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GuidesUser experience (UX)10 Strategies for effective participant recruitment in UX research

10 Strategies for effective participant recruitment in UX research

Last updated

1 June 2023


Chloe Garnham

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User experience (UX) is a critical aspect of all effective design. UX has an impact on how a person feels when they interact with products, how fast they can complete tasks, and how effective the product is overall. 

Without deep research into the user’s needs, UX could be just an afterthought, and critical decisions may be made on guesswork – not data. To accurately perform research, you must find the right participants. But discovering the ideal participants is one of the most significant challenges project teams will face.

In fact, recruitment challenges are often the cause of budget overruns. Even in studies where enough participants are found, participation rates are often low, with only 3-20% of participants choosing to participate.

We’ve created this guide to simplify the process and boost success rates. These are 10 of the most effective strategies for participant recruitment. 

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What is UX research?

UX research is essential throughout the entire design process and includes planning, development, branding, appearance, usability, and functionality. 

To develop products that are user-centered, it’s critical to conduct UX research. UX research looks at how users think and behave, including their motivations, preferences, and pain points. This helps product teams to gain an in-depth understanding of their end customers – all to create better and more satisfying products. 

The research process ensures any decisions are backed by data, there are proof points for investment, and that the user’s needs are baked into the design from the beginning. 

Why recruiting the right participants for UX research is important

Recruiting the right participants is a critical step in any research journey. The right participants mean designing for the right people. If not, your team may design a product that doesn’t suit the needs of your target market nor addresses the core problems that they have. 

Effective recruitment can boost UX research by providing: 

  • Accurate insights – participants who represent those who will use your products will provide the most meaningful and relevant insights. 

In the case of gaming software, for example, regular gamers could provide much more useful insights than those who’ve only played video games a few times. The right people will lead to insights that can be better relied upon for decision-making. 

  • Budget and time efficiency – ineffective research can lead to both wasted time and larger investment costs. By locating the right participants at the outset, you put the team in better stead to efficiently gain insights and thread those into the final design. This helps to avoid reworks and further costs down the line. 

  • Representative users – finding the right participants means you’re finding users who are representative of those your team is creating for. Much can be learned from this representative group to deliver the best possible products for the wider group of final customers. 

Ten ways to boost effective recruitment

1. Identify the target audience 

To recruit the right participants, it’s first essential to define your target audience. This will ensure you know the characteristics, demographics, and relevant factors to look for when recruiting participants. 

Some of the core ways to identify your target audience include: 

Define core characteristics

The essential attributes or qualities of users are known as core characteristics. Teasing out the most important user characteristics is typically the first step in identifying the target audience. The core characteristics may be related to the user’s location, occupation, age, pain points, interests, and more. Defining those attributes can help researchers to understand their users, better recruit participants, and ultimately produce more satisfying products. 

Lean into user feedback

Your current users (if the organization is already serving customers) are a critical source of knowledge. Customer feedback and data can help provide context, important challenges, pain points, and demographic information. User feedback can be found in reviews, in call center notes, in social media comments, through surveys, or via chat conversations. This can add color to user personas and help feed into the core characteristics of your customers. 

Consider context

The context by which the product will be used is of critical importance. Will your product be used on a smartphone, on a gaming screen, while jogging, or in a restaurant? Considering the context of use can provide more information about your target audience–and, therefore, your ideal research participants. 

2. Find the ideal research participants 

Once your target market is clear, it’s then time to find participants who match that criteria. Many organizations find this aspect of the process challenging. With the right strategy, this process can be an effective one. 

There are many ways to effectively recruit participants. These include: 

  • Social media – due to its ability to reach a wide network of people quickly, social media call-outs are common in UX research recruitment. Use platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter to advertise the study and encourage participants to sign up. 

  • Utilize your network – tapping into your network of contacts can be helpful, too, if they happen to fall in the target market. Current customers, for example, may be the perfect participants for your new product release

  • Email newsletters – your email subscribers are also a good potential source of participants. Sending an email callout can be an effective way to gain interest. 

  • Events and meetups – whether physical or digital, events are another way to find people in your target audience. Networking can prove fruitful if the event falls within your specific niche. 

  • User testing platforms – some platforms – such as UserTesting or TryMyUI – allow you to have your website, app, or prototypes tested by real people without you having to specifically find them.  

  • Use recruitment services – if participants are proving challenging to find, recruitment services can find participants who match your target audience for you – while this process will cost, it may reduce people hours in the team. 

  • Use referral programs – referral programs can encourage participants to refer others who match the target audience criteria, leading to a larger pool of potential participants in your organization. 

3. Craft effective recruitment messages and incentives 

Once you’re clear on where to find ideal participants, how do you get them to join your study? To encourage people to participate, it’s helpful to conduct effective recruitment messages. 

