Planning for recruitment before your ethics application (Jason Murphy)

Image by Pavan Trikutam
As a communications lead in the Graduate Research School, I'm often asked to support the recruitment of participants for research projects from within and outside of La Trobe.

With the majority of these requests, what has struck me is that researchers are limiting themselves to email and flyers posted around campuses when there are a wealth of communication channels at their disposal.

Contemporary society equals communication overload. We're all used to being time poor, and constantly assessing whether the deluge of information coming at us is relevant or of interest.

To have a chance of communicating effectively these days means you need to tell your audience very quickly what it is your message is about. If they're interested, they'll be willing to take further action, such as clicking through to a webpage for more information.

If you describe your entire project in a text heavy email, you'll always run the risk of your audience disengaging before they've had a chance to read through the message that you've no doubt carefully and painstakingly crafted.

Seek feedback

Our advice to researchers who are planning a research project is to carefully consider the communication channels that can lead to strong participation in their project, but at an early stage: before human ethics approval is sought. It's important also to acknowledge that our Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC), here at La Trobe, or your own university's human ethics committee may not agree that your suggested recruitment approach is appropriate to your study.

It's worthwhile discussing your intentions with your supervisors, peers, and if possible, staff in the human ethics area, to seek their feedback about the most appropriate way to recruit for the type of study you are conducting - well before you actually seek human ethics approval.

Consider all your options

Acknowledging that there are many approaches you can take with recruitment, the following approach is one means to reach out to potential participants using a website, social media and available newsletters. It also applies specifically to La Trobe University staff and graduate researchers, but its principles can be applied to any research project recruitment strategy.

Should it be appropriate to your study, the main thing you need to plan for is getting your project description online. This is a key enabling channel that facilitates communication via social media, newsletters and email - it also makes it easier for your audience to read the information.

Reaching the University community

If you're seeking participants from within the University community, or from those engaged with us, at La Trobe, we have four main communication channels that we can use to help you get the word out about your project:
The audiences of the first three listed channels are La Trobe University graduate research candidates, their supervisors and researchers (especially Early Career Researchers). For Yammer, it's all La Trobe University staff.

The Graduate Research School manages the channels listed above and can use them to help support your recruitment. To seek our support, we'd suggest you take the following steps:
  1. discuss your recruitment approach with your supervisors, peers and if possible human ethics team
  2. when applying for ethics approval, outline your recruitment strategy in detail, including all channels you'll use 
  3. if approved, create a webpage that describes your project and tells participants what they need to do to participate
  4. provide this information to us, along with information on how participants can contact you
  5. at the Graduate Research School will now have what we need to assist you in your recruitment. 

A note about websites

You might think that it's very difficult and potentially costly to get a website up and running. While this used to be the case, there are a number of free and low-cost web publishing options that provide basic functionality and easy-to-use interfaces. Our recommendations are Weebly or Wordpress. You may also consider using the Google Docs platform. Google Docs provides an easy and free way to share information, and La Trobe staff and graduate researchers could also consider using a Qualtrics page to describe their project.

Update 29 June: La Trobe staff and graduate researchers should also be aware of the La Trobe website policies and procedures when considering publishing information outside the official La Trobe web environment.

Thanks to Sara Paradowski, La Trobe's Senior Human Ethics Officer for her advice with this article. 


Jason Murphy - Communications Professional
Jason Murphy is Senior Research Communications Advisor at the Graduate Research School (GRS).

Jason's role in the GRS involves communicating to La Trobe's research community of graduate researchers and their supervisors. He produces content and helps to manage the GRS website, social media presence, newsletters and print-based media.

When he's not working full time, he's working on his own PhD project which critically examines the role of marketing in contemporary society.