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finding your way through the first day on mturk


Amazon Mechanical Turk is confusing. After going through the annoying sign up process you finally get access to work on tasks.


You go and log in and you're greeted with this:


It is confusing. It looks like crap. None of the HITs (Human Intelligence Tasks) look good. It is hard to know where to start.

So where do you start?

Starting without scripts


One way to start this is to decide what you want to see when doing a search.

Some tasks offer a very low reward for the work involved. Some tasks you aren't qualified to do yet (you may become qualified to do them after submitting a certain amount of HITs).

Let's start with something easy, let's say you only want to see things that bring in $0.15 for which you are qualified.

Go to the 'HITs' tab at the top of the mturk site. Tell it you want a minimum 'reward' of 0.15 and that you only want to see things you qualify for. It should look like this:



Click "GO" and you should see something like this:


This might look a little better. But it is still not that great. Some of these tasks look like things you might not want to do. One way to figure out how things work when first starting out is to seek out Surveys or Studies. These things are pretty easy to use and help you learn how the site works.

Let's use our previous settings ($0.15 reward and 'qualified') and do a search for Study by clicking GO after entering our settings.


So we got some results, let's pick the easy looking one on that list, from the requester known as Research WI. We click on the 'View a HIT in this group' link to see it. This is what happens when we click on that link:


We see here that there is a timer. The timer is how long we have total to do this task. If the timer expires the task also expires and you won't be able to complete it. Since this task says it takes about 2 minutes, we shouldn't have any worries about completing it.

Have a look at the preview box, does it look like you want to do this task? If it does click on that Accept button.


Now you've accepted the HIT. You have two options, Submit after working on it, or Return it because you decided that you dont want to do it.

In this case we want to do it, so we click on the CLICK HERE link.

It brings up the survey site used by the vast majority of researchers who use mturk. Qualtrics is the survey site you'll see probably 9 times out of 10. It is safe to use.

Once you've clicked the link (It is best to open this link in a new tab. You can middle click, or right click and tell it you want to open in a new tab, you'll find out why this is shortly.) you'll see a survey site, it may look a bit like this one:


Now, remember, this is an academic study of some sort. Often times the first page will be a long disclaimer type thing where you give your consent to be in the survey. This will include information to contact the researchers, information about ethics, etc. Once you click OK you'll start the real task. In this case they want to know about how we make decisions.

About 2 minutes later you'll get to the end of the survey. About 90% of the time when you do a survey you'll be given a code. That code goes into a little text box on the mturk page where you accepted the HIT. Now that you have the code copy it and go back to the Tab with the HIT you accepted in it. Paste that code into the box on the mturk page. This process should look something like this:


^ Copy that survey code.


Paste it into this 'completion code' box. Most survey HIT's will be of this format.

Now go back to the Survey tab, and be sure you've pasted the code correctly. If you've pasted it correctly you can safely click the little arrow on the Survey page that looks like ">>". Sometimes the button will look different, but it is important to go back to this survey page and click on this button because your work on the survey won't be saved unless you do it. If you were you Submit the HIT on mturk after pasting your code without going back to the survey page to make sure it was saved and registered on the survey site, you may not recieve payment for your work.

Okay! So now you've got to the end of the survey. The webpage told you that you've reached the end.

Go back to mturk and click on the 'Submit' button.

Hooray you did your first task. Now what?

Now you wait.


You won't get paid right away. On surveys they usually take anywhere from a few hours to a week or so. Remember that the people on the other end might be dealing with hundreds or thousands of responses, and often they are PHD candidates with lots of other work.

You can head on over to your Dashboard to see what it looks like now that you've submitted something. You'll simply click on the 'Your Account' tab at the top of the page.


It should look like this. Here you can see how many tasks you've submitted for the most recent days you've worked. You can see how much you've earned. You can see how much of you have available for transfer, stuff that has been approved and paid.

When you first start you're in a 'probationary period' This lasts about 10 to 11 days. During this period you won't be able to transfer your earnings to your bank account. You'll need to complete a HIT/Task on 10 or 11 days (depending on what time of day your period started it sometimes is 11 days) to be allowed to do that.

Once you've completed at least one task over 10 days you'll be able to transfer your earnings out of your account.

One thing to remember is that adding a bank account could take a few days, as Amazon will be depositing a small amount of money, usually around 10 to 25 cents, into your account. You'll use that deposit amount to confirm that the account is yours. Getting this done during the period when you can't transfer stuff anyways will make it so when you're able to, you can do it right off.

Stay tuned!


There will be at least one more post like this telling you how to get started using some scripts. It will also go into what is referred to as 'Batch' tasks.

For now, start on some survey tasks. The BEST time for surveys tends to be in the mornings. Alternate your search as shown up above for the search term "Survey" or "Study" sometime in the morning, like 8am to Noon (Eastern).

Do a couple your first day. Then once some of them start to 'Approve,' after a day or so, do some more.

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