Best practices for UX research participant recruitment

Jane Davis
September 22, 2022
Best practices for UX research participant recruitment

Research is nothing without its participants, but getting folks to participate in research is often a struggle. The number of emails people receive on a given day often makes even the important ones slip through the cracks. And more than ever, we see contact fatigue. People are tired of the emails and the texts and the in-product pop-ups. “Tell us how we did!” 

But, companies, especially UXRs, survive on input from users and potential users to continually improve their product or service, ensure product-market fit, and deliver value to users. The challenge of finding and recruiting the right people arises in every organization. A few changes to how you approach recruiting can go a long way towards improving the experience for everyone.

Best practices for great research participant recruitment

Personalize your communications

Personalized communications almost always get the best returns. If you invite a participant to your panel or study, ensure all your communications include their first name. Each outreach email should come from a person, not just the “research team” or “info @ company name.” This doesn't mean researchers can't use a generic reply-to, but including the sender's name in the email signature and ensuring it sounds like a person wrote it will go a long way.

During study or panel participant recruitment, there are so many touchpoints with research participants. Each of these is an opportunity to connect and build rapport. Each touchpoint should be personalized, but personalized doesn’t mean things can’t also be automated. If you’re using a recruiting platform or participant management system, it should be easy to include any relevant personalization in all outreach emails. 

TIP: Find a communication tool with workflows built in, so reminder emails, rescheduling, and thank you emails can be easily turned on or off to make automated and personalized communication the norm. 

Content to personalize

  • Invite emails
  • Reminder emails
  • Incentive/thank you emails
  • Rescheduling emails if necessary

Humanize the experience

People’s time is a gift they give us when participating in our research. For someone to feel respected and valued, it’s essential to be respectful of their time and open to the input they provide. There are a couple of ways to make the research process more human. 

Pick an appropriate medium

If you’re struggling to get people to sign up for your research, it’s worth asking yourself if a lower-touch approach might get the insights you need. If a survey might work for your specific project, use that. Phone calls are a great way to get in-depth information without increasing someone’s video fatigue. And if you prefer to host a video call to get a transcription, offer a “video-off” call when possible. If you are conducting moderated usability testing, ensure that your participants know the video expectation from the start.

TIP: Always ask, “is this insight worth the level of effort for my customer?”


Mark Cuban has said, “time is the most valuable asset you don't own.” If we’re asking our customers to give up one of their most valuable assets, it’s only fair that we compensate them appropriately. A good rule of thumb is to pay people $25 for every 15 minutes of their time for a research session. But if you’re recruiting from a niche group or a group that is often difficult to schedule, such as doctors or executives, consider the amount they make an hour and adjust your rate accordingly. You can also consider alternatives to monetary compensation, like offering to donate in their name to a charity or cause of their choice. Here are incentive adjustments that we encourage you to review. 

TIP: Include an incentive from the start and adjust later if needed.

Reminders & Easy Reschedules

No one can keep perfect track of their calendars, so sending automatic reminder emails that include links to reschedule improves no-show rates and lets your customers know you appreciate their time. You want to make this process as frictionless as possible. Use calendar invites that include all the relevant details and don't require anything other than a simple “accept or decline.” 

TIP: Automate reminders and make reschedules self-service.

Be specific

You know what you’re trying to learn when you conduct a study. There’s no reason to hide that from your participants. Get specific in your request for research participation and include that specificity in every communication. Essential topics to cover in your landing pages and emails include:

  • What is the research topic
  • What are a few sample questions that will be asked
  • How long is the time commitment
  • What is the medium (survey, interview, unmoderated usability study, etc)
  • What incentive is being offered
  • Why would they be a good fit for this study

TIP: Include the details, so expectations are clear upfront.

