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Participant Recruitment: The First Step to Informing Participants

From the first moment that your potential participant becomes aware of your study, you are informing your participant about the study.  Although you will not go into detail about the study in an initial advertisement, a participant should have a basic idea of the purpose of the study and what their participation will entail.  Not only will you have better informed participants, you will likely attract participants who are really serious about being in the study. 

Recruitment can take place in many forms, including letters, emails, phone conversations, conversations in person, advertisements (i.e. flyers, handouts, posters, TV ads, radio ads, Internet ads, and newspaper postings), etc.  Please remember that when you submit your protocol to the Board, they need to see a copy of any printed recruitment materials and/or a script of what you will say to participants (depending on your method of contact).  For additional help producing flyers, check out our flyer template.

The following elements should be included in recruitment materials that you distribute:

  • The word “research.” Participants need to know that they are responding to a research study, not to a promise for free treatment or payment. 
  • A general description of the purpose of the study. Potential participants should have a basic idea of what the study entails.  This information does not need to be detailed, but it should be explained in layman’s terms.  Where possible, include information about what participants will do and the time required of the participant. 
  • Details on how to enroll. It will be difficult for participants to enroll if they don’t have your contact information.
  • Inclusion/ Exclusion criteria (where appropriate).  You may be looking for a participant with certain criteria, or there may be reasons why a participant would not be eligible to participate.  Including this information in your recruitment materials will prevent wasting the ineligible participant’s time and yours. 
  • IRB-SBS protocol number. Our office assigns every study a number for tracking purposes.  The number begins with the year and is followed by 6 additional numbers (2012-0000-00). Obviously you won’t have this number when you first submit your protocol; your pre-reviewer will give this number to you after your protocol is submitted and you can add the number to your materials at this time.

You may include the following:

  • Payment incentives. You can inform participants that you are including an incentive for participation, but this should not be the emphasis of the advertisement, letter, email, etc. 
  • Benefits. This can be a tricky element to include and generally the Board will not allow it.  A benefit to an individual must be something that the researcher can guarantee.  If you are offering a treatment, for example, that is recognized and known to be beneficial, this can be considered a benefit.  A “potential benefit,” however, is not guaranteed and is not allowed on recruitment materials. For more information, please see Benefits.

The following elements should not be included in your recruitment:

  • Misleading information. Recruitment materials should never lead a participant to believe in something that is untrue about a study.  For studies where deception is involved, the recruitment materials should not be a part of the deception. The Board recognizes that it is important in a deception study (and other similar studies) not to bias participants by providing full disclosure; however, the participants should be provided with true information that will help them to make the right decision about their participation.
  • Overemphasis of payment incentives. The title of an advertisement should never be “Free Money!” or “Easy Cash!” Instead, payment information should be clearly described at the bottom of the advertisement after the purpose of the study is described.  Such payment should not be bolded or otherwise emphasized.
  • Statements that might compel or coerce participation. A participant should never be made to feel that they must participate.  For example, instead of stating that “your participation is urgent!” state that “your participation is appreciated.”  In some cases, the relationship between the researcher and the participant can make the participant feel that they should participate.  Examples include teachers/students, principals/teachers, doctors/patients, therapists/clients, milatary supervisor/subordinate. To illustrate, the IRB would discourage a recruitment method where a school principal sends a letter home to parents strongly encouraging them to participate in a study as this communication may make parents feel like they are required to participate as part of school policy.  Instead, the letter should properly come from the researcher, accompanied by a signed letter from the principal stating that he or she has reviewed the study and approved its presence in the school, without endorsing parents to participate.

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