SONA Systems User Guide

This user guide explains the ways in which researchers (faculty and graduate students) can use the SONA system account for the MIS PhD program to recruit students to take part in their ongoing, IRB approved, research projects.

CJC SONA systems link:

SONA admin email:

1.  What is the SONA system? 

The SONA system is an online scheduling software used by departments around the world. It helps researchers recruit and manage studies, help instructors manage extra credits, and help students find studies that are being offered by researchers in return for course points.

The system makes the process of tracking research participation easier. It enables researchers to specify the recruitment criteria and number of participants for their study. It frees instructors from keeping track of individual study participation, and it gives students more opportunities to participate in studies and allocate their credits.

2.  Who can use the SONA system? 

This system is being used by some instructors, researchers, and students in the College of Journalism and Communications. Not all instructors use the system and not all courses include research participation in exchange for course points.

3.  Do I have to use SONA system?

As an instructor, no, but you are encouraged to do so. Instructors can decide if they want to award students for participation in different activities. Instructors can specify the maximum amount of credits required or offered optionally to their students.

As a researcher, yes, if you seek to recruit student participants from CJC, you must go through SONA. Please see section below for instructions.

For Researchers

1.  What are the eligibility criteria for using the SONA system?

  1. You have to be a faculty member or a graduate student performing research under the supervision of a faculty member in the College of Journalism and Communications.
  2. You must have IRB approval prior to recruiting participants. Applications without IRB approval will not be considered.
  3. You have to provide a justification for your choice of the sample size, which justifies the need for research time slots.

2.  How many participants can I recruit?

Researchers may recruit as many participants as needed to satisfy the conditions of your study design. However, to ensure that researchers don’t oversample and the even distribution of available participants among researchers, each researcher has to provide a clear and convincing justification for the choice of sample size (or time slots, expressed in the SONA system terms). Researchers may rely on a priori power analysis, accepted rules of thumb, or any other criteria the researcher sees fitting. Due to the potential of no-shows and outliers, researchers are advised to oversample by 15%-20%. And of course, the number of participants must be approved by IRB.

3.  As a researcher, how do I recruit participants using SONA for my study?

In order to recruit participants, you need to follow these steps:

  1. Acquire IRB approval for your study. Studies that do not have IRB approval will not be considered.
  2. Email the following information to the SONA admin email
    • Name of researchers.
    • (Name of faculty supervisor if you are a student).
    • Project title.
    • IRB approval (approval letter, screenshot from IRB status page, or other documents that indicates the study has been approved).
    • Participant number with a short justification.
    • Estimated time for a student to complete your study.
    • Study start and end date.
    • Your survey url (if it’s an online survey)
  3. Wait for SONA admin to list your study on SONA (give the admins up to 48 hours to respond). SONA administrators will send you an email with your SONA researcher ID.
  4. Log into CJC SONA with your ID and temporary password to set up your study.
  5. See this tutorial video for how to set up your study on SONA:
  6. During your study, make sure to log in to SONA and keep track of your study. Remember to grant credits to students who have completed your study. If your study is an online survey, you can set up SONA to automatically grant credits when students reach the end of your Qualtrics survey.

See this link for detailed instructions:


4.  What is a “time slot?”

A time slot refers to the window of scheduling in the SONA system. Any type of research, whether carried out online or offline, is scheduled through time slots on SONA. For example, let’s say a researcher can run 20 participants at a time on February 26. The researcher then creates 20 time slots on that day that participants can select from. In the case of online studies, a time slot refers to the number of TOTAL participants needed for a study. The research identifies the cut-off date and the number of participants needed.

5.  How are participants awarded credit for participation?

Upon completion of an offline or online study, the researcher grants research credit to participants. Research credit is relative to the amount of time a study takes. For example, one hour of research participation is equivalent to one research credit. Similarly, any derivatives of this ratio apply. Following are some examples:

  • 15 minutes = .25 credit
  • 30 minutes = .50 credit
  • 45 minutes = .75 credit
  • 60 minutes = 1 credit
  • 75 minutes = 1.25 credits
  • 90 minutes = 1.50 credits
  • 105 minutes = 1.75 credits
  • 120 minutes = 2 credits

On-site studies such as lab experiments or focus groups are given .25 credits in addition to the ration above to compensate for the students’ time traveling to the study site. For example, a lab experiment that takes 60 minutes = 1.25 credits.

NOTE: the standardized SONA credits are percentage of the grades. 0.25 credits=0.25% of the total grades, not point systems in your course. For example, for a class with a total of 400 points, 0.25 credits =400 x 0.25%, which is 1 point. For a class with a total of 800 points, 0.25 credits is 2 points in the class. The instructors will need to determine the maximum amount of “credits” they are willing to offer as required or extra credits and explain to your students how much the credits are worth in your course point system.

Granting credits through SONA

There are two ways to grant credits through SONA. Manually or automatically.

If you choose to grant credits manually, you must collect the participants’ names in your survey, make sure IRB has approved this before you do.

If you choose to grant credits automatically, follow these instructions:

To test if your automatic credit is set up correctly:

  1. Go to the SONA Systems web site and open your study.
  2. Click Sample Link with Embedded ID Code.  You should be redirected to the first page of your Qualtrics survey.
  3. If you look at the page URL, you should see a link followed by “&id=xxxx” (where xxxx represents a custom id generated by SONA Systems).
  4. Browse through the survey and, upon its completion, you should be redirected to SONA Systems and receive credit.

*If you are not logged in as a registered participant, you will likely be redirected to SONA Systems but will receive an “Invalid Survey Code” message.  This is a sign that your configuration is working correctly.

For Instructors

1.  What is the difference between optional research participation and required research participation?

Some instructors require students to participate in research as part of their coursework. This means that students cannot earn 100% of their course points if they do not do the required amount of research participation.

Other instructors allow students to earn optional or “extra credit” points in their courses. This means students can earn more than 100% in their course. Extra credit points allow students to bump up their grades in a course, but will not penalize them if they do not complete the optional research participation.


2.  What do I need to do?

  1. At the beginning of the semester, think about how many credits (required or optional) you are willing to offer to your students for participation. You can use the following template in your syllabi for your students to read:
    • [Number of] extra credits will be offered for research participation through CJC’s SONA research management system ( Please register a SONA account and choose studies to participate in to receive extra credits for this class. Check SONA regularly to see what studies have become available. Typically, it is not until around maybe the third week of the semester that studies will become available. You should NOT wait until the last minute to sign up for participation because people tend to procrastinate and research opportunities will be limited by the end of the semester. In fact, it is probably wise to participate early in the semester when your course loads are the lightest. Please see this video below for how to set up your SONA account: If you have any questions, please contact the CJC SONA administrator through this email:
  2. You should have received an email from the SONA admins including your SONA instructor ID. Log in with your temporary password and make sure that the courses are entered correctly.
  3. EMAIL the SONA admins and let them know how many credits you are offering for your classes as soon as possible.
  4. Do nothing mid semester 
  5. At the end of the semester, log in to SONA and export the number of TOTAL extra credits that students have allocated to your class through study participation. Add that to your grades, and you’re good to go. No more hassling between multiple spreadsheets and saying no to that wonderful graduate student who is begging you to recruit from your class at the end of the semester.

We hope you find this guide useful! Let us know if you have any questions, you can reach us by this email: