Ethical and Practical Realities of Using Letters for Recruitment in Bereavement Research

Ashleigh Butler, H Hall, Beverley Copnell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Recruitment of participants into bereavement research may present many challenges for the research team. At present, there is little consensus for researchers and ethics committees on the most appropriate method of recruitment. There is some evidence that participants prefer to be contacted about research studies via letters. However, recruitment involving the use of a letter can occur in a number of ways, each with ethical and practical benefits and limitations. In a study of the experiences of bereaved parents, we used letters in three ways: direct mailing from the research team with an opt-out option; permission to mail letters obtained by social workers from a hospital-based follow-up program during routine contact; and letters mailed from the hospital's PICU research nurse at the hospital with instruction on how to opt in. In this paper, the practical and ethical realities of each method are highlighted, using examples from our own experiences. Nineteen parents also provided reflections in follow-up phone calls. While direct researcher contact is perhaps the most feasible for researchers, ethical concerns may render it unacceptable. While contact via a known member of a follow-up program is more ethically appropriate for participants, it also presents significant practical issues. We suggest that contact via a representative of the healthcare institution provides the best balance of ethical and practical acceptability for both participants and the research team, but responsiveness to the ethical and practical requirements of the study is crucial in ensuring it can be successfully undertaken.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)372-377
Number of pages6
JournalResearch in Nursing & Health
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2017


  • bereavement
  • ethics
  • recruitment

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