People for Research recently ran our first webinar on how to write a user recruitment brief, led by our Business Development Director Jess Lewes along with expert guest Emma Howell, Research Director at Bristol-based cxpartners. It was fantastic that so many people joined us for the webinar and sent questions in about this essential part of the user recruitment process. However, we felt like we didn’t have enough time at the end to fully answer all the questions submitted by the participants, so we decided to write a blog to gather some information that could be useful for you.

How long should a research brief be?

Emma: My user recruitment briefs are never over two pages long. Think back over the different variables you need; I recommend having no more than two essential or primary variables and no more than seven secondary variables, otherwise you begin to create a very complicated recruit.

How do you manage client expectations and should you share the recruitment brief with them?

Emma: When working with a new client or project team who has not been through the process before, working in a transparent way and taking them through the workshop described earlier in the webinar is really helpful. Then the client can see the process that you’ve gone through and they will have an understanding, which sets boundaries from the beginning. The more you work with a client, the less hands-on they will be in recruitment as they understand the process and they trust that you know their audience. Take the client on the journey and let them see what you do so they can be involved.

Jess: Being too defined with your user group and using very detailed personas with pictures as part of the recruitment brief may result in the client having false expectations of the kind of people who might turn up to the research.

Emma: Focus on behaviours and traits, rather than what someone looks like or focusing on too much on age.

If you were to recruit users internally, how would you recruit from a list?

Emma: Lists can be really helpful. In the past, we have handed this over to a recruiter and still provided the recruiter with a brief. This has been helpful as we have been able to ask the recruiter for help with how big the list should be.

Jess: The current data protection legislation (GDPR) is really important if you are going to be sharing data. Even if you’re following the rules when processing or controlling data, it is essential to secure consent from the customer in the first place before sharing your their data with an external recruiter. If people have not opted in, go through that process; it often isn’t that complicated to obtain consent. This is something a recruiter may be able to help with.

If you need to request customer data from another team internally it is useful to get access to enough contacts. A good ratio to have in mind is 30:1 (so, contacting 30 people to achieve one suitable response – this means that, if you require five participants, you will need to contact at least 150 people). This is based on our historic experience of targeting people we know are suitable, and sending them content that will be relevant.

If you don’t know if you will be contacting relevant people, then you may need to contact between 100 – 200 people to get one suitable response. Also consider how often you currently engage with your customers, as organisations who regularly interact with customers and run customer loyalty schemes get very high response rates. It is also important to explain the process clearly; this can be worked out through the brief – who do we need, how will we target them, how will we identify if they are suitable and make sure they are relevant. Let the participant know they need to go through a screening process, otherwise they may assume that the initial contact and questionnaire are the research.

Can you give any common examples of things being left open to interpretation in a recruitment brief?

Jess: Things like the word “regularly”.

Emma: It is good to reflect on the language you are using and why you are asking for it. For example, how are you defining what “regular” means.

Jess: The workshop Emma ran at UX Bristol about bias in research is a useful process to consider when bias might be introduced during the research and recruitment process. It reflects on the language being used at those points.

What is your opinion on over-recruiting?

Emma: Do it! Just to mitigate the risk of no-shows. Let’s say I want to talk to five people: I can either recruit a sixth additional slot at the end of the day or recruit an all-day standby. An all-day standby is someone we can call at any point throughout the day if someone drops out. Times when it is important are when you have stakeholders or clients watching. The worst thing that can happen is if you have an hour with the client and no one to test with.

Jess: The industry’s average drop-out rate is about 10%, but People for Research’s rate is lower due to our solid process. Still, you ever know what is going to happen on the day, so be prepared.

Do you put together a screening document?

Emma: Working with a recruiter, this is usually something they will do for you. There is a section in the book I wrote with James Lang about writing a screener if it is something you find you have to do.

Jess: For a recruiter, the process of translating the recruitment brief into a screener is a really useful way to make sure we fully understand everything in the brief before picking up the phone and screening people. If you are going to do the recruitment yourself, you should definitely take the time to create a screener. This includes thinking about how you will introduce yourself and the research, how you will explain the screening process. If you are recruiting customers and they are not familiar with the concept of research, they may think the screening call is the research session.

Jess: From a transparency point of view, it is good to let the person know what the session is about and what they will be talking about to make sure they are comfortable. This is part of getting informed consent ahead of running research.

If you missed our first webinar on how to write a recruitment brief for user research and usability testing, click here to watch it. You can also sign up to our newsletter to keep informed about future webinars.



jess lewesIf you would like to find out more about our in-house participant recruitment service for user testing or market research get in touch on 0117 921 0008 or

At People for Research, we recruit participants for UX and usability testing and market research. We work with award winning UX agencies across the UK and partner up with a number of end clients who are leading the way with in-house user experience and insight.