How to Write a Scenario for Usability Test

Technical Articles
Oleg Mishyn
29 July 2015

The underlying concept of writing usability test scenarios is to get valuable insights of a specific project. Usability testing makes it possible to involve real users in the process of project evaluation, during which users perform real tasks on websites, software, hardware or cell phones.

Usability testing is extremely efficient, however to get the right insights it is crucial to set the right tasks. So, the first and the foremost step in writing a scenario for usability test is to identify what exactly users are going to do with your product and decide on the tasks you want to test. After making the list of these tasks you can start creating realistic task scenarios for the users.

A task is nothing else but a list of specific steps that a user needs to perform to execute a particular purpose. A usability scenario describes what exactly a user is going to achieve after accomplishing the task. It also includes a detailed information necessary for accomplishing performance targets.

The most difficult thing about creating task scenario is to provide users with sufficient information, that is enough to perform the task and at the same time does not allow users guessing what exactly they are supposed to execute and therefore incites discovery that is typical of a real-world app usage.

Here are a few tips on how to achieve this:

Set Specific Tasks

Provide users with concise, one-sentence tasks. The list of tasks depends on what you want people to do on your website. For example, if you are selling goods you may ask the testers to find a food processor with the highest customer rating. If you want users to create an account, the task be the following - “sign up for the website” or “create an account”. You can also ask people to sign up for the newsletter and so on.

Do Not Tell Users How Exactly They Should Perform the Task

Of course, giving specific information is crucial for achieving the desired results, but do not give testers step-by-step instructions. Never tell them where to go or what to press, as the core purpose of usability testing is to find out what problems real users may face when using your product, and you will not be able to do that by giving detailed instructions.

Use Plain Language and Avoid Technical Terms

Explain the task in lay terms. Avoid using technical terms or company jargon, as there is a risk that users will not understand them or interpret them wrong, which in turn, will lead to the wrong test results.

Avoid Tasks with Dependencies

Tasks that have dependencies (those that include several consecutive tasks) are usually difficult to perform, as if a user fails to perform the first task, he/she is more than likely to meet with failure when performing the second one. So, if possible try to avoid tasks with dependencies.

Make Scenario Informative But Short

When adding context to a scenario try not making it too long and do not cram it with unnecessary details. Just explain users what kind of task they need to perform. For example “You are going to move your office down the street and you need to hire a moving company.

It takes some time and practice to learn writing efficient scenarios for usability tests. So, be patient and you will soon do this like a pro.

How To Choose Platform and Technology for your Mobile App?
10 Real Experiments in Testing Your Startup Idea