Writing the Study Description and Debriefing

Writing a good study description can improve participant motivation, instructional clarity and help you meet certain ethical requirements 

It's easy to underestimate the importance of briefing and debriefing your participants. Most participants want to know what kind of study they are taking part in and why. Not only is it the standard of good research practice to provide this information, but seeing a relevant purpose in the study will motivate your participants to put effort into responding. 

When setting up your study, you have a chance to provide information to participants so that they can make an informed decision to take part. Study descriptions can be complex to put together, so we’ve made this checklist to help you out. We think your study description should include: 

  • The aim of the study
  • What the participant will be required to do
  • Any sensitive information participants will have to provide
  • Anything you think the participant might be uncomfortable doing
  • Anything unusual the participant might have to do, such as downloading software or requiring headphones
  • Anything the participant must do to avoid their submission being rejected. 
  • An estimate of how long it will take to receive a reward after submission
  • If you plan to use bonus payments, or if it’s a longitudinal study with a payment schedule, then state this clearly.
  • Information on how a participant can opt out of the study (and what will happen if they do)
  • Information on whether a participant can remove their data from the dataset
  • Information on whether anonymized data will be made accessible to other researchers
  • Information on how the data will be used (publish a research study, guide government policy, etc).
  • Your contact details in case of questions.
  • If you have ethics approval, the contact details of the ethics board in question.

You have the option to apply a study label to your study to let participants know what type of study you are running. Additionally, if you study contains sensitive content, you can add a study content warning. These are both optional and if chosen will be shown to participants on their study preview. 

If you are using deception or a cover story, make sure to resolve this in the debriefing. The debriefing should consist of a short thank you message as well as information about any deception that was used in the study. Note that your debriefing should be 'inside' your survey, on your externally hosted website, as Prolific does not current provide support for debriefing on our website. 

Depending on the content of your study, it can be useful to provide contact details of certain helplines. For example, if your study investigated drug abuse, providing respective helpline details can make sense. For more information about ethical standards, please refer to: http://www.apa.org/ethics/code/

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