5 Best Practices in UX Research Participant Recruitment

People - Courtesy of Gordon Johnson - Pixabay

What is recruitment? 

Participant recruitment is defining qualifying criteria, finding the right people, and scheduling them for your user research. Recruiting participants is a critical phase in the user research process because you want to make sure they fit your criteria and are expressive for your user research.  It’s one thing to get someone who fits your study's requirements but if they are giving one-worded responses, their contributions are unlikely to yield the rich data and insights researchers crave. 

 Most researchers would probably agree that participant recruitment is one of the most challenging steps in the UX process - it is time-consuming and tedious managing its several moving parts. Recruitment requires a lot of focus and should be planned well in advance.

In this blog post, I will share 5 best practices that I found helpful when recruiting for user research and usability testing.


#1  Create a thoughtful screener

Your screener is your best friend, because it can help you identify the people who are in your target audience. Your screener questions should match your participant criteria, and should only include the most important questions about behaviors, psychographics, and demographics that will help you determine participant qualification. You only want to ask the most salient questions in your screener to ensure you get the right responses. I recommend that you collaborate with your clients (for third-party research contracts) or stakeholders (for in-house research) to ensure there is alignment on the participant pool. Additionally, you want to include an open-ended articulation question that helps gauge participants’ expressiveness. 


At Key Lime Interactive, we also include our Inclusivity IndexTM questions in our screeners. The goal of our Inclusivity Index questions is to recruit diverse people to participate in our research studies so that traditionally marginalized communities within society have a voice. We want to make sure that people of different backgrounds and abilities can share their feedback. We acknowledge and value people who can participate in our study, share their individual experiences, and minimize bias in research. 


Our Inclusivity Index screener questions cover 3 fixed and multiple variable attributes:  

  • Gender: Which of the following closest aligns with your gender identity?
  • Ethnicity: Which of the following ethnicities do you most identify with? Check all that apply.
  • Sexual Orientation: Do you identify with the LGBTQ+ community?

Variable Examples:

  • Age: What is your age?
  • Household Income: What is your household income?
  • Educational Background: What is your educational background?
  • Accessibility: When using [product type], do you use any assistive technologies, specialized computer access software or hardware, or adaptive strategies?
    • Are there any accommodations that we could provide or things we could do when using [product type] so that you’d be more comfortable participating in the study, such as ensuring that our facility is wheelchair accessible, or scheduling session breaks?
#2  Determine the right sample size and place importance on backup participants

Determining the right number of participants depends on the type of research (quantitative or qualitative) and methodology (ex. diary studies, usability studies, focus groups, ethnography, etc.) you’re conducting.


User Interviews suggest that quantitative research studies require  however many people you need to achieve the level of statistical significance your study requires; and for qualitative research, it really is a matter of quality over quantity. In the end, the right answer depends on your research goals and needs, and your stakeholders’ expectations.

Here are general guidelines when defining sample sizes for various types of UX research: 

  • Interviews – 3 to 10 participants 
  • A/B tests – 5 to 8 users
  • Diary studies – 10 to 15 participants
  • Card sorting – at least 15 users per group
  • Quantitative studies – at least 20 participants
  • Surveys – at least 100 participants
  •  Focus groups – 5 to 10 participants per group

Be sure to  over-recruit to account for no-shows, technical  issues during the session and/or unfit participants. Over-recruiting ensures that you have enough people to back up your findings to support either their significance or insignificance. The number of backups to recruit is relative to your sample size, however, best practice is to have 20-25% of your sample size in back ups.  


3) Set appropriate incentives

It’s important to set an appropriate incentive because it increases the likelihood of a good recruit and shows potential participants that you value their time and feedback. Always plan to distribute incentives in a timely manner and communicate to participants when they should expect their incentives. You can compensate participants at the end of their session or at the end of the fielding day. Monetary incentives are the most common - and arguably, the most effective - way to compensate  participants.


Some participant recruitment requires higher incentives because they are:

Moderated: In-person studies vs remote studies for general population participants
  • In-person: $125/hr - to compensate for time and travel
  • Remote: $100/hr
Moderated: Professional backgrounds and niche expertise
  • In-person: $150 - $200/hr depending on experience
  • Remote: $125-$150/hr depending on experience
Unmoderated studies
  • General population: $50/hr
  • Professionals: $75/hr


4) Stay organized

Using templates is very helpful when managing several moving parts of the recruitment process to stay organized. Templates eliminate the need to start from scratch and help automate repeated tasks and processes. Templates can be used to house all participant screener responses, fielding schedules, session links, and track signed legal consent documents. You can also create a template script to communicate study details that include session location, like a remote meeting link or in-person physical address; any required items, such as a computer with mic and webcam for a remote study; and to share signable legal documents, such as a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) or video release forms with participants. 


Below is an example of what a template may look like:


P #

Session Link (if needed)


Screener Responses ->

Q1. How frequently do you shop online?

Mon, 11/13 @10:00a - 10:45a






Mon, 11/13 @11:00a - 11:45a





2-3 times a week

5) Inform clients and stakeholders about the recruitment process

When recruiting, always  keep your clients and stakeholders updated throughout the recruitment process. It’s good practice to share fielding schedules with clients and stakeholders once recruitment begins, so they can plan to observe research sessions. At Key Lime Interactive, we regularly communicate to our clients updates in recruitment so they know the project is on track, however, we never disclose participants’ personal information to our clients or stakeholders. Rather, we anonymize our participants to protect their identities. 


Although recruitment can be a laborious part of user research, it is also one of the most important steps in the process, and corners shouldn’t be cut. At Key Lime Interactive, we take finding  the right participants for our client’s research studies seriously. We are experts at recruitment and strive to promote inclusivity and accessibility with each participant pool. Contact us to see how we can help you with your next UX and CX research to deliver unbiased, actionable insights and drive your business forward.

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