Reporting to the people who provided your data
In general, it is good practice to provide some information about your findings to the people who made your research possible. That might be participants – but it could be the people who provided the data or the research reports/articles on which your research is based (in the case of secondary analysis and systematic reviews). For secondary analysis, such reporting back may sometimes be a requirement of access to the data.
For academic audiences, you may want to provide a copy of the research report, or of an article from the project. This may be appropriate for some professional stakeholder participants too. But for many participants, an academic report of the study may be too long and technical to be appealing or accessible for them, and you should consider providing a summary report of your key findings.
Think about what you promised participants when you sought their informed consent. It is almost always good practice to provide information on findings – but if you have promised this feedback as part of your consent process, you must do it.
Even if you haven’t promised to report back, many participants would like to know what happens as a result of the research they’ve taken part in – otherwise it can feel that their information disappears into a ‘black hole’.
Several of the experts we interviewed for this project commented that, when you fail to provide feedback to participants, you can cause problems for researchers who may come after you – because you can make participants feel that they have just been ‘used’ by you, and you make them more reluctant to participate in research in future.
It can sometimes feel hard to justify spending time on this when you have lots of other pressures and deadlines at the end of a project, but it is worth spending that time. Most cynically, it’s worth remembering that – whilst writing a brief accessible summary won’t take very long – it is actually a really good exercise in synthesising the key findings and messages from your research, so it will help your thinking in relation to other outputs.
Reporting on your findings for participants
In reporting back to participants on study findings, the principles of good practice in providing initial study information (for example through information leaflets) hold true.
- Tailor the information you provide to the characteristics of your sample. You need to strike a balance between providing too little information with providing too much, and boring or confusing people. Avoid academic terminology or jargon, and think about the likely levels of literacy and understanding among your participants.
- Use short sentences with one main idea per sentence, and where possible, use the active voice (e.g., ‘we found’ not ‘it was found’). Give specific details and examples.
- Consider using graphics and illustration to make findings more accessible, and to make the document more appealing. Many funders will allow budget for the production of a ‘findings’ newsletter – you can check with your proposed funder when developing your proposal.
- Do you need to provide alternative versions of the newsletter in other languages? Have you built budget for that into your proposal?
- Give the contact details of the research team so that people can follow up with questions.
- For guidance, you could look at the website of the Campaign for Plain English or at the Easy Info website developed by the Norah Fry Research Centre at Bristol University, which offers guidance about providing information for people with learning difficulties (but based on principles of clarity and accessibility which are relevant for other groups of participants too). For more detailed guidance on feedback to children and young people, see our further reading material.