Chinwe Uzegbu Chinwe is a UX and content designer with a flair for turning complex challenges into understandable solutions. She writes about all things user experience and has a lot of fun while at it.

How to find and recruit UX research participants

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How to Find and Recruit UX Research Participants

Choosing the right UX research participants can make the difference between research that produces valuable insights and research that leads nowhere. That is to say, finding the right participants is crucial to the success of your user research. But this task can seem daunting if there are no clear-cut criteria for who qualifies as the “right” participant.

This article will help you identify the right participants for your research and show you how to recruit them, so you can get insights that impact the end users’ experience.

Ready? Let’s dive right in!

Identifying the target audience and research objectives

Before you can embark on any user research, you need to identify the people who are most likely to benefit from your product. For example, if your research is for a product for fitness enthusiasts, your target audience could be: “Adults who are interested in fitness and wellness.”

Another critical component you need before recruiting any research participant is a clear research objective.

A well-articulated research objective is akin to having a compass when embarking on a journey. It ensures that you get to your destination (answer). After all, if you don’t know the problem you’re trying to solve, how would you identify participants who can provide the answers you need?

You can define your research goal by identifying the questions you want to answer and the problems you want to solve.

For example:

Say you’re working on a product that helps fitness enthusiasts find the right workout gear, and your question is: “What challenges do fitness enthusiasts face when sourcing workout gear?” You can write your research objective as: “We will identify the most common challenges that fitness enthusiasts face when sourcing workout gear.”

Notice how the research objective is clear and actionable. By articulating your research objective in this way, you can already get an idea of the groups of people you need to recruit for your user research.

Next, you need to decide on your recruitment criteria.

Recruitment criteria

It’s usually not feasible to involve all your target users when conducting research. So, what’s the next best thing? You select a representative sample of users that possess all the characteristics of your target audience.

You need to set clearly defined criteria for selecting your participants because your sample must be an accurate representation of your target. If the user research participants you select don’t match your target audience, your research will be useless, no matter how good your questions are.

For example:

Let’s revert to our earlier example involving a product for fitness enthusiasts. (Note that such a product would need more specific criteria than, say, a product for people who are just physically active.)

A good user research participant, in this case, would be someone who:

  • Regularly engages in exercise and is passionate about fitness
  • Has experience using different types of workout gear and equipment
  • Matches the demographic of your target audience such as age, gender, and level of fitness
  • Is able and willing to discuss their fitness habits and experiences with workout gear, including any areas they struggle with
  • Is familiar with the technology relevant to fitness enthusiasts, e.g., mobile devices and wearables

In general, your criteria should be defined by a mix of the following factors: psychographics, experience, demographics, behaviors, and technological know-how.

UX Participant Diagram

It’s also important to note that the level of difficulty you’ll encounter when choosing your participants depends on the specificity of your criteria. The less specific your criteria, the larger the number of potential participants to pool from.

The key here is to find the right balance.

If your requirements are too few, your participants won’t accurately represent your target audience. On the other hand, if there are too many, it can be difficult for you to find participants. A good practice is to evaluate the relevance of each of your criteria. Only include a criterion if it’s necessary.

Once you’ve set your recruitment criteria, you can create a screener — a survey that helps you determine if a potential participant matches the criteria you’ve set.

Creating a screener

Think of a screener like a strainer in your kitchen sink; it catches any debris that might cause an obstruction if it finds its way down the drain. Similarly, the screener weeds out people that would waste your time and resources if they are allowed to participate in the research process.

To craft effective screening questions, you and your team can start by answering the following questions, adapted from Just Enough Research:

  • What psychographics and behaviors are you looking for? It would be a total waste of time to recruit someone who isn’t physically active if you’re designing a product for fitness enthusiasts.
  • How familiar do they have to be with the topic? The level of expertise you’ll require from potential participants depends on how domain-specific the product is. You can’t test an app for doctors with plumbers.
  • What level of access and knowledge of the tool(s) do they need? If you’re testing a mobile app, it just makes sense to target people who know their way around mobile devices.

