School of Psychology

Using Sona - a guide for researchers

Find out about using Sona to recruit participants for your studies.

Sona is an online system for managing participation in your studies and awarding course credit to your subjects. It allows participants to sign up to studies and receive credit online, making study scheduling much easier and faster, with no paperwork. It also allows you to filter out participants who aren't eligible for your studies. Best of all, using Sona has a direct effect on attendance, with a marked drop in no-shows.

Sona may be used for recruitment by faculty, research fellows, postdocs, PhD students, and research assistants (but not undergraduates or master's students, unless working as RAs or interns on an existing project). To get started using it, email Martha, making it clear that you need a researcher account.

Using students in your research comes with a policy that must be followed. Before you can start recruiting you must ensure you're familiar with these guidelines.

Below you will find a detailed guide to using the system; please familiarise yourself with this before you start recruiting. If you prefer a visual guide to using Sona, there is a video available.

Getting an account

If you don't already have a Sona account, you can request one by emailing Martha (the main Sona admin), making it clear that you are a researcher in the School of Psychology.

Log in by visiting Sona. Once you have an account, you'll use the same username and password as you do for the main Sussex site.

Setting up a study

Click Studies, and Add new study.

You have four options: Standard study (participants come to a lab), Multi-part standard study (participants come to a lab more than once), Online survey study (for studies made using Sona's own survey software - this is not recommended!), and Online external study (for studies hosted on sites like Qualtrics or SurveyMonkey). Each of these has the option to be set for Credit or Pay. Pick the appropriate one, and click Continue.

You will see lots of text boxes. Here are the important ones:

  • Study name is self-explanatory: put in the name of the study. Try and make it something easy to understand and interesting, as this will improve your chances of participants signing up. You can use limited HTML, for example to change the text colour. Please note: participants see studies in a randomised order when they log in, so for reasons of accessibility please don't add lots of asterisks and exclamation marks to the front of the name to try and push it up the list!
  • Brief abstract allows you to elaborate more on what the study involves. So, if your study name is "Fruit-based experiment", your abstract might read "Eat fruit and play a short computerised game".
  • Detailed description is where you can give lots of information about what the study involves, what you're hoping to learn from it, and so on. Do not include any study URLs here.
  • Duration will default to 15 minutes, but you can change this.
  • Credit score, if you're making a paid study, will default to 1, and can be changed. Remember that 15 minutes = 1 credit. Do not use partial credits. See the FAQ below for more details on how many credits to award.
  • Preparation is optional and allows you to give brief instructions to participants about how they should prepare for the study (for example, by not eating for an hour, by washing their hair, etc).
  • Researcher will default to your name. You can add the names of other researchers here if you're working on a project jointly.
  • Principal investigator is where you can select the name of your supervisor. If they're not on Sona, you can also choose Not Listed.
  • Ethics approval code is where you can add this if you choose to. Sona isn't related to the ethics committee, so this is only for your own benefit.
  • Active study needs to be set to Yes before participants will be able to see it. You can also change this to No in the future, which will keep the study (and related credits) on the system without allowing participants to sign up. This should not be confused with Approved - see below.


At this point, you can Add this study by clicking the button, or you can use the advanced features:

  • Pre-requisites allows you to specify that participants must take part in another study before the new one (for example, if you use a screening questionnaire).
  • Disqualifiers allows you to filter out participants who have taken other studies before (for example, a pilot version you ran in the past).
  • Course restrictions allows you to filter out participants in particular courses. This is useful if you only want paid participants (select Subject pool, paid) or only undergrads (select the first and second year courses).
  • Should survey participants be identified only by a random, unique ID code? - Click Yes if you are running an online study on Qualtrics, as this allows you to automatically grant credits and keeps participants anonymous. This works alongside the next option:
  • Study URL is where you should include the web address of your online study. See also the text underneath: if you add %SURVEY_CODE% to the URL, credits will be passed back through when the data is submitted, and will be kept anonymous.
  • Participant sign up and cancellation deadlines will default to 24 hours. In the case of in-person or lab studies, this allows either you or the participant to schedule a study, or cancel it, up to 24 hours in advance and not cause problems for the other person. In the case of online studies this is less important.


When you're happy with your advertisement, you can Request study approval by clicking the appropriate button on the Study information page. Your study should be approved within a day or two. You will then need to set up Timeslots.


