Toolkit

How to get informed consent in user research using plain language

Using plain language is essential to protecting privacy and getting informed consent in user research. Make sure your research participants know what they’re agreeing to and what their rights are.

A white woman takes notes on a clipboard while chatting with a white man.

Before a research session begins, the participant must understand the purpose of the research, how their information will be used, and their rights during and after the session. Using plain language helps participants make informed decisions about what they’re consenting to. This set of plain language templates and checklists can help ensure you get informed consent from participants and protect their privacy.

Plain language is:

Writing that is clear, concise, well-organized, and follows other best practices appropriate to the subject or field and intended audience. It makes it easier for people to read, understand, and use government communications. Learn more at plainlanguage.gov.

Informed consent requires:

That your research participants clearly understand what you are doing, what you will use the research for, and how their information will be used.

This toolkit can help you:

  • Create a safe space for research participants to share their stories and information.
  • Clearly inform participants of the purpose of your research, how their information will be used, and their rights during and after the session.
  • Ensure research participants’ rights and information are protected throughout a project.

Before your research session

Prepare for your session by getting informed consent from your participants and establishing practices to protect their personally identifiable information (PII).

Below you’ll find plain language templates—for an email requesting consent, a consent form, and a spreadsheet for protecting PII—as well as checklists for using these templates.

✅ Prepare with this checklist

   ▢ Share the templates below with your team so they can review and approve their use.

   ▢ Fill out highlighted sections of each template.

   ▢ Email the consent form to each participant.

   ▢ Save completed forms in a secure folder (on Google Drive or elsewhere) that only the research team can access.

   ▢ Cancel any sessions where the participant doesn’t consent to be interviewed.

📄 Use this template to email to participants

After you’ve scheduled a research session, email your participant a consent form. You can copy and paste the email in this Google Doc.

📄 Include this consent form in your email

Include the consent form in your email. The consent form template is in two formats so you can:

  • Attach the consent form to the email: copy and paste, save to Google Drive, or download this Google Doc, OR

  • Link to the consent form: make a copy of this Google Form.

(We recommend linking to the Google Form but it requires that you have a Google Account.)

✅ Use this checklist to protect PII

   ▢ Use the template below and create a secure spreadsheet.

   ▢ Give every participant a pseudonym (e.g. 0987).

   ▢ Save the list in a secure Google Drive folder only the research team can access.

📄 Use this template to manage participant info

This spreadsheet includes PII like full name, contact information, employer, and/or links to social media. For this reason, only researchers should be able to access it. When referencing participants, use a pseudonym, not their real name. If working in or with a government agency, make sure you use a government-approved tool, like Google Sheets, to store this information.

Copy and paste, save to Google Drive, or download a spreadsheet for organizing research participants in this Google Sheet.

During your research session

Remember not to use personally identifiable information whenever possible. Secure your raw notes to minimize exposure of PII.

✅ Use this checklist to ensure you have consent and protect PII

   ▢ Use the script to review the consent form at the beginning of the session. If the participant does not agree, do not continue the session.

   ▢ Use participant’s pseudonym (e.g. 0987).

   ▢ Do not include PII—like race, age, birth date, etc.—in your notes unless absolutely necessary to the story the participant is telling.

   ▢ Remove any PII before you share notes with your wider team.

📄 Use this template for a pre-interview script

Use the script to review the consent form with your participant before beginning the interview. If the participant does not consent to participate in the interview, the session cannot take place.

Copy and paste, save to Google Drive, or download the script in this Google Doc.

📄 Use this template for note-taking

Keep track of top insights, open questions, and next steps.

Make a copy or download a note-taking template in this Google Doc.

After your research session

Researchers are responsible for protecting all of the information shared by participants. Always remove PII and anonymize the participant before sharing notes, quotes, and findings with your team. And, restrict access to participants’ PII and sensitive information to abide by the participant’s right to privacy.

Get in touch

If you use this resource, we'd love to hear from you. To share questions or feedback, email us at design@navapbc.com.

We’re honored to have these templates featured in Shorenstein Center’s Privacy Design Forecast, a design challenge to inspire more user-centric privacy by design concepts.

Written by


Makaela Stephens

Design Lead

Makaela Stephens is a designer/researcger at Nava. Previously, Makaela worked with California, New York City, and civic non-profits to design and deliver critical services that benefit the public.

Kelli Ho

Senior Designer/Researcher

Kelli Ho is a senior designer/researcher at Nava. Before that, Kelli worked as a product designer for IBM.

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