When research will involve the direct participation of people (e.g. testing, surveys, interviews, focus groups, observation and health or behavioural interventions) the recruitment element can include such matters as identifying individuals as potential participants, contact between the research team and potential participants, screening or exclusion of some individuals, and preparing to seek consent from the potential participants. A single project may employ more than one recruitment strategy. It is essential that recruitment strategies adhere to the ethical principles of justice and respect.

According to the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research (2023), "A single project may employ more than one recruitment strategy, especially where discrete cohorts are required to meet the objectives of the research. For some research designs, the recruitment and consent strategies occur concurrently; for others, they are separate. It is essential that recruitment strategies adhere to the ethical principles of justice and respect."

Stakeholder Engagement

The ACU HREC understands that in some instances stakeholder engagement during the development and design of the recruitment strategy is the only time where prior ethical approval is not required. This would involve engagement with specific groups (generally in person) to discuss the research and, if necessary, to obtain feedback from relevant stakeholders on whether the proposed recruitment strategy is appropriate. This engagement should not involve direct recruitment (including identifying or making contact with individuals as potential participants) or involve data collection.

Research proposals

Research proposals should include the criteria for the selection of potential participants. The inclusion/exclusion criteria for the potential participants in a project must be justifiable and should be fair. The exclusion of some groups without justification may amount to unfair discrimination, and/ or exclude individuals and groups from the potential benefits of research. Research proposals should clearly describe each of the recruitment strategies being undertaken. Recruitment strategies would normally include a clear description of the manner in which researchers intend to identify individuals as potential participants, how contact will be made between the research team and potential participants (see initial contact and advertisement section below for additional detail), process for screening, or exclusion of some individuals, and how the research team will seek consent from the potential participants.

Recruitment strategies

Within recruitment strategies, researchers must ensure that:

  1. Advertising and recruitment procedures protect potential participant confidentiality;
  2. When obtaining the names of potential participants from third parties, the investigator must consider whether this might constitute a breach of confidentiality;
  3. Investigators are responsible for ensuring that approved procedures are followed by any third parties (e.g., teachers, or social-service providers) who may be aiding in the recruitment and/or advertising process;
  4. Researchers may not share names of previous research participants with other researchers without permission from the participants and this would normally be obtained through the informed consent process;
  5. Researchers should carefully consider perceived, potential or actual conflict of interests and how these will be managed, particularly when, for example, recruiting students, colleagues or persons in their workplace.
  6. The recruitment strategy in the application form should provide all recruitment materials, and clearly describe the following:
    • the criteria for the selection of potential participants;
    • the approach to contacting potential participants (eg: email, advertisement, phone call) and how they will find out about the possibility of participating, or not, in the research, and your justification for that approach

Initial contact and Advertisements

Research projects often involve recruiting potential participants using a variety of methods. Some of the more commonly used recruitment methods include flyers, posters, brochures, media advertisements, recruitment letters and word-of-mouth recruiting. Recruitment is part of the informed consent process; therefore, the recruitment and advertising methods must be reviewed by the ACU HREC prior to their use by an investigator. The review is done to ensure that the information is not misleading to subjects. Any alterations to approved advertisements also need to be approved by the HREC.

  • be written in simple lay language, particularly recognizing the needs of your potential participant groups eg: children, and should not contain coercive information that may entice readers to participate;
  • present the nature of the research and may present any potential benefits to the participants in ways that are not misleading or coercive;
  • include eligibility criteria;
  • clearly state that volunteers are being recruited for research purposes;
  • include the statement ‘This study has been approved by the ACU Human Research Ethics Committee’;
  • identify the study as an ACU project and state the responsible contact person including phone number and/or email address. Include the research website if relevant;
  • may state that participants will be paid for their time/effort but cannot include specifics of reimbursements or mentions of dollar amounts with lotteries/prize draws. The full detail of reimbursements, prize draws etc can be included in the participant information letter and can be used as the first point of recruitment as participants are then fully informed about the project and any risks involved.
  • state or imply a certainty of a favourable outcome or other benefit beyond what is outlined in the informed consent form and the application/protocol;
  • make claims, either explicitly or implicitly, that the drug, biologic or device is safe or effective for the purposes under investigation;
  • use catchy words like “free” or “exciting”;
  • make claims, either explicitly or implicitly, that the test article is known to be equivalent or superior to any other drug, biologic or device;
  • promise "free medical treatment" when the intent is only to say participants will not be charged for taking part in the investigation;
  • include reference to dollar amounts for reimbursement or prize draws.

Learn about remuneration and incentives

Forms and templates

Name Purpose Format Link
Interview guide Use this as a guide to read out to participants prior to an interview or focus group session. .docx Download
Recruitment Email Script Template Use this as a template for recruitment. Can be adapted for emails, letters or advertisements. .docx Download
Recruitment Email Script Template (ACU Students) Use this as a template for recruiting ACU students. Can be adapted for emails, letters or advertisements. .docx Download

Explore all research ethics forms and templates

Forms and templates
Page last updated on 05/04/2024

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