Timeslots are essential; without these, participants can't sign up for your study. They also form a part of the process for awarding credits. Most importantly, they allow you to specify when you are free to test participants without having to arrange this directly. Here's how to set them up.

On the Study information page, click View/administer time slots. On the next page, click Add a timeslot.

  • For online studies, you will only need to add one. Under Final participation date, you should select the date you want to stop collecting data. If you're running the study indefinitely, then you should set this date to the last day of term, so that participants have taken part in time to receive credits for it. You can also set the Maximum number of participants for the study. Click the green Add button to save it.

For in-person studies, you can add timeslots one by one (for example, to fit around your teaching), or in multiples (which allows you to fill an entire day with the maximum number of slots for that day):

  • To add a single timeslot, click Add a timeslot. You can input the date, time, number of participants (for group studies or studies where you can test more than one person at once), and the location (note that this does not constitute booking the space; it only tells participants where to go). Click the green Add button to save the slots.
  • To add several timeslots at once, click Add multiple timeslots. Specify the date and time you want the first slot to begin, and add the number of timeslots you need to create. You can also add a gap of time between slots (for example, to rearrange the equipment for the next participant) under Free time between slots. Again, you can specify the location and number of participants. Under this menu you can also copy timeslots from other weeks (so you can keep the same testing schedule around your teaching, for example).

When participants log in, they will see all available studies with timeslots. To sign up, they simply select the timeslot that works for them. You will be emailed a notification that you have a participant.

Awarding credits

After participants have taken part in your research, you need to award them credits. You'll need to follow this process even if you paid cash.

On the Study information page, click View/administer time slots.

All timeslots will be shown, with participants' names next to filled slots. Find the relevant participant's timeslot and click Modify.

On the next page, you will see details of the timeslot. The button marked No action taken will be selected by default. You have several options:

  • If you're awarding credits, click Participated. The drop-down menu will default to the number of credits assigned to the study, but you can change this if you need to. Click Update sign-ups.
  • If you're paying cash, simply select Participated. (If you're paying cash for a credit study, change the credit value to 0, and mark them as participated.) Click Update sign-ups.
  • If the participant didn't turn up for their alloted timeslot, you can give them a no-show. See below for details on how these work.

Occasionally, participants may require credits even though they didn't sign up through Sona (for example, if they heard about the study through word of mouth). In these cases you can create a timeslot for them and immediately grant them their credits.

Finally, some students may choose to help you as a research assistant instead of participating in studies. It's their responsibility to organise this. If you're happy with their work, email the Sona admin confirming their name and how many hours they worked for you, and the credits will be added to their account as a Non-study credit.


In the past, we sometimes found that students scheduled participation but didn't turn up. Sona allows us to moderate this and to penalise repeat offenders accordingly.

If a participant changes their mind about participating (as they have the right to do), they can cancel on Sona before the scheduled slot. The default deadline to cancel is 24 hours. You may not penalise students for this.

If a participant simply doesn't arrive, you may penalise them. On the timeslot (see above), you have the option to award a No-show instead of clicking Participated. Those who didn't turn up should be marked as Unexcused.

You may also award no-shows if you feel that your participant has deliberately provided unusable data, or not put any effort in - for instance, if every question on a survey is marked as "Neither agree nor disagree", or they missed answering attention check questions correctly.

A participant who receives an Unexcused no-show will be sent an email explaining that this has happened, and they will lose one credit from their accrued total. After two no-shows, their account will be locked and they will need to go through a tedious process to get it unlocked again!

In some cases, a participant may have a genuine reason for not having attended (such as an emergency, like having to go to A&E). If you're satisfied that their reason for not attending is legitimate, you may award them an Excused no-show instead. You may use your discretion here, but please don't penalise unfairly or be unduly lenient!

Frequently asked questions

Logins and accounts

  • Who can use Sona?
    Sona can be used for recruitment by faculty members, PhD students, research fellows and research assistants, including any visiting researchers in the School of Psychology. Researchers from other schools may use the system if their project is a joint one with Psychology - for example, PhD students whose work is co-supervised in Psychology alongside Informatics or BSMS may use the system to recruit participants. Masters students and undergraduates may not use Sona to recruit participants except in special circumstances (e.g. they are working as a research assistant for a faculty member and that assistance includes scheduling appointments).

  • My Sussex login doesn't work for Sona.
    You need to request an account first; email Martha to do so.

