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I've seen in many research projects that they give people who fill the questionnaires or participate in the experiment (more often the latter) some amount of money to acknowledge their help. But I can't pay that much because it's a small project. But also I want to attract many people to fill my online questionnaire. Is that right (according to research ethics or anything else) to say to them that I will give only random gifts, for example only 10 gifts when more than 500 people participate? My concern is that the participants subjective perception that they will receive the gain for their participation is not true (in terms of probability) and maybe I'm cheating on them, in a sense ?

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why not say that you'll add names to a lottery, and X winners will receive some prize ? – Suresh Dec 25 '13 at 18:44
@Suresh Yes, but it's not really my question, it's not the way I give them the random gifts, it's the deed itself. – Ehsan Abd Dec 25 '13 at 18:47
What did your IRB/ethics board say? – StrongBad Dec 25 '13 at 19:36
From scientific point of view - fixed pay and lottery may attract different groups of people, from ethical point of view - ask your ethics committee (common sense thinking: lottery is a typical way of gratification for filling surveys), from practical - well, it depends if it attracts people. – Piotr Migdal Dec 25 '13 at 21:29
up vote 11 down vote accepted

Questionnaire design is a science.

Within that science, there is a body of literature on the ethics of incentives, and on maximising response rates. Behavioural economists and other social scientists have put a lot of work into this: you just need to make best use of their findings.

Just because questionnaire design looks easy, and lots of people do it shoddily, doesn't mean you should. Apply to questionnaire- and incentive-design the same academic rigour that you will apply to the analysis of the results.

In other words: the answer to your question is in the literature, so consult it: and then you've got some proper peer-reviewed literature to cite in your methodology section. And discuss the ethics with your university's committee and with your more experienced colleagues.

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Maybe I preferred an straight-forward Yes/No answer to my question at first, but you really provided an "academia" answer. Thank you so much. – Ehsan Abd Dec 25 '13 at 18:53
I haven't used a prize draw in a long while, but we are no longer allowed to list hourly cash payments on our Ethics applications as an incentive. It is merely a reimbursement for the inconvenience of participating. – StrongBad Dec 25 '13 at 19:39
I am not sure if it answers the question, as stated. (Especially, as "ask advisor", "consult literature" (unless directly pointing to relevant publications), "ask yourself what you really want" are not, IMHO, good SE-type answers.) – Piotr Migdal Dec 26 '13 at 11:24
@PiotrMigdal Yes, I would appreciate more if EnergyNumbers provided some links to relevant publications. – Ehsan Abd Dec 26 '13 at 17:22

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