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Participant Recruitment in Qualitative Research

Participant Recruitment in Qualitative Research
Eniola Olaniyi
•  09.08.2022
Recruiting participants in qualitative research is an important part of the UX process. It's not just about finding people willing to participate in your study, but also about finding those whose responses will be most informative and useful for the research.

In this article, we’ll look at different techniques for participant recruitment in qualitative research and explain whom you should recruit.

Qualitative recruiting is about finding candidates and scheduling them to participate in qualitative research studies.

UX research platforms like UXtweak are created to address the issue of user research recruiting, particularly qualitative research recruiting by providing access to tergeted User Panels. However, researchers sometimes may want to go through the process themselves and seek volunteers that fit very specific criteria related to their research subject.

It may be challenging to get volunteers for research projects. You have to find people interested in participating, set dates for them to meet, remind them to go, and hope they remember. Even worse, sometimes participants who do show up are not the best candidates for the study because, despite their best efforts, they do not have the necessary life experiences to provide insightful feedback or insight.

Who should you recruit for qualitative research?

participant recruitment in qualitative research

To recruit participants, you should first identify the people who represent your target audience. You can do this by asking people already familiar with your product or service about their opinions on it and investigating whether they have any problems you could solve with your new feature.

It would help if you also recruited participants with specific problems you want to solve to ensure they’re committed enough to participate in a usability test. If someone feels like they will benefit from participating, but has no issues, they may not be willing to fully engage in the research process.

It’s also important for potential participants to represent your end users. Make sure they are the kind of audience you are hoping to target. 

You can create a list of people who might be interested in becoming a part of your study and then work out how many would be sufficient for your purpose and budget constraints. 

Suppose you’re unsure what’s involved with recruiting participants in general, check out our UX Research Recruiting guide

Participant recruitment methods in qualitative research

participant recruitment in qualitative research

Some people might use phone calls, surveys, personal messages, and online questionnaires to recruit participants for qualitative research studies. These methods can be costly and time-consuming – so when recruiting participants for qualitative research studies, you as a researcher have many easier options to choose from. 

1. Recruitment agencies

Collaborate with a staffing agency or a panel company. A recruitment agency will assist you in locating the specific participants you want. It can, however, be costly, and you may have to wait a while before receiving qualified participants.

When working with an agency, you must exercise caution. Examine previous reviews to see if they provide good, quality participants. Make sure to inquire about how the agency recruits. Do they have their participant database or do they rely on panel companies? Recruitment agencies can be tricky. Always make sure you are choosing one with a good reputation. 

2. Recruiting-specific user testing software companies

 This is a practical way to find people who are your target demographic. The software will match you with those participants who applied for your project via a project board or an email blast. User testing software is typically very convenient and simple to use.

Just like that, UXtweak has a cost-effective 155M+ User Panel where you can access the right participants for your project. Quality of your respondents is our main priority — we double check the responses so they match our strict standards. If you’re not satisfied with individual responses, we offer to replace them. 

The price per respondent starts at $6, depending on the research method you choose.

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Recruit participants from UXtweak's User Panel

3. Social media

We recommend starting by combing through social media platforms and forums and searching for topics about your problem. This means searching through Facebook groups, Reddit threads, Meetups, Quora, and even TikTok to see what people are talking about. Posting in specific threads about topics you want to research on websites like Reddit, Quora, or public Slack Channels can be beneficial. If you are particularly motivated, you can even attend Meetups and events where you know your target audience may be.

Engage with the community, provide value, and then, when you’ll need respondents for your study — ask them for help.

4. Reach out to your customer base

 One participant recruitment method which is often overlooked, but can be very effective, is recruiting your own customers. This method is especially useful when looking for specific types of users to test your product. You may want to find out if the software product is easy to use or has a feature you’d like to add. 

With this strategy, you could ask some of your existing customers. They have used the software in the past and see if they would be willing to participate in a usability test. 

Reach out to them via email newsletter, asking to participate in a study for an incentive (it could be a coupon or a discount code for your services). This is a great method to use because you don’t have to target or look for specific people for ages, since anybody from your customer base will pretty much suit the criteria. 

5. Recruiting Widget

With UXtweak, you have one more option to recruit targeted participants for your qualitative research for free. Our Recruiting Widget, which you can set up on any page of your website, gives you a unique opportunity to turn ordinary website visitors into study participants. It’s a quick and easy way to get quality responses for your study. Just don’t forget to motivate them with a coupon or discount! 

participant recruitment in qualitative research

6. Informal recruitment

Informal recruitment is the way to go if you are looking for a low-cost solution. This technique works best when gathering information about an existing digital product. In such a case, you can talk to your colleagues about it and see what information you can get from them. 

Also, you can discuss your research with your family and get some output from them. However, you may introduce some bias because your family, friends, and colleagues may be unwilling to be honest about their feelings.

If you want to know more about other recruitment methods, check out our article where we mention 6 free ways to recruit participants for your study.

How many participants are needed to recruit for qualitative research? 

To estimate the best number of people for each study, gather real data about your candidate pool. Then assign probabilities to each candidate based on age, gender, race/ethnicity, tenure, and job title. You can determine how many participants should be tested for each specific mix of characteristics. 

The  Nielsen Norman Group research suggests that “Testing with five people lets you find almost as many usability problems as you’d find using many more test participants.”

It’s frequently a good idea to start with 5 participants and then increase that number by 2-3, depending on how complex the subject matter is. Additionally, if necessary, you might want to include more participants in later stages of the research.

Increase in proportion of usability problems found by number of test users


Source: NN/group.

To learn more about the topic we recommend visiting the article where we explained all the specifics of recruiting the right number of participants and the rule of 5.

Online or In-person? Considerations for qualitative research 

Does the number of participants you need for qualitative user research change depending on their location? Well, not really, but there are two major things to consider:

  • Budget: Since you won’t need to travel to your participants’ locations or pay for them to travel to yours, conducting remote interviews and usability tests will likely result in lower costs. 
  • Participant access: Remote qualitative research can be extremely helpful for participant access. You can reach out to anyone you want, as you are no longer limited to the people you can physically access.

Don’t forget to incentivize your participants.

Lastly, enticing participants with an incentive is a great way to recruit them for your study. The process of rewarding should be traceable and trackable. You can budget with cash or give them gifts for their participation. For instance, you can send Apple, Netflix, and Amazon gift cards.

Finding participants for user research doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. You just need to find the appropriate target market, use current networks, and present an invitation with value. 

UXtweak has all the tools you need to manage a qualitative research study. Create a free account and start testing today!

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