Experiment recruitment: How to maximise attendance

A while ago, I wrote a post about why participants don’t turn up to experiments. In my pilot study, I’d had a lot of no-shows, and I was writing about that. I promised to write a “part 2”, where I explained what steps I’d found effective in maximising attendance, or at least minimising inconvenience for you, the experimenter. This is that post.

Here’s the background:

In my main experiment, I wanted 60 participants (all university students), to be tested individually. Each experiment would take around thirty minutes. To make it slightly more complicated, it was important that participants believed that other participants were taking part in experiments at the same time, in different rooms. This means that being more than 5 minutes late was not feasible.

Here’s what I did:

1) I scheduled in more participants than I needed

This is a fairly basic step. The likelihood that you will have a 100% turn-up rate is very low, so booking in plenty of participants is a smart move.

2) I sent reminders

I had a lot of correspondence with participants. When they first emailed, I asked them to give their availability. Then I emailed them with a time, requesting a confirmation. If they replied, I sent them details about the experiment location. If they didn’t, I emailed to ask for a reply. A week before the experiment, I sent a reminder email, stressing that they should get in touch to cancel if they couldn’t make it. Finally, the evening before the experiment, I sent a text message asking for a final confirmation.

I worried that this level of contact might be tiresome for the participants, but they seemed grateful to be reminded. Quite a few cancelled after the “one week warning” email. Some cancelled after the “one day warning” text. That is highly preferable to not showing up, and I had a system in place to help…

3) I had backups

There were more cancellations than I’d expected. Fortunately, I’d kept a list of backup participants. Those were participants who had contacted me after I’d filled all the vacancies. I’d emailed them, asking if they’d be willing to be a backup, and if so what days they were available. This was incredibly useful, and many of my backup participants ended up taking part in the experiment.

Here are the final numbers:

I was aiming for 60 participants.

I scheduled in 65, and had a list of about 15 backups.

In the end, 58 participants took part in the experiment.


I’m writing as fast as I can!

This academic writing month has been strange for me. I’d already been pushing myself to the limit, but somehow I thought it was a good idea to push myself even harder. You can read about my goals and the ensuing exhaustion here.

I’m a productivity addict: I love breaking down goals into bitesize tasks and smashing them. I’ve always been this way, I just love going fast. How could I turn down the opportunity to be even MORE productive? What what negative consequences could possibly arise?

Exhaustion, depression, anxiety, nausea, irritability, stress, to name a few.

In addition, I’m currently working on my literature review, which needs careful, considered thought. I need to get the story just right.

So for the rest of #acwrimo (as of last Wednesday, the 20th), I’ve made a new goal: To slow down.

To sit with a pen resting against my chin, considering my argument. To rest, and relax, and do things I enjoy. To run my ideas past my friends (thanks in advance, friends). And to gently coax the story of my literature out from where it is hiding.

It will be both very easy and very difficult.

What do you think? Is slowing down hard for you? Do you find it hard to find a mid-ground between on and off? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Types of targets for AcWriMo 2013

It’s getting cold outside, the leaves are beginning to turn red and fall from the trees, which means it’s almost that time of year again – November, Academic Writing Month (or acwrimo).

Last year was my first experience of acwrimo, and I loved it. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the concept, acwrimo is one month where writing is made a priority. Targets are set and declared, and progress is reported. For more information, have a look at PhD2Published’s post, or at the #acwri live Twitter chat from last week on the subject, hosted by me (@ellenspaeth) and @pelf81.

But what are those targets? In trying to decide what targets to set myself for acwrimo 2013, I’ve decided to recap the possibilities in a post.

Initially, the challenge of AcWriMo was to write 50,000 words within that month (for more information on this, see Anna Tarrant’s piece in the Guardian). But since then, the emphasis has moved to setting whatever targets seem right for you. These targets tend to fall into three categories:

  1. Wordcount-based
  2. Time-based (e.g. a certain number of pomodoros)
  3. Output-based (e.g. an article finished, a thesis chapter written)

It’s possible to combine target types by setting both monthly and daily targets. For example, you could set an output-based target as your monthly goal, and a wordcount-based or time-based target as your daily goal.

