Sensemaking Explained

At Susan Bell Research we've pioneered a new approach to qualitative research that helps us understand human behaviour in a new way. We call it Sensemaking.  Sensemaking is a framework to use in qualitative research.

Sensemaking brings insight into qualitative research

  • To investigate how people navigate between their own personal beliefs and their social relationships.  In Australia, choosing to become a vegetarian is a good example because it is often a very personal choice which potentially affects that person’s relationship with other people.

  • As a way to come grips with who people make decisions in ambiguous or confusing circumstances. In Australia, how people become retirees (often without choosing to) is a great example.

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Reading and the psychology of motivation 

Reading is a voluntary activity that people can start to do if they want to. They can also stop reading any time - even mid sentence.  Although we tend to think of reading as somehow different from other forms of behaviour, many psychological concepts still apply. One of those is motivation and goal orientation.

Reading and motivation

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Is your content full of jargon? 

If your content is full of jargon, you are at risk of 

  1. Creating unnecessary effort for your users and customers.
  2. Limiting how much they understand, and 
  3. Disengaging them

"Jargon disrupts people’s ability to fluently process scientific information, even when definitions for  the jargon terms are provided. ....... Research shows the less work audiences need to put into reading, the more they will find sources credible, and the better they will connect with the messages. " *

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Lessons learned from testing written content with users

Over many years, I have tested written content on a diverse range of topics such as cycling safety, exchange-traded funds, denied insurance claims, superannuation fees and charges, and making a will. I have watched how people read letters, landing pages, statements and brochures and how they filled in forms. From this experience, I have learned how people actually read.

User testing shows when people skim read or stop reading

Content creators are often advised to write for skim readers who navigate via headings.  In my experience, this is only partly true. It depends on how familiar the content is to them - or rather how familiar it seems and what they presume they need to do after reading it.

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What user testing teaches us about writing for readers under stress

I recently came across an article about long sentences in government advice about COVID 19.  The article was in The Conversation. The authors argued that 'Most government information on COVID-19 is too hard for the average Australian to understand.'  The authors correctly identified complex sentences like this: 

"Phase 3 will be subject to health advice, but will focus on continuing to build stronger links within the community and include further resumption of commercial and recreational activities."

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Three guests celebrate qualitative research with me*

I invited three guests to celebrate qualitative research with me:

  • Ben Nitshcke is the Strategy Director of NationCreative. He loves the messiness of qual, and so do I!
  • Oana Rengle celebrates how qualitative research helps us understand complexity
  • Hamsini Shivakumar values the holistic benefits of qualitative research.

 I hope you enjoy this compilation and find it useful.

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What user testing teaches us about work voice

Work voice is one of the main reasons why users do not read content. When users see content written in work voice they will skim read; understand less than they read, and feel confused about your brand.

What is your work voice?

Work voice is the writing style you use when you are writing formally to colleagues, your boss, or the regulator. It  is not the one that you would normally use with your friends and family, or your neighbour.  It should not be the voice you use when writing to your users.

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