Once you’ve answered these questions, it’s time to start writing the actual screening questions. Here are some useful tips to keep in mind while at it:

  • Avoid leading questions
  • Write specific and carefully worded questions
  • Put your questions in the right order — the most important ones first — to help eliminate unqualified people early
  • Don’t give away too much information about the actual content of the test. This will help filter out those who are only after the incentives.

For example:

Say you’re screening potential participants for a study on online shopping experience. A good screening question will be:

Which of these options best describes your online shopping habits? Please select one option.

  • Frequently, I shop online and buy products across various categories.
  • Occasionally, when I need specific items or for certain occasions
  • Rarely, I prefer to shop in physical stores
  • I have never shopped online

Finally, keep your screener as short as possible. You don’t want potential participants dropping off before getting to the end.

Once your screening questions are sorted, it’s time for the main task: recruiting participants.

Utilizing online participant recruitment platforms

If you have the financial bandwidth, you can turn to online recruitment platforms as an efficient way to get research participants. These platforms use matching algorithms to connect you with qualified participants for a fee.

Some of the most popular ones include Prolific, User Interviews, Respondent, and User Testing. To illustrate how such platforms work, we’ll use Respondent as a case study.


Respondent UX Participants
Screenshot from the Respondent account creation process

Respondent is a B2B and B2C participant recruiting platform with over two million verified user research participants. Their price plans start from $39 per participant for B2C, and $65 per participant for B2B.

Publishing your research project on Respondent is pretty straightforward:

  1. Complete the account setup process
  2. Create a new project: Enter details such as respondent pitch, target audience, type of research, and the research methodology. You’ll also need to set a competitive incentive
  3. Specify your audience: This includes your target number of participants, preferred location, age range, and other criteria
  4. Add your screener questions and answers
  5. Publish your project!

Once there’s a match with a potential participant, you’ll be notified. Then it’s up to you to decide whether to proceed with the participant. (You’ll only be charged once you’ve marked a participant as completed.)

Utilizing social media and professional networks

If your budget doesn’t permit the recruitment platform route, your other option is to do the recruitment yourself. You can use your existing network or social media platforms for this. Look for platforms where you’re most likely to find people from your target audience.

If your recruitment criteria are relatively broad, you can look for potential participants on platforms like Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, etc. However, if your recruitment criteria are more specific, you may need to focus your search on interest groups and online forums that are related to your area of study.

For example:

Say you’re recruiting research participants for an app intended for Nigerian school teachers. You will need to focus your search on Nigerian platforms or forums where you’re most likely to find school teachers. But if your research is for a messaging app with a global audience, you can search on pretty much any social media platform.

Conducting outreach

Depending on what’s more practical for you, there are many ways to be proactive in your search for participants. You can:

  • Become active on online forums where your target audience members are. That way, potential participants are more likely to grant you an audience when you need their help with your research
  • Look out for blogs already writing about your topic of interest and interact with people in the comments. You never know what might come out of such interactions
  • Post ads on platforms like Craigslist (or the equivalent in your location). Just make sure you’re clear about your criteria. This will save both you and your interested participants a lot of time
  • Send outreach emails to people in your network

Incentivizing participants

Another crucial aspect of user research is incentivizing the participants.

It’s good practice to compensate your chosen research participants for their involvement in the research. Compensations can vary depending on the duration and complexity of the tasks. If your research involves specific skills, you may need to offer a higher reward. (You can find out what is appropriate in your region by conducting a quick Google search.)

Incentives can be in the form of gift cards, cash payments, or product discounts. The key is to offer incentives that are enticing and meaningful to your participants. A one-year free gym membership would mean a lot to a health and fitness enthusiast, but a lifetime supply of burgers and ice cream? Not so much.


Finding and recruiting the right user research participants will lead to valuable insights that positively impact the end users’ experience. By following the steps outlined in this article, you can ensure that you get the right participants every single time.

And finally, always ensure that the recruitment process is as smooth as possible for potential participants. Put their convenience top of mind and ensure that they are adequately rewarded for their input.

Header image source: IconScout

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Chinwe Uzegbu Chinwe is a UX and content designer with a flair for turning complex challenges into understandable solutions. She writes about all things user experience and has a lot of fun while at it.

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