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Online Surveys and Questionnaires

There is an understanding that online surveys/questionnaires typically do not require the completion of a separate Participant Information Sheet and/or consent form, however researchers must find a way of conveying this information to potential participants before they complete the questionnaire/survey.

For surveys/questionnaires that poses a minimal risk to participants it is recommended that a simple consent paragraph is included in place of a separate consent form.  Participants should still be given the same type of information (e.g. voluntary participation, risks, confidentiality/anonymity, right to withdraw). Whilst participants are not signing a separate consent form, consent is obtained by virtue of completion.  

Online surveys cannot normally be designated as being anonymous.   Even where participants are not being asked to provide their name, other information, e.g. gender, department and IP address, can potentially be used to identify individuals.   As such it is more accurate to describe online survey data collection as ‘confidential’, meaning that researchers will implement agreed procedures to maintain the confidentiality of participant data.

It should be noted that the policies underpinning third party survey software companies differ (Survey Monkey, Bristol Online Survey), and researchers must make themselves aware of the policies of their chosen survey tool.   In addition to the way  material will be collected, the researcher must be aware of how the survey software provider will store the collated information and who can access it and, as appropriate, convey this information to participants.   Researchers using Survey Monkey should familiarise themselves with the content of the Safe Harbour agreement, further details of which are outlined in the Frequently Asked Questions document.

The recommended online survey tool is Qualtrics for which the University hold a license.    An account is created automatically based on your St Andrews SSO password as soon as you access the St Andrews Qualtrics account URL

It is not necessary to provide participants with a separate Debriefing Sheet however a debrief statement should be incorporated immediately after the final question.   This should include the researcher’s contact information and details of relevant support organisations i.e. student services, local doctor and/or external professional support agencies.   It should also restate that participants have the right to withdraw, but that by submitting they are agreeing to participate.

 EXAMPLE Opening Statement for an Online Survey/Questionnaire

You are being invited to participate in a research study titled [Name of your research].  This study is being done by [Name of Researcher(s)] from the University of St Andrews. 

The purpose of this research study is [provide participants with a short statement about the research], and will take you approximately [XX] minutes to complete.   Your participation in this study is entirely voluntary and you can withdraw at any time.  You are free to omit any question.

We believe there are no known risks associated with this research study; however, as with any online related activity the risk of a breach is always possible.  To the best of our ability your answers in this study will remain confidential.  We will minimize any risks by [describe how confidentiality will be secured, maintained, and when raw data will be destroyed].

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