Placing a psychology study on the World Wide Web is as much about design and advertising as it is about methodology, according to researchers who are paving the way.
Below are some tips for creating an online experiment page, adapted in part from "Tips on creating and maintaining an educational Web site" by Wesleyan University psychologist Scott Plous, PhD, published in Teaching of Psychology (Vol. 26, p. 6370).
Tip 1: See what's already out there. As you would do with a literature search, conduct a Web search to see if anyone has already created a Web-based study or experiment similar to the one you're considering. Such a search can provide you with ideas for designing the study and advertising and attracting people to your site.
Tip 2: Keep the loading time to a minimum. If it takes too long to load your study or experiment, people will give up and move on. If your experiment requires highly visual or technical pieces that are unavoidably slow to load, provide a quick loading home page that entices people enough that they're willing to wait. Warn them that it might take a few minutes for the study to start.
Tip 3: Make your site attractive. Inviting images and snappy layouts can increase the number of site visitors and boost study participants. To develop an appealing Web site, learn from other sites that are well-designed. A few general do's and don'ts:
Don't allow lines of text to run the full width of the computer screen because long lines of text are hard to read.
Don't create images wider than 600 pixels because they may extend beyond the edge of smaller monitors.
Use upper and lower case letters rather than all capital letters--text written in all caps is harder to read and should be used sparingly, if at all.
Tip 4: Describe your study and the premise of your research program. People may be more willing to participate if they understand why the study is important and how it fits into a larger research program.
Tip 5: Explain your "informed consent" policy. Clarify that participation in the study is voluntary, that participants can drop out at any time and that you will keep study data confidential. Possibly include a way for participants to receive feedback on the study or ask questions.
Tip 6: Tell participants how long the study will take. If people know beforehand how much time to allot for a study, they can decide to participate right away or come back when they have more time.
Tip 7: Offer incentives for participation. These can range from information and links on topics related to your study, to preliminary results or prizes.
Tip 8: Assume nothing, check everything. Test your newly developed Web survey or experiment from as many other computers as possible, using different Web browsers and Internet access providers. An experiment may act differently depending on the hardware and software used.
Tip 9: Promote your site:
E-mail a brief announcement to colleagues and students inviting them to visit your site and encouraging them to pass along your announcement.
Place an announcement about your study on listservs for communities of interest to your study.
E-mail Webmasters at sites related to your research topic asking that they add a link to your study.
Submit your study's address to Web sites that list psychology experiments, for example, the American Psychological Society's Internet Experiment List at psych.hanover.edu/APS/exponnet.html, or the Social Psychology Network's list at www.socialpsychology.org.
Submit your Web site to search engines.