Recruiting participants is a challenge for many psychosocial research projects, especially at a graduate level, where resources are scarce and project timelines are tight. Having just completed my online survey recruitment, I feel the urge to pass on my recently acquired knowledge on this topic.
I do not claim I did everything right—quite the opposite. It was the classic case of trial and error and the not-so-classic one of pandemic and alternative! For this exact reason I decided to reflect on my ‘lesson learned’ moments and share the tips I gathered along my recruitment journey. However, when I started writing down my reflections, I realised they were way too many for one blog (which would contradict some of my top tips); thus, this is just Part 1! In this first part, I focus on the ‘behind the scenes’ tips: Anything I found important to know just before I hit the launch button.
Part 1: Becoming a JENGA master
Research is like JENGA (as most things in life); you need to have a strong foundation to build upon otherwise the ‘higher’ you go, the riskier it gets for everything to fall apart.
My first advice on how to recruit participants may sound a bit irrelevant, but I can guarantee it is actually the most important one: Spend as much time as you need to thoroughly design your study (and apply for ethics)! Effectively designing your study will save you both time and money. Once you press the ‘Launch’ button, there is (almost) no comeback!
- Choose the right tools and platforms. Online surveys may give you unlimited options in terms of accessibility and inclusivity, but beware! Not all questionnaires can be distributed online free of charge and not all survey platforms are in line with data protection regulations. It goes without saying, but make sure that you select the appropriate questionnaires for your project and that you make any necessary arrangements for using them online if needed (considering your budget as well). Qualtrics and Online Surveys seem to be the most commonly recommended options for designing a survey in our field.
Top tip: We live in a multi-device world! Make sure that the platform you use offers a ‘responsive design’ (i.e. a fluid proportion-based grid that automatically adapts to users’ browsers and the devices they are using) or just prompt your participants to only use a certain device.
- Less is more. Try to keep the completion time as minimum as possible. Even if people are interested to fill in your survey, they may get bored or tired and leave it incomplete if it takes too much time. That being said, think about whether you would like to give your participants the options to save their answers and come back to it later or to skip certain questions (i.e. dealing with missing values in your dataset later on).
Top tip: Our attention span is at its lowest ever (thanks to technology). Embrace the KISS (Keep it Simple, Stupid) Principle: make the font easy to read, the instructions clear and simple, repeat the answer options regularly and, if appropriate, insert a picture here and there (there are many free-stock websites for pictures, I usually take a look here or if I am looking for animated ones here).
- Pilot your survey with peers. No matter how many times you go through your survey, there is always a sneaky typo somewhere that you missed. Create a copy of your survey and send it to your peers to pilot it (ideally someone from your academic circle and someone from your social/non-academic circle). Ask them to share their overall impressions, the completion time, and to take a picture of any typo/grammatical error they may spot.
Top tip: If you have more than one survey pathways (i.e. you direct your participants to complete different questions/questionnaires based on one given answer to a specific question) make sure you test them all. Also, make sure that your ‘helpers’ have understood what you are asking them to do!
(When my brother told me that the completion time was less than half of what I was expecting, I realised something was wrong. I had asked him to select a certain age for his hypothetical child to test a certain pathway; however, I later realised that he had completed the survey ‘honestly’. He has no children, so he was screened out of the survey! At least I verified the ‘screen out’ pathway worked ok.)
- Do not underestimate the power of your poster. Your poster is the cover to your book and people will judge by it. You probably have less than a second to convince people to stop scrolling down and click on your survey link. A visually attractive poster may grab the attention; however, you do not want anyone’s attention, you need the ‘right’ people’s attention (in this case the ones that fulfill your eligibility criteria). It is therefore important that your poster is both visually engaging and accurately depicting the key information of your study. ‘Less is more’, ‘KISS Principle’, and ‘Pilot with your peers’ tips also apply here!
Top tip: If you are planning to promote your survey on different social media platforms, I would recommend designing your poster at Canva (https://www.canva.com). It doesn’t only have a plethora of design ideas; it also offers specific templates for different platforms (let’s avoid losing key information due to wrong poster dimensions)!
- “Why should anyone want to complete my survey?” In an ideal world, everyone would be keen to contribute to meaningful research for a better future. Unfortunately, our world is far from ideal and intrinsic motivation is not always guaranteed. In any case, offering your participants the option to receive a summary of your overall findings is good practice and a great opportunity to engage and raise awareness about your topic of interest at a later stage! Motivating your target respondents to fill up your online survey through the inclusion of incentives is also an increasingly popular option (e.g. offering a prize draw to win an Amazon voucher, an iPad mini, a free download of books or software, etc. upon completion of the survey). Of course, this is something you should first discuss with your supervisors and check with the appropriate research ethics committee.
Top tip: Before you decide how much you want to spend on your study incentives you may want to first plan your recruitment strategy. There may be other ways to invest your money to promote your survey. More details about this on my Online Recruitment Part 2: Spreading the word.
I hope you found at least some of these tips helpful! Stay tuned for the next part and don’t forget that Research Bow also offers support to help you reach your participants! Just complete this form!