Writing Realistic Tasks for Usability Tests on Your Sites

Usability test tasks are at the heart of a usability test. They determine which parts of a system that test participants will see and interact with, and, if written well, can give you the best analysis of your digital properties. Usability test tasks are so mission-critical that some people argue they are even more important than the number of participants you use: it seems that how many tasks participants try, not the number of test participants, is the critical factor for finding problems in a usability test.

For the purpose of this article usability test tasks can be divided into 5 different categories (Dr David Travis highlights 6 in this article). You don’t need to create tasks in each of these categories — you simply need to review the categories and decide which kind of task will best motivate your participants.

The 5 main categories that were established are:

  • Scavenger hunt
  • The Reverse Scavenger hunt
  • Self-generated tasks
  • Part self-generated tasks
  • Troubleshooting tasks

Scavenger Hunt

This is a great way to find out if people to do a task on your site. Your task is a clear question that requires the user complete an activity. For instance: “Go to shoe retailer websites, and search for snow boots under £200.”

The Reverse Scavenger Hunt

This task is more leading since you present the user with an answer. For instance, users are given an image and asked to find the corresponding article on your site. This is great for when you are trying to find out what search terms users will use to find the corresponding item.

Self Generated Tasks

This is really useful when you are not really certain what its is that people do on your site. You ask participants what they expect to do with the site (before you show it to them), and then you test out that scenario.

Part Self Generated

These tasks work well when you have a good idea of the main things people want to do with the site, but you’re less sure of the detail. With a part self-generated task, you define an overall goal (for example, ‘analyse your phone usage’) and then ask the participant to fill in the gaps.


For these situations, it makes sense to try to recreate the issue with the product and then ask the user to solve it — either by starting the participant at Google or at your company’s knowlegebase articles.

If you need help writing tasks, please look at the User Experience Insights Group for helpful tips. Or would like to receive templates for task writing then contact us and we’ll help out.

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