Exploring Think-Alouds in Usability Testing: An International Survey


Research problem: The study explored think-aloud methods usage within usability testing by examining the following questions: How, and why is the think-aloud method used? What is the gap between theory and practice? Where does this gap occur? Literature review: The review informed the survey design. Usability research based on field studies and empirical tests indicates that variations in think-aloud procedures may reduce test reliability. The guidance offered on think-aloud procedures within a number of handbooks on usability testing is also mixed. This indicates potential variability in practice, but how much and for what reasons is unknown. Methodology: An exploratory, qualitative survey was conducted using a web-based questionnaire (during November-December 2010). Usability evaluators were sought via emails (sent to personal contacts, usability companies, conference attendees, and special interest groups) to be cascaded to the international community. As a result we received 207 full responses. Descriptive statistics and thematic coding were used to analyze the data sets. Results: Respondents found the concurrent technique particularly suited usability testing as it was fast, easy for users to relate to, and requires limited resources. Divergent practice was reported in terms of think-aloud instructions, practice, interventions, and the use of demonstrations. A range of interventions was used to better understand participant actions and verbalizations, however, respondents were aware of potential threats to test reliability, and took steps to reduce this impact. Implications: The reliability considerations underpinning the classic think-aloud approach are pragmatically balanced against the need to capture useful data in the time available. A limitation of the study is the focus on the concurrent method; other methods were explored but the differences in application were not considered. Future work is needed to explore the impact of divergent use of think-aloud -
nstructions, practice tasks, and the use of demonstrations on test reliability.

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