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December 12, 2019

  • Last Updated:
  • May 12, 2020

The User Research Incentive Calculator

A data-backed calculator for user research

Carrie Boyd

Recently we published our Ultimate Guide to Research Incentives. We compiled data from over 25,000 research sessions conducted on the User Interviews platform, with various types of participants, studies, and lengths. The incentives for these sessions were paid in USD, to participants within the US and Canada. 

Once we’d crunched all the numbers, we made an incentive calculator to make implementing our recommendations easier for researchers everywhere. Here it is 👇

Here’s how it works: You input a few details about your study and the form magically emails you an incentive based on our data-backed recommendations. Pretty easy!

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Here are the incentives our calculator is based on—

It’s important to note that research incentives can be one of those “it depends” things. There are so many factors that go into what the right incentive is for your participants, and you and your team know best about what’s fair for your participants. Use our recommendations as a starting point, not an end-all be-all number. 

For the calculator, we ask about a number of different variables that help us make a better recommendation for your study. For moderated studies, we also had minimum amounts based on whether your study was conducted remotely or in person. Because it takes time and effort to participate in research, the per-hour rate we used for our calculator doesn’t always yield the best incentive recommendation for your study. In our data report, we found that studies that were shorter typically paid more per minute. It’s like a base fee to get someone in the door and make the effort of participating in research worth it. This is especially true for in-person studies, which a person needs to take time out of their day to commute to and prepare for.

On to the other variables. This section explains what we mean by consumer, professional, moderated, unmoderated, remote, and in-person. 


When we say consumer, we’re talking about participants requested on our platform that do not have job title targeting. Of course, consumer participants often have jobs, and may also participate as professionals in other studies.

For example, if you’re running a study on grocery shopping and you need to talk to people between the ages of 25-35 who are the primary shoppers for their household, you’d be targeting consumers. 

You’d also be targeting consumers if you want to talk to people who have recently purchased a specific kind of lawnmower, have kids between the ages of 6-8, or live in towns of less than 30,000 people. If they need to be landscape architects, we’re talking about professionals. 


In our calculator, professional participants are people you need to target based on their job titles and skills. They are more difficult to match, and expect more compensation for their time. 

For example, if you need to talk to Cardiologists in Chicago, you’re targeting professionals. 

The same goes for targeting VPs of Marketing, Uber drivers, or Developers. These are all professionals, not be confused with “professional participants” who try to participate in studies as a primary source of income. 

For our calculator, we divided professionals by their wage category. This makes it easier to determine which incentives are fair and meaningful to your participants. Of course, these are not hard and fast numbers, so use our recommendations as a starting point to talk to your team about what’s best for your project and your participants. For more details on how we chose these numbers for our calculator, check out the full incentive report.

Low Wage

Low wage professionals are people who work in retail, the gig economy, etc. If you’re conducting a study about how Uber drivers choose which rides to accept, you’re targeting “low wage professionals” as your participants. 

Mid Wage

Mid wage professionals includes a wide range of people. Managers, developers, marketing specialists, etc. are all mid wage professionals. If you’re conducting a study about how content marketers choose social media management software, you’re targeting “mid wage professionals” as your participants. 

High Wage

High wage professionals are people like doctors, lawyers, dentists, etc. If you’re conducting a study about how doctors write down notes after seeing a patient, you’re talking to “high wage professionals”.


A remote study is any study that doesn’t require the participant and the researcher to be in the same physical location. This can mean a video chat, a phone call, or a recorded submission. 


An in-person study requires the participant and the researcher to be in the same physical location. Think having the participant come to your office for an interview, hosting an in-person focus group, or conducting ethnography research. In-person research can also include things like field studies, on-the-street research, or in-store shop-alongs. 

Moderated Sessions

Moderated sessions are sessions that have a moderator present. This means a researcher, designer, PM, or anyone else who guides the participant through the task or questions at hand. Generative interviews, moderated usability tests, and field studies are all moderated research activities. 

Unmoderated Sessions

Unmoderated sessions don’t have a moderator present. This means the participant completes the activity on their own, without the help of a researcher or moderator. Unmoderated usability tests, tree tests, diary studies, and first click tests are all examples of unmoderated tasks. 

How we made the calculator

For now, we’re keeping our incentive calculator in Google Forms. Maybe one day, if enough people believe in it, it will grow up into a fully grown interactive webpage, but for now, baby steps. We made our form by collecting answers from our Google Form into a spreadsheet in Google Sheets. Then, a calculation within Google Sheets adds up your incentive and rounds it to the nearest unit of 5, since participants may not appreciate $18.62 as an incentive. If your study is 15 minutes or less, the calculator will round up to our 15 minute minimum numbers, depending on whether your study is remote or in-person. Same goes for studies of 30 minutes or less. The calculator then takes your final number and uses a program called Autocrat to send it straight to your inbox, so you have a reference to look back on, can share it with your team, and treasure it always.

Carrie Boyd

Content Creator

Carrie Boyd is a Content Creator at User Interviews. She loves writing, traveling, and learning new things. You can typically find her hunched over her computer with a cup of coffee the size of her face.

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