Craft effective messages by:

  • Communicating the benefits – rather than assuming your participants understand your project or how their participation will help, it’s essential to spell out the importance of their role. Letting your participants know that they’re going to be the “first to try something” or are “part of an exciting new project” will likely be much more successful than a generic research message, for example.  

  • Personalizing your message – reaching out to individuals directly – and mentioning their names – will offer more success than random callouts that aren’t directed to anyone in particular. 

  • Communicating privacy information – these days, people are increasingly concerned about privacy and online safety. Assuring your potential participants that all of their data will be kept secure (and ensuring this happens) can be important for greater interest. 

  • Offering incentives – whether it’s a small amount of cash, a gift card, or a discount, most people appreciate an incentive. Offering to give participants something for their time can boost the chances of having more signups. 

  • Having reasonable expectations – to keep interest high, consider having reasonable expectations. Expecting participants to attend a day-long testing experience, for example, will likely offer less interest than asking for just an hour or two of their time. If you are running diary studies, and expecting longer participation, then consider incentives that take this into account. 

4. Pre-screen and select participants

To ensure the participants you’ve located fit your criteria, pre-screening is important. To conduct pre-screening, it’s best practice to follow a few steps: 

  1. Create a questionnaire – this screening technique allows you to ask participants a list of questions to ensure they fall within your target market. These may include demographic, experience, and behavioral questions. To ensure this aspect of the process is efficient, it’s helpful to direct any interested participants to the questionnaire automatically. If you do a call out on social media, or via email, for example, any interested parties can immediately answer the questions to see if they’re eligible. 

  2. Identify conflicts of interest – remove anyone who may have a conflict of interest in the study or who has insider knowledge. People who work for the business, or their families, for example, ought to be eliminated. 

  3. Analyze the responses – once participants have answered the questions, it’s important to eliminate any participants who don’t meet your criteria. 

  4. Follow-up interviews – it may also be necessary to hold follow-up interviews, whether in person or over the phone, to ensure that your final group is relevant and meets all of your criteria. This can prove useful for finding out additional information too. 

  5. Remove silent people – research is generally about having people communicate their thoughts to you. When people give short or no responses, the research is rarely useful.  To determine how expressive people are, it’s useful to ask a few open-ended questions that relate to the topic of your study.

  6. Make the final selection – once all information has been gathered, it’s then necessary to select the final group of participants who are the most relevant. 

5. Increase participant diversity 

While keeping the target market in mind, it’s also critical to consider diversity. 

Diversity ensures you bring enough perspectives and experiences into the study. Having a broad range of participants from diverse backgrounds will help your team to uncover insights and discover perspectives that may otherwise have been missed. Diversity can apply to age, gender, language, culture, ability, and more. 

A team conducting dating app research, for example, will likely want to find a group of single people who use dating apps for their study. To ensure they have a diverse group of people, those participants should represent different genders, cultural backgrounds, sexualities, ages, and more to bring the most valuable insights. 

6. Manage logistics and scheduling 

Conducting the actual study can prove challenging. To keep all parties on track, it’s important to effectively manage the scheduling and logistics. 

Some best practice ways include: 

  • Check availability – before signing on a participant, ensure they have availability for your research. Consider flexible scheduling options to accommodate participants’ availability and reduce scheduling conflicts. Keep in mind that longer types of research will require a longer commitment, and it’s essential to know at the outset that your participants are willing to commit for the duration. 

  • Creating a group chat – to quickly inform participants of schedules, new information, or changes, a group chat can help. This could be set up through Notion, Slack, or WhatsApp as long as all participants have access. 

  • Use a scheduling tool – to expedite the process, a scheduling tool, such as Calendly, can be useful. This can also help avoid any conflicts and manage reminders for you. 

  • Confirm the schedule – getting in touch with participants a day or two before the study can help boost participation and interest while providing a chance to communicate any key information. To save time, you may wish to automate this message. 

7. Communicate clearly with participants 

To increase completion rates, it’s essential to keep communicating with participants, answer any questions they may have, and provide clear information. 

To keep communication as effective as possible: 

  • Give clear instructions – to help participants attend on time and do what you need of them before, during, and after the study, it’s essential to provide clear instructions. Avoid making these too wordy to ensure participants both read and follow these instructions. This will help your study run more efficiently and avoid confusion. 

  • Be responsive – if participants have questions, it’s essential that you respond in a timely way. That way, you’ll reduce confusion when it arises. 

  • Be transparent: ensure participants are clear about the purpose of your study, exactly what will be expected of them, what data you will collect, and how all of the information will be used. This will ensure your participants feel that you are trustworthy and that they are willing to be part of the project. 

  • Show your gratitude – a ‘thank you’ can go a long way. You can thank your participants for showing interest and for agreeing to be part of the research. This will ensure they feel valued and stay willing to be part of it. 

