How to write the perfect study description

George Denison
|October 24, 2023

The secret to getting quality data for your research study is recruiting quality participants – who are eager, enthusiastic, and engaged. But just how do you do that?

Your study description can help. It's an often-overlooked aspect of study design that can greatly influence who you bring on board, and the results they give you.

Why your study description matters

Your title and description are the first things potential participants see when they’re scrolling through, looking for their next study.

If they’re compelling, they won’t just catch a participant’s eye. They’ll also provide all the information they need to decide whether they’ll participate in your study.

What’s the aim of the study? What does the participant need to do? Will they have to give any sensitive information? Is there anything in the study that might make them uncomfortable? These are the kinds of things a participant will want to know before getting involved.

Written well, a study description makes your instructions clearer. And it can make your participants feel more motivated. After all, participants are more likely to immerse themselves in your study if they understand its purpose and what’s expected of them.

What’s more, a good study description can help you meet certain ethical requirements, such as gaining informed consent from participants.

How to write the perfect study description

The key here is to include just the right amount of information the participant will need to decide whether to partake.

Too much, and you risk not only giving away the aims of your study, but also boring the reader – driving them to scroll on. Too little, and they won’t know what they’re possibly getting themselves into, or fully understand what’s expected of them.

Here are the elements we recommend you include:

The aim of the study

Include a clear and concise statement about what the study is trying to achieve – without divulging too much, so as not to influence responses.

Participant requirements

Clearly outline what the participant will need to do. This includes any instructions, materials, or equipment they’ll require.

Sensitive information

If you need any sensitive data from a participant, let them know. This includes personal or medical details.

Uncomfortable tasks

Warn participants about any sections they may find uncomfortable. This could be viewing disturbing images or videos, for instance.

Unusual requests

Warn participants of anything unexpected they will need to do, such as downloading software or requiring headphones.

Rejection prevention

Instruct participants on what they must do to avoid their submission being rejected, such as completing all tasks or answering all questions.

Reward details

Give participants an estimate of how long it’ll take to receive a reward after submission. If you plan to use bonus payments, or if it’s a longitudinal study with a payment schedule, then state this clearly.

Opt-out instructions

Discuss how a participant can opt out of the study, and what will happen if they do.

Data removal information

Let participants know whether they can remove their data from the dataset, and provide instructions on how to do so.

Data accessibility information

Explain whether anonymized data will be made accessible to other researchers, and how the data will be used (e.g., to publish a research study or guide government policy).

Contact details

Provide your contact details in case participants have questions. If you have ethics approval, include the contact details of the ethics board in question.

Don’t forget to debrief

At the end of your study, it's important to provide participants with a debriefing. This serves three purposes: it provides closure for the participant, it makes sure they leave the study with a positive impression, and it allows you to address any issues that arose during the study.

If you used deception or a cover story during the study, make sure to resolve this in the debriefing. The debriefing should consist of a short thank you message, as well as information about any deception that was used in the study.

In some cases, you might also want to give contact details for relevant helplines. An addiction support helpline would be pertinent after a study on drug abuse, for example.

In conclusion

A well-written study description is a win-win for you and the people taking part. It ensures participants know exactly what they need to do and have the motivation to do it. And it helps you gather valuable, quality data.

By providing participants with clear instructions and information about the study's purpose, you’ll set them up to give the best responses they can, and minimize the risk of incomplete or inaccurate data.

To learn more tips and tricks for running effective research and receiving high-quality data, download our best practice guide today.