Information in other formats
Sometimes it will not be practical or appropriate to provide participants with an information sheet – perhaps because of the method of recruitment that you are using, or because of a need to take account of the reading ability of the sample. The box below gives an example of a study where telephone sampling of anonymous callers to helpline meant that written information sheets could not be used.
As a general rule, if you decide not to provide an information leaflet, you should:
- be prepared to justify fully your decision to an ethics committee; and
- consider the purposes of an information leaflet (as outlined in the previous section) and work out how you can achieve those needs through other formats.
Audio CD or DVD
If you don’t want to use an information leaflet because you are concerned about literacy or language in your potential sample, consider using an audio CD or a DVD to provide information about the research in a more accessible formats. Developing technologies mean that these can be produced relatively cheaply (although they are more costly than information leaflets, and you should plan for this in your budget).
Whether or not you have an information sheet, consider having a web page dedicated to the study, which can include the key information that would be included in a leaflet. A web page can provide additional information for participants or other interested people, as well as an alternative means of accessing information. Later in the study it can be used to host participant newsletters or key finding summaries, as part of the reporting and dissemination process.
Telephone sampling: an example
The Parentline Plus helpline evaluation (see Boddy et al. 2005) involved interviews with adult users of an anonymous telephone helpline. Helpline workers sought permission from callers for a researcher to make contact, and if the caller agreed, they provided a name (first name only, if they preferred) and telephone number that the researcher could call. At no point was there face-to-face contact with a researcher (or anyone else), and the callers were not asked for their address or any other details.
These steps – which aimed to protect, in so far as possible, the anonymity of helpline callers – meant that callers were not given any written information about the study. Helpline workers and researchers each had written guides with key points that they had to cover, in introducing and explaining the study, and training was carried out with helpline workers and research interviewers about how to seek consent using this approach.