  • Keep participants motivated – for longer research, such as diary studies, it can be challenging to keep participants continually committed and motivated. Providing constant communication, messages of support, and gradual incentives can help increase interest and commitment to the study. 

8. Deal with participant no-shows or dropouts

To avoid disappointment, expect at least some of your study group to drop out or not show up. While it may be frustrating, it’s common practice and something that generally can’t be avoided. 

To deal with dropouts, it’s helpful to: 

  • Recruit more participants – assume at the outset that some of your group – for a variety of reasons, will not be part of the final study. Recruit more people than you need to cover those gaps. 

  • Boost flexibility – sometimes, people in your group will still want to be part of the research but, due to a conflict or unseen event, have to reschedule. By being as flexible as possible, you’ll be more likely to have higher completion rates. 

  • Follow up personally – by following up with those who don’t confirm or don’t show up, you might be able to still gather feedback from them. It’s possible that a participant forgot about the study or didn’t receive their reminder. 

  • Conduct an analysis – if you have high numbers of dropouts or no-shows, it’s helpful to identify why. Conducting an analysis will help you to see patterns that can be avoided in the future. 

9. Compensate participants fairly and ethically 

Compensation is often a necessary part of conducting research. It can both help boost interest in the study and increase trust with participants. 

Some best practice steps for fair and ethical compensation include: 

  • Fulfilling incentives – participants should be always compensated in line with their expectations. Any incentives you offered at the outset should be fulfilled. Whether you offer cash, gift cards, or a type of discount, you must ensure all those who took part in your study are given the correct compensation. It’s also helpful to communicate early on that if a person is a no-show or dropout, they will no longer be eligible. 

  • Providing compensation promptly – your participants shouldn’t have to wait endlessly to gain their compensation. Ideally, they should receive their incentive within a few days or a week of the study’s completion. This can help build trust and increase the chances of them participating in the future. 

  • Ethical considerations – there are ethical considerations when offering incentives too. No participant, for example, should be coerced to be part of the study. So it’s essential to consider rules and ethical considerations around such offerings. 

10. Evaluate the success of research recruitment 

To improve your team’s recruitment in future studies, it’s helpful to conduct a post-research analysis. This will help you identify what went well and what could have gone better.

To evaluate the effectiveness of the recruitment, consider: 

  • Recruitment rate – analyze how much interest your study received and how you might be able to boost the recruitment rate in the future. 

  • Participation rate – the number of people who ended up completing your study ought to be looked at, too, with dropout and no-show rates analyzed. 

  • Screen efficiency – this is the percentage of participants who passed your screening process out of the total number of recruits. Identifying this can help your team understand the effectiveness of the screening questionnaire and identify potential areas of improvement. 

  • Diversity analysis – consider the diversity level of your participants and whether you recruited those who were both in your target audience and representative of the diversity in society. 

  • Recruitment time and cost – both the time spent to recruit and the investment costs of the project ought to be considered, with consideration on how to reduce both in future research.

It can be helpful to consider broad questions at the end of the project too. 

These might include: 

  • What went well? 

  • What areas of the process were challenging? 

  • How could we improve in the future? 

  • Did we gain the data we hoped to? 

Ultimately, deep post-analysis can help to ensure you better your research process continually. 

Effective recruitment for reliable research 

To gain more accurate and reliable insights when conducting UX research, it’s essential to recruit the right participants. 

Effective recruitment means gaining feedback and information from your target market. This will ensure your team can boost UX across your products to offer simpler, more seamless experiences that truly solve problems. 

It’s a process that will help you not just provide better products but ones that delight your customers too.


What are the best strategies for recruiting participants in UX research?

There are many ways to better recruit participants. Some helpful ways include providing personalized messages, reaching out to your network, doing callouts on social media, completing an email send to subscribers, attending events, utilizing UX research tools, and using a recruitment service. 

It can also be very helpful to offer appropriate incentives to boost interest in your research. 

How do I ensure the quality of participants in my UX research?

Creating a screening questionnaire can help to eliminate any irrelevant participants from your research. Pre-research interviews can also further narrow down the participants to the most relevant. 

These methods should align with the criteria you have set out for participants. The criteria defines exactly who a relevant participant is for your study. 

What are common pitfalls to avoid when recruiting participants for UX research?

There are a number of common pitfalls in participant recruitment. These include: 

  • Irrelevance – recruiting participants who do not fall within the target market. 

  • Inadequate screening – which leads to the inclusion of people who are not relevant to the study. 

  • Poor communication – this can lead to confusion on expectations, scheduling conflicts, and a lack of trust. 

  • Lack of incentives – without incentivization participants may drop out or not sign up for the study. 

  • Biased recruitment – recruitment that only speaks to a small sample of people, or is delivered to a particular group may lead to biased––and therefore unreliable––results.

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