identify existing drop-off points for users
  • Usability testing with the think aloud protocol to understand why users are dropping off at those points

Timelines: The study will run for 4 weeks:

  • Week 1: Analyzing existing analytics data & recruiting participants
  • Week 2: Running usability tests
  • Week 3: Analyzing results
  • Week 4: Presenting findings

Budget (if applicable): Anticipated spend of $500 on recruiting.

Key Research Questions
These are the research questions we’ll be gathering data on

  • At which point(s) in the onboarding process are users most likely to drop off?
  • What are the common reasons users cite for discontinuing the onboarding process?
  • How do users perceive the clarity of instructions during the initial setup stages?
  • Are there any specific usability issues that lead users to abandon the onboarding flow?
  • How do users' prior experiences with language learning apps impact their expectations of DuoLingo's onboarding?

UX Research plan template

We’ve also created a UX Research plan template you can use easily duplicate and use for your own work.

Click here to get Looppanel's UX Research Plan template.

This template contains sections for:

  • Project Title
  • Business Goals
  • Project Goals
  • Target Users
  • Research Methods
  • Timelines & Budgets
  • Key Research Questions

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