Switching to online research? Your questions answered!

As COVID-19 goes global, research goes online!
COVID-19 has the world in a tight grip and many of us need to find new ways to go about our daily lives. For many researchers, the lockdowns mean a new way of conducting research.

This can be very challenging. And this is why we’ve compiled the most frequently asked questions we are receiving about going online with your research. Let’s go!

If it is your first time trying online research, do not despair. While everything new is hard at first, here are some advantages of making the switch to lift your spirits. 🙂 You can get a large number of participants to take part in your study within hours, if not minutes!

You can have access to a representative sample of the general population as well as very specific and niche populations without even having to leave your desk. Once everything is set up, you can go about your day, while data is pouring in. So let’s see what you need to make this reality...

General Procedure

You need a survey builder or a server to host your browser-based experiment. You will need to find participants and provide them with a link to take part in your study.

Finally, you should be able to download the data directly from the survey builder or server hosting the experiment and proceed with the analysis as usual.


Now let’s move on to the nuts and bolts. Here are the answers to most Frequently Asked Questions we get about online research by topic:

Setting up the study

Do I need ethics approval for online studies? How do I get it?

Yes, you will need to receive ethics approval for an online study, but the process doesn’t differ much from your usual in-person studies. The only thing to watch out for specific to online studies is data security, so make sure you follow the guidelines set up by your institution and choose your tools accordingly. If you’re an industry researcher, then you’ll need to find out how the ethics approval works in your company.

How do I submit a consent form for an online study?

You will need to include the consent form as part of your study right at the start and give your participants an opt-in and opt-out option. Those who opt-in will carry on with the rest of your study, the rest should be redirected to an exit screen.

Which tools can I use to collect data online?

Some simpler survey builders for novices are Google Forms, Typeform and SurveyMonkey. For more complex designs and web-based experiments with randomization you might want to look into Qualtrics or Gorilla (if you care about reaction times). Read more in our previous blog post on the most popular tools to use with Prolific.

Participant recruitment

Where can I recruit participants?

You can recruit participants through personal connections or social media, by reaching out to organisations or communities for specific samples or use a paid recruitment tool. In a previous blog post, our CEO Katia compared five popular recruitment tools: Amazon MTurk, Prolific (us 🙂), Qualtrics, SurveyMonkey and TurkPrime to help you make the best decision for your study.

How will participants find out about my study?

If you are using a recruitment tool, you will be asked to provide a link to your study (URL). The participants who fit your pre-defined criteria will receive an email inviting them to take part. Participant submissions (i.e their submitted survey responses) are recognised by a unique code which verifies that they have completed the study. Once your desired sample has been reached, no more participants can enter your study.

Data Analysis

How do I get access to my data?

Once you have your desired sample you can download data directly from the survey platform or the server hosting your experiment.

How do I ensure good data quality in online research?

We have a whole blog post on this topic here. In short:

  • Go for participant quality – pick a trustworthy provider, as participant quality directly affects your data quality. On Prolific you can track responses back to the participants, contact them about their submissions via direct messaging, reject low quality submissions as well as increase your sample any time.
  • Provide clear instructions – remember that most online study participants aren’t undergraduate psychology students and may not be familiar with different study formats.
  • Test and pilot – test your study on different screen sizes and browsers, make sure it loads correctly and all components are large enough and easy to read, run a small pilot study to identify and eliminate any problems.
  • Monitor data quality – you can include catch trials and attention checks within your study as you usually would.
  • Verify the accuracy of your sample by asking about your participants’ demographics within the study. At Prolific we encourage this practice, so long as you use the original phrasing of the questions that we provide to make sure the data is truly comparable


Specifically in online experiments you need to make sure your design is compatible with an online setup and your stimuli can be presented accurately. For example, extremely short visual stimuli could be problematic; read more on that in this article.


Going online with research takes some adjustment, but for many it can also pose an opportunity. Let’s share our experience and resources, let’s help each other through this challenging time!

We would love to hear how COVID-19 is impacting your research and which resources you are finding helpful: click here.

If you need guidance setting up your experiment or help finding difficult-to-reach demographics, our Prolific team is here for you. Any questions, let us know via katia@prolific.co!

If you’re ready to go, click here to start your first study on Prolific!

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