Faculty Profile Content Test

Applying usability test methods to web content.

Role

Project Lead, User Researcher

Date

2011


The research findings from this test of UB’s School of Medicine faculty profiles helped the school’s Office of Communications write targeted instructions for faculty on writing a research profile that speaks to all the key information needs of prospective student researchers.

Objective

While reviewing existing profiles in our faculty database, our team suspected that some of the faculty summaries were too long, dry, and detailed to be useful. We thought they might resonate better with readers if they were written in a more concise, conversational tone that made an emotional appeal about their research.

To understand what style of summary was most helpful and why, we tested a few recently rewritten faculty professional summaries with their primary audience: basic sciences student researchers.

Process

This project was a fun challenge. I had conducted plenty of usability tests of design before, but never content. I was surprised to find that many of the familiar methods still applied. The only real differences were in the questions we asked participants, and how we used the results.

For the test, we told participants to read and assess three faculty members’ professional summaries and asked a set of questions about each. Participants were also invited to browse other areas of the faculty profiles. After reviewing all three profiles, they chose one faculty collaborator and explained their decision.

I collected our findings in a research report and created a highlight video reel that illustrated key issues and interesting trends from the sessions. This helped our editorial team build empathy with the student researchers in a way that a report alone wouldn’t have done.

What We Learned

Student researchers preferred the two faculty profiles that went into the most detail about their areas of research focus and the projects in their lab. Knowing exactly what the faculty member is doing to achieve his or her research goals helps them learn what they would be doing in the lab.

And the “conversational” summary we thought would be the clear winner? It ended up performing the worst. Students thought it sounded unprofessional and vague, lacking a clear research focus. The gap between our assumptions and reality was a humbling reminder: You are not your user.

Results

With our research insights, we were able to provide well-informed advice to our nearly 800 faculty members with confidence. Our editorial team wrote recommendations for faculty researchers on how to craft their professional summaries based on what we learned from the test, including guidance on style and types of information to include.

Test Design: Moderator script including scenarios, questions, prompts, and checklists for the test facilitator. I also created an initial test plan, observed and took notes during the sessions, and created the final report.

The research report included a brief outline of the test objective, methodology, and high-level test results summary, as well as trends (pictured), recommendations, and an appendix with raw test data.

Findings and recommendations from the test report were used to create an instructional page for faculty called Writing Your Professional Summary.