Don’t over invite

I like to say, “This isn’t a cattle call, folks!” Be specific in your research plan and know precisely what kind of person would be a good fit for your study, then look for that person. If you still have an extensive list of folks, send out your invites in batches so you don’t end up inviting people when your study has already met capacity. You certainly don’t want a potential participant to get a sour taste in their mouth if they find they aren’t a good fit every time you ask for participation or if the study has already been filled every time they respond. 

TIP: Send email invites in batches until you reach your quota.

Screen for the perfect candidate

Using screener surveys saves everyone time. By asking questions in advance of the study, it’s clear to the participant what candidate you are looking for, and when they aren’t invited to schedule a follow-up interview, the screener can help them understand that it wasn’t a good fit. 

These screener surveys can also be used to profile your candidates further, so the next time you conduct a study, you’ll be able to target the appropriate candidates with personalized invites that speak right to their specific experiences.

TIP: Ask relevant questions, so no one wastes their time with a longer interview.

Tips for low participation rates

You’ve done everything we’ve listed above, and the participation numbers are still not where you need them to be. Now what? We’ve included a few tips that might help you get the participation you need to round out your study. 

Three tips for low research participation rates

  • Find proxies
  • Increase the incentive
  • Do a research project on research projects

Finding proxies for participants

In an ideal world, you can speak to the exact number of participants, and they all fit the target profile perfectly, but if you’ve been in this business for a minute, you know that is highly unlikely. So, when you are in a crunch, consider finding proxies for participants. When you build your research plan, start with the ideal candidate and go back to your stakeholders to expand that grouping by adding additional acceptable groups or by removing a filter previously put in place. Maybe you don’t need a person who does the work full time; maybe you could find a consultant. 

Increase the research incentive

As you know, including an incentive is a common courtesy for research studies. But sometimes, a standard incentive is not enough to drive participation. Increasing the incentive is a great way to try to add research participants quickly. Make sure all outbound communications, including landing pages, are adjusted. And, you should go back to the folks who have already participated and increase the amount of their incentive as a way to show respect for their time. 

Set benchmarks 

Response rates vary drastically because no research project, participant list, or email communication tool is the same. The number of variables across studies and industries is so vast that it wouldn’t be fair to apply a blanket benchmark for all research. So, you must conduct your own research. Look at the following data points and determine your response rate benchmark. Once that’s been determined, you will know how many folks you have to invite to get to your desired outcome.

Other customer communication data points to consider

  • Marketing newsletter open rates
  • Customer advocacy program 
  • Previous study response rates

These data points should also be evaluated based on send days, times, and subject lines. A clear picture of what’s worked in previous customer communications will help set a baseline for response rates, so you will know when adjustments are required. 

NOTE: If you are without any former customer communications, you should strive to achieve at least a 1% response rate for research studies.   

How can Great Question help with participant recruitment

Great Question automates the participant recruitment process and every other part of the research process. Great Question customers love:

  • Customizing all communication touchpoints includes branding and personalization to improve participation rates.
  • Automated batch sending so you never over-invite.
  • Easy to create shortlists to get stakeholder feedback on invite lists, so you invite the right folks from the start.
  • Customized attribute creation for any participant based on screeners & candidate filtering to find the perfect candidates.
  • Global incentives are included as part of the workflow and can be automated to be sent immediately upon interview conclusion.

In addition, Great Question integrates with the tools you already use to conduct research, and our new research repository makes it easy to synthesize findings and share them with stakeholders. 

These are our tips, but we’d love to hear from you. Participate in our study and share your benchmarks and best practices here!

Read --> 2023 Guide to ResearchOps

Jane is the Principal Researcher at Great Question, where she help companies make better decisions faster through insights. Prior to joining Great Question, she created and ran the UX Research practice for Zoom, was head of UX Research for Zapier, ran the Growth Research team for Dropbox, and led UX Research for BitTorrent. She’s worked as a researcher, a designer, a librarian, and an event planner. She lives in Oakland with her partner and their two children, and spends as much time as humanly possible outdoors. In her heart of hearts, she believes research is actually a sales role.

Similar posts

Make Great Question your home for UX research