Home > Blog > Usability and User Experience Research: How Much Do Words Matter?

Usability and User Experience Research: How Much Do Words Matter?

When you plan for user research, usability evaluation or user experience (UX) testing, using the right words to ask questions and define tasks is definitively something you should work on carefully.

Many opportunities for research arise when you are about to launch a new product or feature of an app or a website. Testing usability and user experience enables you to gather feedback from users about the interface and interaction but also to better understand how people express themselves and the words they use to refer to “things”, situations, experiences.

Common situations in User Research when words do matter


Asking questions in interviews

In an open interview: ask questions that allow people to elaborate an idea, not to give you an exact answer, this is not a survey. Let´s say we are interviewing an e-commerce team about usability and UX research adoption in the company. We want to know what´s the team maturity level, their background, their expectancies, their challenges, the tools they use and so on. Ask:

  • general questions that allow you to get the big picture: Tell me about your company. Tell me about your role in the team.
  • what: What do you usually do as a part of a new project?
  • how: How do you do this?
  • where: Where do you get that information? Where do you see yourself in two years?
  • when: When would you start looking for this?

Don´t ask Would you buy this book if you see this banner?  This is definitively too specific and you are more willing to influence and suggest an answer rather than getting rich insights. To learn more about getting the most out of an user interview, we suggest you to read these 4 Types of UX Interview Questions to Master. As an UX researcher or even a startup founder, you should definitely start with reading Talking to Humans: Success starts with understanding your customers and Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights.


Task definition and asking questions for onsite or remote usability testing

When defining a task, make sure you stay general. Using specific words or jargon can introduce a bias to the results. To make is simple, if you have a “See details” call to action, it makes more sense to ask users “Where would you click to buy the product” or “What would you do to see in which colors this product is available” rather than asking “Where would you click to see details?”.


Card sorting sessions

This technique enables you to build the information architecture of a new information system (website, app, software, etc.)  or to test the actual structure of a system by having participants sort items into meaningful groups. Meaningful for them. These groups can refer to categories or headings of typical menu entries. Make use of card sorting sessions to find out what people think about the organization of your website’s content. These insights will help you make informed navigation decisions. But make sure not to influence the participants.


Content writing for prototype or redesigned interface

Choose the right words when writing content about a prototype or about an interface that has been redesigned. Hopefully the lorem ipsum era is over (if you are still not convinced about this, take a look at why lorem ipsum might be killing your design).

Some sources that you should consider as a UX researcher in order to understand how people express themselves:


Think omnichannel experience

If you already have a product – service mix, it shouldn’t be very difficult to get access to:



Analyze the wording of clients or potential clients through their email responses. How do they ask questions and express themselves? What is the specific vocabulary related to certain category of products?


Phone calls

These are rather conventional however nonetheless they are an effective means of understanding how people express their doubts, ideas, feelings about your service or product. Most of call center systems have features allowing you to listen to conversations between sales executives and customers or your customer care executives and customers (make sure they all know conversations are being recorded).



The main advantage of having salespeople is that they meet the client face-to-face, frequently. So go talk to your salespeople about clients: what is their perception on how clients refer to the product? What kind of information is the client looking for?


Social media

Ok, this one is easy: People communicate continuously about brands, products, services and experiences. They generally do this on social media too so make sure you listen and monitor.


Searches on your website

In your Google Analytics account, use Site Search option to see how users search on your website.


Product reviews

Reviews encourage other users to try out your product. They also give you valuable insights which can help you improve. If you already provide them with the feature to give feedback on your own website, then use this as an opportunity to better understand users behaviour, needs and vocabulary.


Desktop research

By “desktop research” we refer to other research techniques that use secondary research methods in order to collect and analyze data. This might not be related to your brand mentions but it still can give valuable information on both users, their needs, behaviour, past experience and suggest vocabulary and more widely give you ideas on specific content you should be working on.


Google Adwords

You probably already know the Google marketing tool which helps you build search network campaigns is Google Adwords. This involves identifying keyword ideas and estimating how they would perform. In the context of user research, think about using Google Adwords Keyword Planner in order to get data about how and what users search on Google.


Google Trends

Explore trending search topics with Google Trending Searches. Find out which topics relate to people the most.


Massive platforms like Yelp

Look at other business’ reviews and see what comments people make.



If you are into a B2B business model, sites like Quora will help you see how people ask questions.

Think about research on user´s vocabulary and mental references as a part of a process that enables you to Understand > Prototype > Test > Build > Get back to research. This should get you to:

  • understand how people express themselves,
  • build the right tasks during an usability testing session,
  • get the most out of user research,
  • design meaningful customer experiences,
  • write relevant content for your specific target and improve SEO results,
  • optimize SEM campaigns.