CIRCA:Talk Aloud


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The "thinking-aloud" method is a simple and effective way to get feedback on an interface or service. The idea is that you sit someone down before the interface you want them to test and give them meaningful tasks to work on while talking out loud. You need to remind them to vocalize what they are thinking and what they plan to do. What they say can be recorded or you can take notes.

Simple Protocol

A simple way to run a study using such a method would involve:

  • Get ethics clearance through the appropriate channels.
  • Select a cohort of people to test your interface.
  • Set up appointments with each one for about an hour (or more, depending on what you want feedback on).
  • Sit them down before a machine with the interface set up as they would first encounter it (for the tasks you have in mind).
  • Explain the project and get consent for the study.
  • Give them a page with the tasks on it that you want them to do. Explain the "thinking-aloud" idea and ask them to do the tasks.
  • While they work through the interface you can take notes. Remind them to think aloud if they stop talking. Answer questions if they ask them, but try to avoid guiding them. You want to see what they are frustrated by and what they are thinking.
  • At the end you can ask some summary questions.
  • The researcher should write up summary notes as soon as possible.
  • If you recorded the session you can also transcribe that.

General Suggestions

Here are some general suggestions regarding this method:

  • It is a good way to get usability feedback on software or a web site.
  • You don't have to record the session. You can just write (type) notes and summarize them later.
  • A small number of participants will give you good usability feedback.
  • The feedback you get will depend on the tasks assigned. If you have lots of participants you can have them to different tasks.


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