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, when executed correctly, explores and uncovers the emotional and cognitive motivations behind your target audience’s actions, behaviors, and opinions relative to your research objectives and goals. 

So, the success of a qualitative research project depends on engaging the “right” participants—highly qualified, fitting the profile, enthusiastic and articulate. But research participant recruitment can be a resource “suck”, devouring time and money that could be used for the actual research, analysis and report writing. Let’s explore how to recruit the best, most qualified participants while saving both time and money.

6 Steps to Recruiting Quality Participants

From defining the objectives of your project to clarifying the factors and qualities of the participants you’ll need to meet those objectives, to creating the questions for the initial screening survey and follow up conversational screener that will identify qualified participants to setting a motivating incentive, the steps to a successful qualitative research project can be a lot. Let’s break it all down. 

1. Hold a Stakeholder Meeting to Define Research Objectives

Before you begin the process to recruit participants for qualitative research, you need to define precisely what you're trying to achieve with the research. This information will be useful when crafting your screener questions, securing participants that fit the profile and even setting the incentive amount. 

If you collaborate with other teams on a research project, the critical first step is to hold a stakeholders’ meeting to determine research objectives and ensure all stakeholders agree on those objectives.

Asking the questions that concisely define the purpose of your research project will also provide the parameters for exactly who the study should focus on. This will become your participant profile.

5 Sample Questions for a Stakeholder’s Meeting

  1. What’s the objective of this project e.g., what do you want to learn?
  2. What audience has the demographics, background, education, experience, skill, information you need to meet those objectives?
  3. What do you already know in relation to the objectives?
  4. How will your organization use the results of the research/What will your organization do with the learnings?
  5. What are your concerns, if any, regarding this project? How will those concerns be met and managed?

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


2. Develop and Fine Tune Screener Survey Questions 

Your screener survey allows you to cull potential participants quickly. This means the most important criteria for qualification/disqualification need to be at the beginning of the survey—both your non-negotiables (immediate disqualifiers) and your negotiables (subject-to-approval and/or less rigid disqualifiers). 

In most cases, non-negotiables are concrete questions related to demographics, such as a candidate’s business, location, age, gender, ethnicity and past research participation. However, screening questions can also be identifying behaviors and/or opinions. For example, if you're looking for marketing professionals that use a specific type of software, use of this software and even use of this software over a specified amount of time might be a must to qualify.

Leading questions with transparent choices for response should be avoided. This can be achieved by offering some options in multiple-choice response lists that will mis-direct unqualified potential participants. 

3. Assess For Articulateness and Enthusiasm in the Conversational Screen

When conducting a qualitative study, you are exploring the motivations behind behaviors and opinions. For example, if you're testing a website, you’re learning about participants’ journeys through the site and striving to understand what exactly drove their navigation choices. 

Participants that are articulate and outgoing enough to examine and explain the logical process and emotional triggers that caused them to choose one path over the other are a must. 

Finding these participants is one of the greatest challenges of a successful recruitment. Asking “Articulation Questions” that require time, thought and putting feelings into words, will help identify these participants. 

Sample Articulation Questions 

  • 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? How does that differ for different types of foods?
  • Describe the next vacation you want to take and why you want to go there. 

Note that Articulation Questions in no way relate to the research topic. They are questions anyone can answer and will determine whether a candidate is more likely to answer with thought, in detail and openly sharing emotions versus only responding with the bare minimum.

4. Consider Using Advanced Screening 

Speak directly with candidates: At Respondent, we provide the ability to conduct unique and advanced screening. One feature allows you to speak directly with candidates. Speaking directly with candidates will help determine if a candidate can elaborate in their answers and offer the detail needed.

Avoid imposters: Because of the incentives offered for research participation, there are people who attempt to participate in any and all research projects whether they qualify or not. Some will create fake email accounts and lie in their screener responses to qualify. Having one of these imposters slip through and take the place of a qualified participant can skew research results. Respondent pre-vets candidates through their social media accounts and the requirement of having a valid business email. This guards against any posers slipping through. 

Participant Ratings: Another Respondent safeguard encourages researchers to rate participants. After a study, a survey is sent out to rate the effectiveness of each of your participants as: 

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

For Respondent researchers, participant rating is a unique and an important element in the recruiting process. 

5. The Importance of Over-Recruiting

No matter how diligent you are in your recruiting, there will likely be no-shows. So, it's a good idea to always over-recruit. 

For focus groups it’s common practice to recruit two additional participants per group e.g., recruit 10 to seat 8 per group. If 9 or even 10 show up, it’s up to the moderator and client if all participants will be included in the focus group or not. Keep in mind that all participants who show up, whether they are asked to participate or not must be paid their incentive. 

For I-D-Is (one-on-one interviews), recruit several back-up participants that can be contacted and scheduled to replace any no-shows. Again, it’s up to the moderator and client if all who have been recruited will be interviewed or not. 

Respondent makes no-show and replacement management easy. If you have an I-D-I participant that doesn't show up, mark them as "no-show." Respondent will immediately contact you, asking if you want us to identify a replacement from your previously vetted participant pool. The replacement participant will be scheduled as a make up for your no-show. Respondent will not charge for the recruiting of no-shows.

6. Offer Fair & Quick Compensation 

Determining what type and the amount of the incentive for participants can be a challenge.  The amount needs to be motivating for participants to first agree to participate and then to actually show-up. The amount offered must also fit within the research budget. This can be a balancing act. 

Typically, the longer a participant is needed, the larger your incentive needs to be. Additionally, the location of the study must be considered. Higher compensation will be necessary for an in-person study versus a remote one. 

Individuals in certain professions and at higher income levels will not be as motivated by an incentive. Larger incentives must be offered to these participants for both a timely and successful recruit and to encourage their attendance.

Respondent handles the payment of participant incentives which can be a hassle and time-consuming. Simply indicate that a participant has shown up and participated and Respondent takes care of payment. 

Recruiting Made Quick and Easy with Respondent

Following the steps to have a successful recruit which leads to a successful project traditionally has been difficult, time consuming and costly. Respondent offers solutions that streamlines and accelerates the process while providing the highest quality participants you can be confident in and all this at reasonable costs. Give Respondent a try.

Recommend Resources:



Read next