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Erin's Tips for Running a Good Study

  1. Be friendly. Greet participants enthusiastically, make them comfortable, and engage them in the study.
  2. Give clear instructions in a way that motivates subjects. Read through any on-screen or written instructions WITH subjects, to make sure they understand. Don’t be boring and stilted – be animated and excited.
  3. Then make sure your participants are actually doing the tasks correctly and following instructions.
  4. Explain every form that you give them; SHOW them how to fill it out.
  5. After subjects finish each form, be sure to check that they completed it correctly. 
  6. Always ask “Do you have any questions?”
  7. Have a written study manual that documents every detail of the procedures for running the study. Use the study manual while you are running the study – Keeping the written instructions in front of you will help you make sure that you don’t forget anything.
  8. If there is an instructions script for your study, make sure you stick to it and don’t omit anything.
  9. Be unbelievably organized. Label everything. File everything. Document everything.
  10. Practice all study procedures on at least one mock participant before running a real subject.
  11. Document your procedures and data in a way that a stranger could find everything understand everything. 
  12. Check the data. Did the data save correctly? Is it all there? Does anything look weird? Now check it again.
  13. Back up electronic study data to the shared drive immediately, or at least once a day. Never leave any data on your personal computer or on the hard drives of the lab computers.
  14. It’s ok to make a mistake!  But if you do make a mistake, DOCUMENT IT (make notes in subject folder and in the Participant Log about what went wrong).
  15. Ask for help when you need it.

Example study manuals

Data storage

The electronic files for all of our projects (a.k.a. studies) are managed on a network drive shared by the lab (\\fustore; often called the “shared drive”). You will be given access to this drive when you join the lab or take the MayX. If you don't have access, ask Erin.  The drive should already be mapped as a drive on all of the lab computers and named “wamsleylab” (so available on "My Computer" in Windows). See here for instructions on how to access \\fustore and set it up as a mapped network drive.

How to Organize a New Project

In science, it is disturbingly easy for years of work to be lost through sloppy data organization and archiving practices. Our goal is that any stranger should be able to use these files to understand all aspects of the study, the data, and the data analysis. The following guidelines will help us all ensure that our hard work results in usable, publishable observations that future scientists will be able to access for years to come.

The golden rule of project management: All electronic documents and data related to your study must be kept on the lab shared drive, in your project folder on fustore/wamsleylab/PROJECTS.

Nothing should be kept solely on your personal computer/laptop, on Google Drive or another internet location, or on the hard drive of lab computers. Put another way, if some of the software you use records data to the local hard drive, you should always copy the data to the project folder immediately after finishing running the participant (for example with a memory task). If data is collected via Qualtrics or another web application, a copy of all these data should be backed up to the shared drive monthly.  The only exception is if you have very large overnight sleep or high density EEG records, in which case we may decide to archive these separately.

We have developed a standardized organization for study files on the shared drive. Everyone should follow this organization template as described below.  An example for everything below can also be found in fustore/wamsleylab/PROJECTS/Project Organization Template. You can make a copy of this template folder to set up your study files at the start of a project – just be sure to edit the files to match your study.

For all studies, the following elements are required:

  • Participant Log Excel sheet: The purpose of a participant log is to keep an organized record of all participants who have been tested on a study to date, as well as any who are scheduled to participate.  The participant log must be kept updated with every subject, and there should be only ONE, clearly labeled version of this document in the project folder. Update the log every time you run a subject. It must include:
    • the date a participant was run
    • their participant ID
    • their assigned experimental condition(s)
    • information on counterbalancing order(s)
    • “notes” field in which you document any problem or anything unusual about that participant. 
    • If you are not using Qualtrics forms for your study, enter the participants’ race, ethnicity, and sex here as well. This information is required for our reports to the National Institutes of Health, and so needs to be easy for Erin to tabulate when she is writing progress reports.
  • Raw Data folder: This folder should contain each participant’s original (i.e. unprocessed) data. This would include computer task performance files, Qualtrics surveys, etc. It also contains the Raw EDF folder
    • Raw EDF folder: EDFs are EEG data. This folder will hold original .edf files exported from Twin for all participants. Similar to the raw data folder, no processed edfs should be in this folder.
  • Methods folder:  This folder holds all of the resources necessary for running the study. This includes:
    • The most recently updated version of your Study Manual
    • The most recently updated version of all Participant Paperwork used for the study (if your “paperwork” is electronic/on Qualtrics, make sure to export a Microsoft Word version of the survey - see Qualtrics documentation for how to)
    • A Tasks folder, which contains all computer tasks used for the study (if the computer task cannot be included, make sure the critical aspects of the task are accurately described in a text file in this folder)
  • Analysis folder: Contains all of your organized/processed dataset spreadsheets (SPSS, Excel, etc.), all of your data analysis scripts (if applicable), all SPSS results output, and exported EEG results (eg BrainVision Analyzer output). Implement useful names for these files so someone else could know what they contain or do. Also, implement useful names for labels or columns in dataset files (SPSS, Excel, etc) so it is clear what the data in that column represents and/or how it was calculated (if applicable).
    • EEG Export: the export folder for your BrainVision Analyzer work space
    • EEG Processing: the history folder for you BrainVision Analyzer work space
  • README text file: that describes where the hard-copy data for this study is located and an explanation of what the filenames or participant IDs mean (should be in a file cabinet in the lab, not in your dorm room)
  • Manuscript folder: If you are working on a manuscript for publication, store all files for the manuscript (draft Word document versions, figures, tables) here.

