Types of Research Studies – The Ultimate Participant Guide 2023

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Market research is a multi-billion dollar industry. I know, I know, *boringggg. Until it isn’t!

Market research helps businesses save time, money, effort and energy by getting feedback on politics, products, services… pretty much anything that’s offered to the public. And they pay for the opinions from ordinary people like us to tell them the good, bad and ugly.

In other words, you get a check for complaining about that faulty zipper on EVERY pair of your favorite brand of jeans. Or rave about your favorite mascara… can they make a waterproof version?

Sure, you can’t make billions (not even close). BUT you can make a decent side-gig out of signing up for all types of studies that companies use to improve their products. Most likely, you’re going to use something that was 

That’s a cool way to ‘get on the other side of the register,’ if you ask me!

There’s a ton of ways to participate in market research. There’s the traditional popular choice of focus groups, but there are also online studies, product tests… even migraine clinical trials! 

We summarize the most popular types of research studies you can participate in and what to expect.

Keep reading to find out!

Focus Groups

Focus groups are conducted in a physical location where you and about 7-15 people participate in a guided discussion about a particular product. A moderator helps guide a discussion to gain insights and opinions about the topic.

Focus groups are the most variable study type on this list as far as what to expect. They can be long or short, pay a lot or little, be large or small, etc. But typically, focus groups last an hour or two, and generally you can expect anywhere from $50-200 from most firms.

This is where I recommend most people just getting started with marketing research start. It’s a fairly easy process to get started, and there’s low barrier to entry. 

Learn more about how focus groups work.

Online Surveys

Online surveys are pretty much an online version of focus groups (hey, introverts!) They are much shorter, and of course you don’t have to go anywhere. However, the qualification process is very much the same. 

The primary caveat with online surveys is that they don’t pay that much. You can generally expect $5-10 per completed survey. But because they’re shorter, you may be able to get through a few you pre-qualify for pretty quickly. 

Since they’re the lowest hanging fruit on this list, there are many ways to get caught up in scams or waste your time. 

We wrote this guide to help you pick the best online paid surveys.

Product/Taste Tests

Product tests are exactly what they sound like. , like focus groups, are a way for brands and companies to receive feedback on their products and services. Food companies’ versions of product tests are called taste tests and generally follow the same process.

Companies send their products to general consumers like you and me in exchange for public or private feedback. This helps them increase their value proposition, decide which products to launch or discontinue, improve market share, and overall make better decisions.

I talk about my experience with product tests and how you can get involved here.

User Tests

User tests are kind of like the digital version of product/taste tests. Instead of using a product though, a moderator will ask you to perform a series of tasks on a website or application to assess the ease of use or ‘usability’ to their target audience.

You don’t have to be a tech wizard by any means to qualify for these types of studies. But there may be some technological requirements necessary to complete the tests. The firm will typically tell you the software or hardware needed.

User tests pay on the higher side due to their technological nature and they take a bit more effort. You can generally expect to make around $25-30 per 10 minute test. If you can get through a few of those in an hour, that stacks up quite a bit!

If this piques your interest, read more about how to get paid to test website and apps!

Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are responsible for pretty much every (legal) drug on the market. Pharmaceutical companies need to ensure that medicine and procedures are safe for the public, so they ‘test’ the prototypes on willing volunteers to ensure they are appropriate.

They really aren’t as scary as they seem. By the time a drug or medical test reaches the clinical trial stage, it’s already passed many other checks and regulations. Not to say that there isn’t some risk involved…

Beside the risks, the benefits are probably the most profound: clinical trials are the most lucrative, have the most potential upside (if you have a medical condition), and are arguably the most impactful to society.

Take a walk on the wild side… but safely.

Shop Alongs

Shop-alongs are a way for brands to gain customer insights on the way their products are perceived. When you sign up for a shop along, a moderator follows you along (in a totally consensual, non-creepy way) as you observe products in the natural setting. Grocery stores, shopping centers, and big-box retailers are common culprits for hosting these studies. 

The moderator may ask questions, direct your attention, or spark conversation about your experiences. It’s like a more interactive version of a focus group. It’s a bit hard to nail down an average payout for this type of study, around $100 is a reasonable expectation.

We wrote a full article on how to get started with shop alongs if you want to learn more!

At-Home Studies

There are quite a few other study types that you can participate in from the comfort of your own home. Market research firms sometimes conduct telephone interviews in a group or one-on-one interviews to get feedback without spending extra resources that would be necessary in-person.

These studies are more convenient for both the researchers and the community, so it’s an easy way to get involved. However, like focus groups, they vary widely on the content and compensation.

They require a bit more than online studies because there is some mediation and guidance throughout the process. At-home studies are not as popular yet, but they are definitely on the come-up especially post-pandemic.

Final Thoughts

There you have it! If you ever thought focus groups aren’t really for you… we hope this article proved you wrong! There is a study for every personality, time constraint, lifestyle, etc. 

Which type of study sounds most appealing to you? Let us know in the comments!

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