2. Recruitment

Targeted, relevant, written and verbal invitations to join research

“Recruitmentis the time when specific information about one or more clinical trials is shared, with the intent of inviting an individual to a research study as a research participant

  • The focus is on developing relationships with study population, sharing accurate information, and laying the foundation for a positive research experience.
  • All recruitment materials and scripts should go through usability testing with members of the intended audience.

Click through the individual tabs below to learn more about how your “Recruitment” research communications can be improved through plain language, numeracy, clear design and cultural considerations.

Plain Language

During the “Recruitmentstage, plain language explanations are needed to provide more details about the individual study that is recruiting participants.

  • flyers, pamphlets, newspaper ads, billboard-type ads for subways and buses, radio ads and social media posts all need to use terms that are understandable to the target audience.
  • Information needs to be clear and actionable, respectful, and non-coercive.
  • Appropriate translated materials should be considered depending upon the study population of interest.


During the Recruitment stage, general numeric concepts related to the study are often presented, including:

  • prevalence and incidence rates of the condition being studied,
  • a general overview of the time commitment and study procedures,
  • details about the study design and whether it involves randomization, blinding, etc.,
  • financial compensation information.

The “Recruitment” phase of the trial life cycle is a good time to introduce concepts that will be further discussed in future conversations.

Clear Design

  • During the “Recruitment” stage, the success of any visual advertising campaign relies on how well the information is laid-out.
  • Recruitment materials should include design techniques that make the information easy for the intended audience to find and helpful when considering study participation.

Cultural Considerations

During the “Recruitment” stage, culture can affect whether a person is interested in learning more about a research study.

  • Members of the clinical research team can be experts on a specific research area and even a clinical patient population, yet still not as aware of the cultural nuances that may be important for recruiting a particular study population.
  • Some populations are more difficult to reach than others, and thus may require extra effort to engage. Of course, repeated contact attempts must be respectful, not intrusive, and even may require IRB approval.

One study found that some participants needed up to 8 “contact attempts” in order to be successfully recruited to a specific study, and that the group more likely to be brought on board by these extra efforts included a subset of minorities typically under-represented in research (Cottler et al, 1987).

A health literate recruitment strategy includes engaging with individuals that are similar to your study population to understand the best ways to communicate with them. Recruitment materials and conversations should be tailored with that advice in mind.

  • In addition, connecting with individuals who are in the role of controlling access to the intended study population is often necessary in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of the recruitment environment.
    • In the context of recruiting for a research study, this means connecting with community organizers, caregiver or support groups, patient advocacy groups, clinic/health center directors, and administrative front desk staff each of whom could help disseminate study information.
  • Building trust in research means engaging all people who might interact with a potential participant.

EXAMPLEcultural consideration, breast cancer

When recruiting participants in a busy breast cancer clinic focused primarily on women who are BRCA1/2 positive, it was essential to engage not only the other physicians and genetic counselors but also the administrative staff in the recruitment process.

  • Potential participants needed to understand in advance that their typical appointment would be longer than usual.
    • During appointment reminder phone calls, administrative staff introduced the possibility that someone might talk to the patient about a research opportunity at the upcoming visit.
  • Potential participants needed some background information before they were approached by the study team so they would be able to ask more informed questions.
    • During appointment check-in, administrative staff would hand out a study flyer as well as the guides, “Should I be a research participant?” and “What are my rights if I participate in research?” that patients could review while they were waiting.

Scroll through the life-cycle:

Discovery > Recruitment > Consent > On Study > End of Study