Conducting your research

Writing information leaflets

Information leaflets can be difficult to write and need to be tailored to the characteristics of the sample.  You need to strike a balance between providing too little information (in which case, you can’t ensure informed consent) with providing too much, and boring, alarming, or confusing people.

Clear leaflets use short sentences with one main idea per sentence. They use requests, rather than commands. They use the active voice and a personal approach. They give specific details. They also give the contact details of the researcher.

The language used needs to be relevant and understandable to the people you are aiming at.  There are various ways that you can think about how to do this:

  • You might  want to look at website of the Campaign for Plain English
  • The Easy Info website developed by the Norah Fry Research Centre offers guidance about providing information for people with learning difficulties (but based on principles of clarity and accessibility which are relevant for other groups of participants too).
  • Is there a group that represents people such as those you hope to include in your study, who might be able to advise you (and be interested in what you are doing)?
  • Try showing your materials to non-academic friends or family members - they may not be representative of your proposed participants, but they will look at things with a fresh eye, and may still be able to pick up jargon and over-complicated language.

Whomever you hope to study, avoid academic terminology or jargon, and think about the likely literacy levels of your potential participants.  Can you be sure that they have high levels of formal education?  Is it possible that some will speak English as an additional language, or not read or speak English at all?  Is it appropriate to provide alternative versions of your information sheet in other languages?  Have you built budget for that into your proposal?  To answer these questions you need to consider the specific needs of your sample. 

Think too about potential participants’ time and motivation.  Regardless of literacy, participants may not be interested enough to spend time working their way through a verbose information sheet:

  • Keep things as short and simple as possible, and use clear fonts and colours (as appropriate) to make your leaflet visually appealing.
  • For some groups of participants you may also want to include photos of members of the research team and/or use illustrations.  Again, the Norah Fry Centre has some good examples on its website – see, for example, their Plain Facts  series.
  • To make sure your leaflet is understandable and appealing, show it to some people who are not involved in the project – and if possible to people from the groups you are hoping to study – to check how easy or difficult it is to understand.  If you can’t access people from the groups you hope to study, can you get advice from any professionals or organisations that are expert in working with those groups?