Using Think Aloud interviews to study user real-time intervention experiences 

‘Think aloud interviews’ are a type of qualitative interview where you ask participants to look at/use/engage with the intervention and to say out loud any thoughts that come to mind as they work through it. Think aloud interviews help to:

  • Collect very detailed data about how users react to every aspect of intervention content, format and structure
  • Understand how an intervention is used, and any problems with using it (e.g. bugs or unclear instructions) 
  • Identify features of the intervention that users may find confusing or dislike, so that these can be changed

They can be conducted in person, via video calls or even phone calls.

    Click on the buttons below to watch the corresponding videos.

    Introductory part

    Starting the interview

    Encouraging honesty

    Establishing rapport, prompting, leaving space

    Prompting for personal point of view

    Wrapping up

    Key steps when carrying out Think Aloud Interviews

    1. Prepare the intervention elements that you want to share with users – this might be paper documents, online materials or, for example, videos of parts of your intervention being delivered in person.
    1. Prepare any prompts and additional questions you want to ask during interviews, including key elements to ask about if participants don’t pick up on them. 

      Tip: Practice using your prompts and questions, including using any technology you need, such as recording equipment. As an interviewer, practice using neutral prompts, so that you don’t influence participants’ responses: “what are you thinking now?”; “what made you choose that option?”

      Tip: Ask about the content so that you get feedback about key messages rather than unimportant format (e.g. ‘What did you think of the advice on this page? not ‘What do you think of this webpage’). Ask for negative views and comments, as these will help identify problems with the intervention.

    1. If conducting interviews remotely (e.g. telephone or video calls), decide how and when to share intervention materials. If you want to capture immediate reactions to the materials, it is better that participants do not to see them before the interview starts. If you decide that participants will give more useful feedback if they have time to think about the content before the interview, you can send the materials in advance.

      Tip: Send participants any physical documents or an online link to view documents/website pages/videos, with instructions about when to open them e.g. before or at the start of a phone/video call.

    1. Think about how you or other team members will know which parts of your intervention participants are referring to in their responses – both during the interview and when analysing recordings or transcripts. 

      Tip: Ask participants to say which specific part of the intervention is being referred to when they think aloud (e.g. by reading out headings on website pages) – or you can do this for them.

    1. Conduct and record the interviews

      Tip: Watch for facial expressions and body language cues to help decide when to prompt/follow-up, in video calls/in person.

    An example think aloud study, including a longitudinal interview study and a study with those who do not want to use this kind of intervention:

    Bradbury, K., Morton, K., Band, R., van Woezik, A., Grist, R., McManus, R., Little, P., & Yardley, L. (2018). Using the Person-Based Approach to optimise a digital intervention for the management of hypertension. PLoS ONE, 13(5), 1-18. [e0196868].

    Click here to find more papers that relate to the use of think aloud interviews.