How to Recruit Participants for Qualitative Research (2022 Edition)

We explain best practices for recruiting participants for qualitative research that will help you save time and money.

Qualitative research provides shape to the known unknowns, providing you with information regarding how your customers think, feel, and respond to what you’re working on. 

After all, you're not only interested in how your customers feel a certain way- but why they feel that way. Qualitative research provides you with the time you need to get it right. Of course, if you're able to save time by utilizing efficient recruitment methods, you can spend more time on the research and analysis of the collected data. 

Some of the most common issues with recruiting research participants for qualitative studies are: 

  • Participants end up not being a good fit
  • Recruited participants don’t show up for the study 

In this article, we'll explain some best practices for recruiting participants for qualitative research. This should help you save some time and energy when working through this step- and ensure that you get quality candidates that will fit your profile and participate in the program. 

5 Steps to Recruiting Quality Participants 

Before you begin the process of recruiting participants for your study, you need to understand precisely what it is you're trying to learn. This information will help you write your screener questions, set your incentives, and secure participants that fit the profile. 

Hold a Stakeholder Interview 

If you collaborate with other teams on a research project, it's critical to hold a stakeholder interview before doing anything else. In some cases, the research request is straightforward and well-documented. Other times, you may need more information, or the request doesn't match what you believe the need is. 

Holding a stakeholder interview and asking questions that reveal what a project is for and what you need to know going into it will give you the information on who the study should be focused on and help you see how you can achieve the study's goals. 

4 Sample Questions for Stakeholder Interview

Below are 4 sample questions for a stakeholder interview.

  1. What’s the objective of this project? 
  2. What does a successful project look like? 
  3. What are your concerns, if any, regarding this project? 
  4. What is the issue that we’re trying to solve with this project? 

Once you have the answers to these questions, you can move on to the next step. 

Fine-Tune Screener Questions 

Your screener survey needs to eliminate or select your potential participants quickly. This means the most important criteria for disqualification needs to be included first- both your non-negotiables (immediate disqualifiers) and your negotiables (subject-to-approval disqualifiers). 

In most cases, non-negotiables are related to demographics, such as location, age, gender, and others. However, they can also be based on behaviors. For example, if you're looking for marketing professionals that use a specific type of software- this behavior is non-negotiable- but their demographics are not relevant. 

Your screener survey needs to start with the non-negotiables. Then, as you go on, you can narrow your focus. One thing you must avoid is asking “leading” questions. You want to get 100% honesty from your potential participants. 

For example, instead of asking how unhappy they are with the study basis, ask them to rate their happiness. Then, ask them why they selected that rating. This will give you an idea of their critical thinking skills. 

This will bring you to the next step. 

Choose Participants that Can Communicate their Journey 

When you are performing a qualitative study, you are trying to find the reasoning behind certain behaviors. For example, if you're testing a website, you want to know about the customer's journey through the site and what made them click on certain links.

Therefore, you need to make sure that you select participants that can explain the logical and emotional process that caused them to choose one path over the other. This is the mark of a high-quality participant. 

Of course, this is one of the most challenging components of successful recruitment. One way you can be sure that a potential participant can give you the info you want is to focus on "articulation questions" in your screener survey. This can tell you if they can put into words what they are thinking/feeling. 

3 Sample Articulation Questions 

Below, you’ll find 3 examples of articulation questions you can use to narrow down your pool of potential participants. 

  • Think about the last book you read- describe it and how it made you feel. 
  • What is your thought process when you go shopping for groceries? 
  • Describe the next vacation you want to take and why you want to go there. 

At this point in the process, the questions don't' necessarily have to relate to the study- the point is to find out whether the candidate can answer questions with detail or only give you the bare minimum. 

Consider Using Advanced Screening 

At Respondent, we provide you with the ability to conduct advanced screening. This means that you can speak with your candidates before the research interview- which can help you determine if they can elaborate on their answers in a way that will be beneficial for your study. Of course, this isn't necessary for every study you'll ever conduct- but some studies require more articulate participants. 

For example, if you want to put together a market research focus group, you need participants to articulate their thoughts. Additionally, if you have some of the higher-ups in the company sitting in on some sessions, you want to make sure the person talking can be just as eloquent when they speak as they are when they write their answers to screening questions. 

Review Social Media Accounts 

Some people participate in user testing/research projects as a side hustle, as this is an easy way to earn some extra cash. Often, these people do make some great participants. 

However, in some cases, candidates attempt to play the system to get into more testing opportunities to make more money. Some will create fake emails to set up more than one account in a system or lie about their demographics and behaviors to be chosen for more studies. 

As the researcher, it's up to you to ensure that the potential participants are who they claim to be. This can take up a lot of extra time and effort. 

At Respondent, we can save you time and effort by vetting your potential participants through their social media accounts. Additionally, our algorithm will penalize those participants that were no-shows. Participants with good reviews are favored over the ones that have bad reviews. 

Offer Fair & Quick Compensation 

One of the most difficult parts of setting up a research study is determining exactly what type of compensation you want to offer and how much. Typically, the longer a participant is needed, the higher your incentive needs to be. Additionally, the location of the study should be taken into account. You’ll want to offer higher compensation if it’s a face-to-face study versus a remote one. 

Finally, individuals in certain professions/income levels will not be attracted to a study that offers a low incentive. 

If you plan to offer something like an Amazon gift card, Respondent can handle this for you. This allows you to focus on the results of your study while we make sure that your participants are compensated. 

Have Back-up Participants Ready

If you've ever used a ride service such as Lyft or Uber, you know that as soon as your ride ends, you're sent an alert to rate your driver. This tells the company how the driver is doing. The goal is to ensure that only high-quality drivers remain on the road. 

At Respondent, our process is quite similar. After the study, we send you a survey to rate the effectiveness of each of your participants. You will rate the participant as: 

  • Poor (did not meet expectations) 
  • Good (met expectations) 
  • Great (exceeded expectations)

This means that we can show potential participants as rated/vetted by fellow researchers. However, there will still be times when you have no-shows. Therefore, it's a good idea always to shave a list of back-up participants that you can reach out to and fill open spots.

Another reason to have a list of back-ups is that you increase the number of participants involved in a project. Categorize them as follows: 

  • Best fit
  • Potential fit 
  • Poor fit

By rating your potential participants like this, you can schedule the study with the candidates that are the "best" fit. Then, you'll have the "potential" candidates as back-ups in case a "best" fit flakes out on you.

Respondent strives to make this part of the process easy. We allow you to review your list of potential candidates, see their screener survey responses, and sort them appropriately. 

If you have a participant that doesn't show up, mark them as "no-show." We will immediately send you a pop-up asking if you want us to find a replacement for you- using your previously vetted participant pool. 

If you already have a list of potential participants, they will be scheduled to make up for your no-show. This will ensure that your study starts on time.


When you're preparing to conduct a qualitative research study, you must take the time to find good-quality participants. This can take a good bit of time and effort. You should consider using Respondent to help streamline your qualitative research. You can vet potential participants connect with candidates that best fit your parameters. 

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