Not all research takes place in laboratories or requires complex equipment. Sometimes a simple survey is enough to get the information a researcher needs. This type of research generally discovers how people respond to new information or their opinions on existing knowledge. For example, a survey participant might be asked to watch a preview of a new TV show and answer questions about what they liked or disliked. Alternatively, a survey taker may be asked about their existing ideas on the news, politics, or other similar topics. While these are vastly different areas of interest, the data collection is the same. We recommend using a professionally preformatted survey consent form template to help save time and ensure that you have all the correct information for participants to read.
What Is a Survey Consent Form?
A survey consent form is a legal document showing a survey participant agreed to be part of a research project by answering questions. The form should give enough information for the participant to understand the potential ramifications of the study and its benefits. Although the documents don’t always discuss the details of the survey because of proprietary information, they should outline any risks and explain the respondents’ responsibilities, such as not discussing the subject of the survey. Entertainment surveys like ‘what flower are you’ do not generally have survey consent forms as they aren’t part of any research and have no risks to speak of, so choosing to take them is considered reasonable consent.
Why is Survey Consent Form Important?
A survey consent form is vital for your records. This type of document is often a requirement in order to solicit participants to your research. Having a survey consent form signed by each participant shows clearly that they have read and agreed to the necessary information to become a voluntary and informed participant. Additionally, it shows that they were aware of any risks or benefits before deciding, which helps prevent litigation and legally covers the creators and administrators.
As a secondary benefit, a survey consent form may be the only way of identifying participants later. Especially when surveys are compiled into anonymous data sets, a common use, these forms can tell you who participated. This identifying information can later be used to disburse compensation and make secondary or follow-up inquiries. Finally, regrettably, if a participant were to share privileged information, a survey consent form would be a way to prove where they obtained that information if you needed to take them to court for the violation.
Essential Elements of a Survey Consent Form
The essential elements of a survey consent form are familiar to anyone who has ever conducted or participated in the research. While the words change based on the surveys’ intent and requirements, the overall format or template doesn’t change much. Here we’ve included everything you need and a few optional elements that can help elevate your document, making it more complete and professional.
- Title- The title section is always in large, bold print at the top and indicates that this is a “Survey Consent Form.” This makes it easy to locate within other records and ensures that anyone looking at it understands what they are holding.
- Study Name- The name of your study goes beside or below the title. Unlike other consent documents, you do not need to include a business logo. However, you may also add one if your survey is being held for a particular entity that wishes to be named, such as a large business.
- (Optional) Informed Consent- You can put the words “Informed Consent” at the top of the form to clarify the nature of the document. This should be in bold, italic, or both.
- Invitation- An invitation is a statement that tells the reader they are formally invited to participate.
- Qualifications- Next, list any specific qualifications you need participants to have. For example, some studies are only seeking a particular age group or people who watch live broadcast television; others are meant for patients on certain types of medication or people who share some other common ground, such as being part of a group, religion, or engaging in a specific activity like sports, gambling or drinking. Since it would do you no good to have e people who fall outside the survey parameters, placing this at the top is always a good idea.
- Voluntary Participation Statement- A voluntary participation statement tells the reader what is expected of them and any possible consequences or beneficial outcomes from taking the survey. It may also include a brief description of why you are conducting the survey.
- (Optional) Compensation- If your survey rewards people, tell them the compensation for participating.
- Confidentiality Statement- Many surveys require or offer confidentiality. It is critical to inform people if they cannot discuss the survey or other information, and you may need to explain that their data is part of an anonymous data set if that is the case.
- (Optional) Opt-Out Statement- Some survey consent forms include the exact terms for opting out on the form.
- (Optional) Consequence of Confidentiality Violation- Are you going to pursue charges if the participant violates their confidentiality agreement? Sharing this information can be beneficial.
- Data Security Statement- Investigators need to include information on how the data will be stored and secured and who will have access. You should use up to several paragraphs about this topic when confidential information is included, especially when surveys are conducted online.
- Final Statement- The last statement or acknowledgment says specifically that by completing this form, the participant agrees to take specific actions.
- Signature and Date- A basic signature and date line with a place to print the participants’ name goes at the bottom. In the case of e-forms, this can be a place to type the name and date depending on the style of the form. If the participants are underage, you should include a secondary line for the parents or guardians to sign, showing they have also given consent.
- Contact Statement and Information- Include information on who to contact if the participant has any questions or concerns.
- Recommendation for Recordkeeping- It is also a good idea to recommend that participants keep a copy for their personal records.
Pro Tips: When a survey has multiple points of contact, such as co-authors who plan to write a report or paper on the data, assign one or two people as the contacts for the ‘contact statement and information’ section to avoid any confusion.
Before you create the ideal survey consent form, you may have other questions. We’ve answered the most frequently asked questions from people who wanted to know about survey consent forms. You’ll find information about when you need consent or permission to conduct a survey and how these documents relate to qualitative research.
Whether you need a consent form for a survey depends on several factors, including the type of survey you are performing, the country in which you are running the survey, and the age of the participants. When conducting a survey collecting sensitive data about health, political affiliations, finances, etc., you must obtain the participants’ consent before conducting the survey. You may also need to obtain consent from the participant’s parents or guardians if the participants are under the age of 18. If you are conducting a survey that will not contain sensitive information, you may not need to obtain consent from the participants. However, it is always best to err on the side of caution and seek the participants’ consent before conducting the survey.
You need permission to conduct a survey if you are using any information that is part of someone else’s intellectual property, such as their questions. For official studies, you may also need permission from an oversight committee or the entity financing the survey, especially if any risk or sensitive information is involved. Meanwhile, you don’t need special permissions for informal surveys that are more entertaining, like those you’d see in magazines. In fact, there are websites dedicated to creating these latter surveys quickly and easily, without any consent forms. In general, only research surveys require permission and written consent.
The consent form is a key part of qualitative research. It is a document that outlines the research project, including its purpose, methodology, and participants. The consent form also explains the rights of the participants and outlines the procedures for withdrawing from the research. A consent form is an important tool for protecting the rights of participants and ensuring that they are informed about the research project. It is also a valuable tool for researchers, as it can help to ensure that the research is conducted ethically and in accordance with the law.
Creating and distributing consent forms for surveys is a critical part of the process. In order to maintain records of participants and ensure they understand their rights and obligations, these documents are commonly used before admitting people to research surveys. Any time there is a risk, confidentiality, or personal information to be collected, you need a consent form. Even when the participants are part of a random sampling that does not divulge their names or any other private information, the consent form ensures the surveyor has done their legal duty to obtain informed consent. Moreover, it covers the administrators and creators of the survey have protection from legal ramifications, and participants can receive any promised compensation.