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Open Access Research article

Using e-mail recruitment and an online questionnaire to establish effect size: A worked example

Helen M Kirkby, Sue Wilson*, Melanie Calvert and Heather Draper

Author Affiliations

MRC Midlands Hub for Trials Methodology Research (HTMR), School of Health and Population Science, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, B15 2TT, UK

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BMC Medical Research Methodology 2011, 11:89  doi:10.1186/1471-2288-11-89

Published: 9 June 2011

Abstract

Background

Sample size calculations require effect size estimations. Sometimes, effect size estimations and standard deviation may not be readily available, particularly if efficacy is unknown because the intervention is new or developing, or the trial targets a new population. In such cases, one way to estimate the effect size is to gather expert opinion. This paper reports the use of a simple strategy to gather expert opinion to estimate a suitable effect size to use in a sample size calculation.

Methods

Researchers involved in the design and analysis of clinical trials were identified at the University of Birmingham and via the MRC Hubs for Trials Methodology Research. An email invited them to participate.

An online questionnaire was developed using the free online tool 'Survey Monkey©'. The questionnaire described an intervention, an electronic participant information sheet (e-PIS), which may increase recruitment rates to a trial. Respondents were asked how much they would need to see recruitment rates increased by, based on 90%. 70%, 50% and 30% baseline rates, (in a hypothetical study) before they would consider using an e-PIS in their research.

Analyses comprised simple descriptive statistics.

Results

The invitation to participate was sent to 122 people; 7 responded to say they were not involved in trial design and could not complete the questionnaire, 64 attempted it, 26 failed to complete it. Thirty-eight people completed the questionnaire and were included in the analysis (response rate 33%; 38/115). Of those who completed the questionnaire 44.7% (17/38) were at the academic grade of research fellow 26.3% (10/38) senior research fellow, and 28.9% (11/38) professor. Dependent upon the baseline recruitment rates presented in the questionnaire, participants wanted recruitment rate to increase from 6.9% to 28.9% before they would consider using the intervention.

Conclusions

This paper has shown that in situations where effect size estimations cannot be collected from previous research, opinions from researchers and trialists can be quickly and easily collected by conducting a simple study using email recruitment and an online questionnaire. The results collected from the survey were successfully used in sample size calculations for a PhD research study protocol.