  • I've forgotten my password!
    If you have an account, your details will be the same as your Sussex ones (i.e. the same ones you use for email, Canvas, Sussex Direct and so on). If you've forgotten these details you should contact ITS.

  • Can I sign up as a paid participant as well as a researcher?
    Yes! Just let us know by emailing Martha and she will add this function to your account.



  • I've set up my study but it hasn't been approved - why?
    It's likely that you haven't sent an approval request. Go to the study information page and scroll down until you see the option to send an approval request - click to do so, and save your study. Your study will be approved within a few days, or you will be contacted if there are any problems with the study. If you need your study approved urgently, you can contact Martha and she will get this done.

  • I've set up my study but nobody has signed up - why is this?
    Firstly, check you have created timeslots for the study. This is the most common reason for a lack of signups. If this is in order, it may be that you're recruiting at a time when fewer participants tend to sign up, such as over the winter break or in a week when lab reports are due. Recruit during peak times (i.e. during the autumn and spring terms) to ensure you get plenty of participants.

  • Do I need to book lab space if I've specified it on Sona?
    Specifying the room on Sona will tell your participants where to go, but no more. Therefore, if you are planning to use a bookable room such or experimental cubicle, you will need to book this. We strongly suggest that you book before setting up your study on Sona, to prevent clashes with other users of the space.

  • How can I ensure that only the participants I want sign up for my study?
    After you've set up your study, you can use the Prescreen restrictions setting on the Study information page to filter out certain groups of participants. This consists of quite broad categories, such as gender and handedness; you may find it more helpful to set up your own screening questionnaire if you need more detailed information. You can also use the Advanced settings section to specify prerequisite studies, course restrictions, etc.

  • My study is over - how can I stop participants seeing it?
    You can deactivate a study at any time by changing its status to Inactive on the Study information page. This will prevent participants from seeing it, but will keep it in the system for historial purposes (i.e. so that credits gained from it don't disappear). You can reactivate it and add new timeslots at any time.


  • Do I need to set timeslots for online studies?
    Yes, otherwise participants will be unable to sign up. However, you don't need to set specific times for the survey to take place. Instead, web-based studies are set up so there is one timeslot. You should set the end date to either the last day you will collect data or the last day of term, whichever is sooner.



  • How many credits should I award?
    The general rule is that you should award one credit for every 15 minutes of your study. You can round up slightly where studies fall in between increments (for example, you can award 3 credit for a 40 minute study). You may also award more credits than usual for in-person studies, to reflect the increased inconvenience of participating in a lab-based setting e.g. because of the need to travel to campus. The rule of thumb should be: 4 credits per hour for online studies, and 5 credits per hour for in-person.

  • Can I vary the amount of credit I award participants after they have participated?
    Yes. On the "uncredited timeslots" page, click on individual timeslots to see options for that timeslot. This page will allow you to grant extra (or less) credit, or mark participants as "no-show". You may choose to vary the amount of credit you give participants if, for example, a study takes longer than you anticipated, or if they complete only part of the study.

  • Can I run a study for both credit and money?
    Sona doesn't have this facility built in. Your best bet is to set up a study for credits, make it clear in the title/information that money is available as an alternative, and set no course restrictions. Please avoid setting up paid studies and offering optional credits, as there isn't a direct workaround for this and it creates a lot of extra work.
  • Can I change my study from Credit to Paid or vice versa?
    No, Sona does not have this facility. You will need to set up a new study. If the existing study is for credit, you can add information to make it clear that payment is available instead. (If the study is for pay, there isn't a way to award credits, so you will need to create a new one.)



  • How are no-shows dealt with?
    When you mark a credit participant (i.e. a psychology student) with an unexcused no-show, they are sent an automated email informing them of this and they lose one credit from their total for the term. If they acquire two unexcused no-shows, their account will be automatically locked and they will have to visit their academic advisor before they can use Sona again. Paid participants will be permanently locked out after two no-shows.

  • A participant has a legitimate excuse for not attending a study - what should I do?
    Participants can cancel their signups in advance, within a deadline that you set when you create the study. However, sometimes they are unable to attend at short notice - for example, if they are genuinely taken ill. In this case, you should use your discretion to decide whether their excuse was legitimate. Then, instead of granting credits, you should mark their timeslot as either "unexcused no-show" or "excused no-show". Please do not be tempted to be unduly lenient here! Penalising participants for not turning up helps to prevent it happening.