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Recruiting User Testing Participants

To meet your users’ needs, it is essential to know your audience and to design for them. A key way to do this is by identifying your Web site’s primary users and recruiting a sample for usability testing. Consider these four aspects:

  • Plan ahead
  • Recruit participants
  • Screen participants
  • Follow up

Plan ahead

Schedule time in the planning, design, and development stages to conduct user testing, ideally several iterative tests; this includes not only actual testing, but also planning for testing and reporting, as well as incorporating recommendations. For each study, anticipate at least four weeks, more if the target audience is difficult to reach.

If your study will be conducted remotely–either you will travel to the participant’s locale or the study session will take place online–you should provide information to the participant well ahead of time. You may wish to provide the Videotape Consent Form (DOC - 152KB), study instructions, tasks, and other pertinent information and forms; in addition, be sure to confirm the session time relevant to the remote location. For the type of participants to recruit, refer to your project planning materials, e.g., Questions to Ask at Kick-Off Meetings (DOC - 157KB), for primary and secondary audiences.

Recruit participants

At least two weeks before the study, recruit participants. You will have more success if people have advance notice. They will be likelier to fit a study session time slot into their busy schedules.

In the first week, compose the call for participants and disseminate the notice through various media, e.g., email, word of mouth, flyers. If your testing budget allows, enlist the aid of a professional recruiting firm. (Where possible, your budget should also include money to pay participants or to purchase giveaways to show appreciation.) To help recruit participants, ask colleagues and leaders within the target communities to spread the word, as well as suggest people who may be able to participate in your study. Assuming a decent response via these various venues, use the second week to return calls and schedule participants.

Screen participants

Before participants can be scheduled, however, their suitability for the study should be assessed against the recruitment demographic need. You will have established a quota of participants to recruit, e.g., an even mix of men and women who have at least a high school education and have completed a purchase online in the past 30 days. To ensure participants match the profile of intended users, use a Usability Test Screener - Government Focus (DOC - 152KB). A screener poses a series of qualifying questions, such as:

  • Gender
  • Age range
  • Education attainment
  • Ethnicity
  • Computer and Internet experience
  • Web activities

Finally, once participants meet requirements, they are scheduled into a slot or session.

Follow up

After participants are scheduled, remind them a week ahead and confirm the day before their session. Stress how important their participation will be. Provide directions, a brief outline of what they’ll be expected to do, and how much the payment will be. Include contact information, directions, and other important information in the follow-up. Participants can be reminded via email or by telephone.

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