Rules on Use of Mass Email for Research

The following rules apply to any use of mass WMU email for the purpose of soliciting participation in a survey or other research project.

  1. Access is restricted to WMU researchers or researchers under direct contract to the University to conduct official University business. Faculty, staff, and students at other institutions may not use our email system to recruit subjects for their research.
  2. WMU students can have access only if the research is for an approved honors thesis, master's thesis, or doctoral dissertation. Class projects and independent study projects are not approved.
  3. Direct researcher access to email addresses is not approved. Rather, we will draw a sample according to the research protocol and will create a distribution list containing the email addresses that match those directions. This can include random sampling. The researcher does not see the individual addresses that make up this distribution list, but instead only sees the single address for the whole list. This allows access to the needed sample without violating the privacy rights of the individuals.
  4. Use of the distribution list is limited to the WMU email address of the researcher and only for specified times. If the email distribution list is large, researchers are expected to send their messages outside of normal business hours. When the distribution list is used, recipients do not see the email addresses of other recipients, but they do see the email address of the researcher.
  5. The email messages must conform to the University's mass email policies. In addition, the survey must not be in the email itself. Rather, the email should contain a link to the survey at a website.
  6. The email that solicits participation should contain the language required by Human Subjects Institutional Review Board or that language should be on the first screen of the survey, as stipulated by the review board's approval.
  7. Requests to use mass email to solicit research subjects should be directed to the Interim Chief Information Officer, at

Finally, everyone should be aware that the response rate to email invitations to take surveys is typically very, very low. Quite often, the response rate is under 5% even if there are repeated mailings. So, while this seems like it should be a convenient and inexpensive methodology, it often fails to produce a sample of sufficient size for valid results.

Often, a portal announcement in goWMU is more effective than an email solicitation to recruit students to participate in surveys.

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Created by: The Office of Information Technology in consultation with the Academic Information Technology Council of the Faculty Senate, Office of the General Counsel, and the University’s FERPA officer, Oct. 2012
Revised by:  Faculty Senate Academic and Information Technology Council and the Faculty Senate Research Policies Council, Nov. 2012