There are really only two things related to your project that will not be located in the project folder:

  • Assignments for a class or school function related to your projects (e.g. a literature review for your Neuroscience thesis, a poster for Furman engaged). You can keep those documents on your own computer instead of on the shared drive.
  • IRB documents. If you do not have access to our IRB filing system, give any IRB documents that you have been working on to Erin. If you have been given access to our IRB filing system, put all IRB documents that you have been working on there. If you don’t know what IRB Documents are, read the next section “Running a Study” and the IRB page.

Running a Study


  1. Get IRB Approval
  2. Document the study procedures in the study manual
  3. If working with a team, walk-through the procedures to make sure everything is clear to everyone
  4. Run at least one practice subject (together, if on a team), and verify data is being collected properly
  5. Run first participant with Erin present
  6. Recruit, screen, schedule and run participants
  7. Stay organized and document everything

IRB Approval

See the IRB page for more details

Before any data collection or piloting occurs, a study needs to be approved by Furman’s Institutional Review Board (IRB). Erin will help you with this, but below are five very important points that you must know about the IRB:

  • It is a violation of federal law to run a study without prior IRB approval.  This includes testing “pilot” subjects – the only exception is if you are just practicing using equipment (like learning to do an EEG recording, but not actually collecting research data).
  • All data collection forms /surveys/ etc. are included in what the IRB must view and approve
  • All study advertisements are included in what the IRB must review and approve
  • All participants must sign the correct, updated consent form for the correct study and we must keep written documentation of this for at least 3 years
  • Even seemingly small changes to study procedures MUST be approved as a “modification” to an already-approved IRB protocol.  Do not change any study procedures without talking to Erin about getting IRB approval.

Erin will help with getting IRB approval for your study and making modifications to your IRB approval when needed. If questions about any of these policies be sure to ask! Erin will not be mad if you make a mistake, forget something, or accidentally fail to follow some of the procedures in this guide. But you really need to tell her about it.

Adverse Effects

An “adverse effect” is when your research results in harm to a subject that was not anticipated. This would include any negative side effect of the research that was not mentioned in the consent form, OR a side effect that was listed on the consent form, but is of greater severity than expected. This also includes effects that are possibly, but not definitely, due to the experiment (for example, if a participant vomited a few hours after participating in a transcranial stimulation study, but wasn't sure if it was an effect of the procedure). Federal regulations dictate that any adverse events during a research study must be reported to the IRB in a timely manner, so make sure to notify Erin a.s.a.p. if anything unexpected goes wrong during a study.  Erin is not always the fastest on email, so if it is something IMPORTANT like this, you should call or text her on her cell phone.

Although most of our studies are low risk, adverse events can happen.  For example, during one of our maze studies, a participant threw up while doing the task!  We had to submit a report on this to the IRB, and modify our protocol to describe that the study involves risk of vomiting. We have also had an adverse event when a participant reported feeling briefly but severely dizzy after leaving our transcranial stimulation study.  If you are not sure if what happened is an adverse event, err on the side of caution and just call Erin!

Documenting, reviewing, and piloting study procedures

Each study should have a written study manual which documents, in detail, the procedures for the study. An example of a study manual is located in the Project Template Methods folder. To make things easier, you may want to start writing a study manual while preparing the IRB application. Once your manual is complete, walk through it multiple times, checking for any omitted or incorrect information. Erin will also be giving you feedback on this / helping you to create it. If you are running the study with a team, you should all review and walk-through the procedure together to make sure everyone is in agreement (e.g. when to administer a form, if/when to turn the lights off, how to give instructions, etc.).  The study manual then becomes the “master” document that all research assistants should refer to while running a study – this ensures that everyone is doing things the same, and that there is an easy place to look up the procedures if you forget/are unsure about something.

After obtaining approval for your study from the IRB, completing the study manual and reaching an agreement within the team on procedures, find a practice participant to run through the study. After successfully running a practice participant, notify Erin that you are ready to run your first real participant. Erin will want to be there to watch the procedure and give you whatever feedback or help is needed.

Recruiting participants

For all recruitment, you must use the IRB-approved ads. If you need a new ad approved, see Erin. There are a few different methods of distributing the IRB-approved ads, below are the ways we are currently doing it.

For all of the studies we run, we ask participants if they are ok with being contacted by us in the future about new studies. This means you can go through all of the past participants, and if they said they were ok with contact, you can shoot them an email to see if they would be interested in participating. Make sure, though, that you are not recruiting participants who have already done a task used in your study! You can use our lab’s participant database to find all past participants who are eligible and are ok with being contacted. Visit this page to learn about the lab participant database.

Here are some IRB-approved advertisements, approved to be used generically for multiple studies:

Screening Participants

Most studies will have certain eligibility criteria for participants, which will be written in the IRB application. It is important that you stick to your IRB-approved eligibility criteria. 

“Screening” participants is the process of determining which participants meet these eligibility criteria. Some studies have pretty simple eligibility criteria, but for every study, it is important that ALL SUBJECTS BE AT LEAST 18 years old – people under 18 are not legally able to consent to participate in research, so it is really important that you check that students are 18. All of our studies also currently require that participants be current students at a college or university. Usually we use just Furman students, but we can recruit students from other schools, too.  

For some studies, there are really complicated eligibility criteria, and there will be a formal procedure for screening potential participants via phone or email prior to giving them an appointment to come into the lab. If you are pre-screening participants (talking to participants about study criteria before they come in for an appointment) you need to keep documentation for everyone you contact – including people who do not meet the criteria for participation. All pre-screening records should be kept in your project folder, meaning emails, phone calls, or in-person talks all need to be written down. Again, ask Erin if you have any questions about how to do this.

If you have any questions about how to screen or what the screening criteria for your study are, Erin can easily help you figure it out. During a study, if you every have questions about whether a particular person qualifies for the study, ask Erin directly.

Scheduling Participants

When an interested participant contacts you, promptly respond with the information about the study. The response should include the following:

  • A friendly, welcoming opening
  • Short description of what participation in the study involves, number of sessions, and duration
  • Inclusion and exclusion criteria
  • If using EEG for the study, mention they will want to wash their hair shortly afterwards
  • Compensation (money or PSY111 credits)
  • List of general times available for the study, a Calendly link, or other scheduling method
  • State that if the participant is interested and meets the requirements, they should do x, y, and z to schedule an appointment

Here’s an example:

Hi [Name here],

Thanks for showing interest in our research! There are two sessions for this study: the first session lasts about 1.5 hours, and the second session lasts about 30 minutes and is scheduled for the same day about 5 hours after the start of the first session. Compensation is $10/hour. The study involves getting hooked up to an EEG, performing some memory tasks, and filling out some questionnaires. EEG does not hurt, it is a tool for recording brain activity where we will attach some electrodes to your scalp using water-soluble gels. Due to the gels we use, you will want to wash your hair out shortly after finishing the first session (the only session in which we will record your EEG).

To participate, you must be a current student and 18 years or older.

If you meet the requirements above, and you are interested in participating, please let me know if any of the following times for the first session would work for you:
Mondays: 11am-12:30pm + 4-4:30pm
Tuesdays: 9am-10:30am + 2-2:30pm, 9:30am-11am + 2:30-3pm, 11:30am-1pm + 4:30-5pm
Wednesdays: 12-1:30pm + 5-5:30pm
Thursdays: 9-10:30am + 2-2:30pm, 11:30am-1pm + 4:30-5pm

Please let me know if you have any questions

-[Your name here]

When the participant responds, check the lab calendar on Google for the times they provided. When you find a time that works add it to the calendar.

  • Access the calendar by logging in with the lab’s google account, or you can ask Erin to add your personal google account to the calendar.
  • When adding an appointment, make sure you select “Furman Sleep Lab” for the calendar! Don’t accidentally add appointments to your personal Google calendar.
  • For the name of the appointment, include the name of the study, the name of the participant, and which experiment room (1 or 2) you will be using. (e.g. SleepVsRest – John Doe – Room 1).
  • Make sure to avoid making overlapping appointments for a single room.

If you are having trouble scheduling subjects because the rooms are not available at the times you need them, talk to Erin, or talk to the other lab members that you are competing for times with.  Sometimes we need to come up with more organized plans about who will run subjects on what days of the week / times.

Once you have added the time to the calendar, reply to the participant with the following:

  • Confirm the appointment day and time.
  • Tell them where the lab is located (Johns hall room 214)
  • “Please let me know if you have any questions before the appointment”
  • Thank the participant, and say “I’m looking forward to seeing you then!” This will probably make a no-show less likely.