Personally, I’d highly recommend this type of combination. The monthly target will give a big-picture view of the work you’re doing, and the daily target will keep that sense of achievement ticking over. As I’ve discussed (at length), breaking down larger goals into smaller chunks is an excellent way to stay motivated.

Sidebar: When I talk about “daily” targets, I’m not suggesting that you need to work every day during acwrimo. Set goals that are achievable without putting your health in danger – it’s important to take regular breaks.

Last year I set purely wordcount-based targets – 1000 words of freewriting, 5 days a week. This year is less easy – I’m currently working on my literature review, which is less easy to tame into predictable wordcount-based chunks. I’m currently leaning towards setting time-based targets, such as a certain number of pomodoros. The challenge, now, is to consider how many pomodoros is achievable…

Are you taking part in Academic Writing Month this year? Have you set your targets? If so, have you declared them on @mystudiouslife‘s accountability spreadsheet? Are they wordcount-based, time-based, or output-based? Or have you chosen a different type of target that I haven’t mentioned? I’d love to hear about your AcWriMo plans in the comments.

Three ways AcWriMo works

What is AcWriMo?

Academic Writing Month, or AcWriMo, is a challenge adopted by willing academics and those in related fields in the month of November. Participants decide on a goal that will challenge them and declare that goal on Twitter, using the hashtag #acwrimo. The same hashtag can be used to update the AcWriMo community on your progress.

The goals are flexible, and you can create one that fits what you need, as long as it is more than you would usually do. Some make one big goal for the whole of AcWriMo, such as finishing a chapter, a paper, or writing a certain number of words. Some make daily goals, such as a certain amount of words written or time spent each day. Others combine the two, using the daily goal to structure their progress towards the larger goal.

AcWriMo transforms November into a time to get a large amount of work done.

Why does AcWriMo work?

Because the idea of getting so much done is very appealing. When you set a daily goal and multiply that by your working days in the month, the word count flashes through your eyes like money symbols might for someone uncovering a gold mine. For PhD students in particular, the thesis word count is a terrifying, seemingly-unachievable thing. Thinking that you could write quite a lot of words in one month makes that number less terrifying and more achievable.

Because the goal is measurable. You only have to do it for 30 days (less if you aren’t working every day). After those 30 days, you can go back to however you did things before. 30 is a number we can count on our fingers, toes, and fingers again. It’s easy to imagine the end of it. So what’s the harm in trying for 30 days?

Because you are prioritising your goal. Often, some goals are obscured by things that are more urgent, but not necessarily as important. Writing can be one of those goals. What with reviewing the literature, planning studies, and analysing data, the concept of actually writing the thesis can hang over you like a paused boss fight on a video game. AcWriMo gives you the chance to devote time to whatever you feel needs it.

Are you doing AcWriMo? What made you decide to try it? Is it helping you so far?

Scrivener – the saviour of literature reviews

I am in a state of shock. With a PhD comes a constant background stress about how you will ever turn your jumble of PDFs, notes, and folders (I even tried to keep mine tidy) into a coherent literature review.

Downloaded Scrivener (software which combines the writing and organising [both of your thesis and research files/notes]) trial yesterday, did tutorial last night and this morning, and started my own project file about half an hour ago.  Dragged my root “Literature” folder into Scrivener and within 3 minutes all of my folders and files are viewable and editable within Scrivener.

I can see the whole structure of folders and files at once, rearrange them, add notes to them (including PDFs), tag them. I may need to lie down. Oh wait, I’m already in bed.

Education license (which I think covers 2 or 3 family members in your house) is around £24, and there’s a 30-day (non-consecutive, so it only counts the days you use it) free trial. If you hate it, you can export anything you’ve done on there back into Word, or whatever suits.  If you love it, you can buy it.

For Scrivener’s website, including download information, click here