Here’s an example:

[Participant name here],

Awesome, I now have you down for 2/21 from 12-1:30pm and 4:30-5pm. Please let me know if you have any questions before the appointment. Our lab is located in Johns Hall, room 214. I’m looking forward to seeing you then!

-[Your name]

Running participants

Before a participant arrives

  • You should always contact the participant the day before an appointment to remind them!
  • Make sure you have a printed consent form ready. Once approved by the IRB, your study’s consent form will be stored in your study’s folder on BOX. To make sure you are always using the most up to date form, never download the consent form for printing – always print it directly from BOX. Erin and the lab coordinator will make sure the form available is up to date.
  • Look clean and presentable. Always keep your shoes on, try not to smell bad, don’t wear stained and ripped clothing, etc. You may be a student, but in this situation you are a scientist in charge of a research study.
  • You should arrive plenty early to setup for your study (e.g. prepare electrodes, forms, computer tasks, etc.). Keep in mind that your participant could arrive early, and they often do.
  • It is very important that you arrive on time to test participants and that you never fail to show up to run a participant. Failing to show up to meet participants on time is unprofessional and gives our lab a bad reputation. Participants are giving us their very valuable time and we need to respect that.
  • If the participant doesn’t show up to an appointment, contact them and see if they will reschedule. If they have missed more than one appointment, do not reschedule them.

Obtaining informed consent

The process of obtaining written informed consent from research participants is regulated by federal law, and is the most essential detail of testing a participant that you must get right. Keep the following in mind:

  • Participants often don't read the consent form in detail. So in addition to giving them the written consent form, you should explain the main points of what the study involves verbally.
  • Before instructing the participant to sign, be sure to ask "do you have any questions?"
  • Do NOT begin any other study procedures (forms, electrodes), until after the consent form is fully executed.
  • Immediately after the participant signs the form, you MUST:
    • check that their signature is present
    • check that the date they wrote is correct (if not, have them fix it)
    • YOU then sign and date as experimenter
    • only after you have confirmed that all of this is correct is consent actually complete

While a participant is in the lab

Use the study manual while you are running the study – keeping the written instructions in front of you will help you make sure that you don’t forget anything. If there is a spoken script for your study, make sure you stick to it and don’t omit anything. But at the same time, don’t be reading off the sheet like a robot – you should have the instructions for your study more-or-less memorized and just be using the manual as assistance.

While running the participant, open the lab’s participant database and edit/add them to it. (See here for a full description of using the participant database)

Here are a few other reminders while running a participant:

  • Be friendly.  Greet participants enthusiastically, make them comfortable, and engage them in the study.
  • Give clear instructions in a way that motivates subjects.  Read through any on-screen or written instructions WITH subjects, to make sure they understand. Don’t be boring and stilted – be animated and excited.
  • If using hard-copy forms, check to make sure that the participant is answering all of the questions. Qualtrics users need not worry, validation checks can be for each question automatically, requiring a valid response before continuing. Just make sure you set this up correctly. (See here for more information on Qualtrics)
  • Make sure your participants are actually doing the tasks correctly and following instructions.
  • Always ask “Do you have any questions?”
  • It’s ok to make a mistake!  But if you do make a mistake, DOCUMENT IT (make notes in subject folder and in the Participant Log about what went wrong – this way if data are missing or weird, we will later know WHY).

When a participant is done, and they are participating for cash, the most important thing is to never allow money to leave your hands without the subject signing the study’s receipt form (Receipt for Compensation - Template.docx). Don’t forget to do this! There is an example of a receipt form in the Project Template’s Methods folder. Keep a copy of your study’s form printed out and clipped to a clip board in the control room for easy access. On the form, participants print their name, sign their name, write the current date, and write the amount of cash they are receiving.

After a participant leaves

  • Organize and put away hard copy files (i.e. consent forms) into your study’s file cabinet.
  • Cleanup the experiment room, the electrodes you used, as well as the cart [add links to sections above]
  • If electronic data is not saved to the shared drive or into the correct folder, move the data to the correct directory in your project folder.
  • If your study requires follow-up procedures, follow-up with the participant at the appropriate time and document it in your project folder.

  File Modified
Microsoft Word Document Erins Tips for Running a Good Study.docx Feb 27, 2019 by ghumiston
Microsoft Word Document Receipt for Compensation - Template.docx Feb 27, 2019 by ghumiston
Microsoft Word Document UB study manual.docx May 07, 2019 by ghumiston
Microsoft Word Document WRRR-Study_1_Maual_v3.docx May 07, 2019 by ghumiston
Microsoft Word Document Generic Flyer - IRB Approved.docx Nov 17, 2020 by Erin Wamsley
Microsoft Word Document Mini Flyers - IRB Approved.docx Nov 17, 2020 by Erin Wamsley
Microsoft Word Document MS modified generic flyer.docx Nov 17, 2020 by Erin Wamsley

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