Research Recruitment Flyer

What is a recruitment flyer?

A research recruitment flyer is a single-page advertisement that conveys the essential information about a clinical trial that is recruiting. Also known as a recruitment poster, it needs to comply with IRB guidelines which mandate the inclusion of several pieces of information, including the following:[1][2]

  • A condensed clinical trial title and IRB study number
  • Contact information of the principal investigator or facility
  • Location of the clinical trial
  • The objective of the study, explicitly indicating that it is a research study
  • A summary of the protocol which includes the study activities and the time commitment required of participants
  • Basic inclusion and exclusion criteria (eligibility criteria)

Furthermore, there are particular elements that are not permitted on recruitment flyers for ethical reasons, which include: [1][2]

  • Any form of discount or coupon for the novel drug when/if it comes to market
  • Any claims that imply direct benefits of the medical intervention under study
  • Any claims that the device or drug under investigation is safe or effective
  • Using the terms “new drug” or “new medication” without mentioning that it is an investigational product
  • Using enlarged or bold print to emphasize financial compensation or incentives

Challenges faced in clinical trial recruitment efforts

When it comes to clinical research recruitment, there are several challenges faced by sponsors and sites, which together result in an estimated 85% of trials not meeting their enrollment targets (either on time or at all). These setbacks and delays represent significant monetary losses for sponsors as well.[3] This is especially unfortunate considering that surveys have shown that up to 68% of patients would be interested in participating in a clinical research study if they had more information.[4]

So why do so many studies fall short of patient accrual targets, and why is it so difficult for clinical researchers to capture the attention of eligible participants despite the general interest in participating in clinical studies? The answer involves a combination of several factors.

One significant barrier is a lack of awareness and limited medical literacy amongst the general public. The average US adult is considered to have the reading ability of an 8th grader, and, in most cases, such a person does not have the medical knowledge that would be required to fully comprehend complex research study documentation.[5] Unless a patient has a certain degree of experience dealing with a specific medical condition, medical terminology and vocabulary might go over their head.

The general lack of awareness about clinical research opportunities is backed by an NIH survey from 2020 which found that 41% of US adults did not know about the clinical trials they were eligible for.[6] There may also be a lack of awareness and diffusion within the healthcare system. The same survey indicated that only 8.9% of those surveyed had been invited to participate in a research study through a healthcare provider.[6]

Reasons why your research recruitment flyer isn’t effective

When it comes to recruitment flyers, the challenge is thus to capture the attention of eligible participants who may not be informed about or come across research opportunities otherwise. Unfortunately, lots of recruitment flyers are not designed appropriately for capturing viewers’ attention and conveying information in a clear and aesthetic manner. Some poor design choices that have hindered the effectiveness of many a research recruitment flyer include:

  • Misaligned text and poor contrast (e.g., light text on light background)
  • Crowded, hard-to-read text, in block paragraphs (poor use of spacing, headings, etc. to assist visual flow and summary-level comprehension)
  • Unclear content that leaves too many questions unanswered
  • Too much medical jargon (readers might not even understand what the study is about)
  • Visually unappealing design that does not capture attention in the first place

Given the sheer volume of advertisements competing for the same spaces - physical spaces on billboards, online ads, but also space in people’s minds - minor design flaws can hinder your ad from being noticed at all. As people are exposed to more and more ads and distractions, the time they spend on any given ad is also decreasing.[7]

What makes a good research recruitment flyer?

Recruitment material needs to do more than generate interest. It needs to be effective - i.e., turn potential participants into consented participants. Research recruitment flyers should adopt a patient-centric approach, conveying essential information clearly and concisely, and with a clear call-to-action for those who determine themselves to be eligible based on the information presented.[8]

Sponsors and researchers could consider “taking off their clinical research hats” to put themselves in their target patient’s shoes, in order to best understand their motivations and then speak to their needs in a clear and direct way.

By working from this perspective, researchers will be in a better place to create more effective recruitment flyers that selectively grab the attention of eligible participants and make it easy for them to take the next steps. In the next section, we will get into specific details of recruitment flyer design.

How to design an excellent research recruitment flyer

Developing content that is relevant, understandable, and concise, and which conveys essential information about a clinical trial without being too scientific or confusing may represent a unique challenge for many researchers who may be more used to research writing.

Toning down medical language into layman’s terminology and avoiding “jargon” is a prerequisite for effectively communicating with broad audiences. There are many helpful online tools available, such as this medical dictionary, which provides plain-language alternatives for many medical terms to help you write clearer, simpler content.

With this understanding of how to approach the tone and writing style of the recruitment flyer, let’s get into the specific information that should be included in a research flyer - and how it should be included to maximize its effectiveness.

5 Questions the research recruitment flyer should answer

To understand how to recruit participants for a study, consider these five critical questions potential participants should have clear answers to after reading the research flyer:

  1. Who is the study for?
  2. What is the study about?
  3. Why should I care?
  4. What is required of me?
  5. How can I get more information or sign up?

1. Who is the study for?

To target the right audience right off the bat, your research recruitment flyer needs to clarify who the study is for, and the best place to do that is in the heading, the most prominent space in almost any flyer. Let’s take a look at two examples - one poor example and a better example.

  • POOR: Research study investigating diabetes

This heading is not direct, as it doesn’t call out to anyone in particular. It feels more like a general announcement and may be ignored. What about diabetes is being investigated?

  • BETTER: Is your type 2 diabetes under control?

In this example, it is obvious that the flyer is addressing people with type 2 diabetes. The flyer may jump out for a person with diabetes, who would then be more likely to take a moment to review the rest of the information.

2. What is the study about?

Following the heading, the flyer should explain why the clinical trial is being conducted. This should be clearly summarized in 2–3 lines maximum, and must explicitly state that it is a research study. Consider the following examples:

  • POOR: We are conducting an explanatory clinical trial to try to determine if biweekly administration of the new drug AB2377 may contribute to lowering levels of biomarkers of liver inflammation in people with advanced liver cirrhosis.

Although this description is complete and only occupies three lines, it is overly wordy and contains a lot of information that is irrelevant at this preliminary contact, such as the specific experimental drug name and details about the exact health endpoints being measured. The wording is far from straightforward, and you may have also noticed that it doesn’t specify that AB2377 is an investigational drug!

  • BETTER: We are conducting a research study to find out if an experimental treatment improves signs of liver health in people with cirrhosis.

By simplifying the language to make it straightforward, and removing extraneous/complicating information, this sentence is now much clearer in describing what the clinical trial is researching, in who, and how.

3. Why should I care?

From the perspective of the person reading, the flyer should provide some indication as to why they might care to actually follow the call-to-action and participate in the study.

To answer this question, it’s helpful to consider common motivations people state for participating in clinical trials, such as access to novel therapies or wanting to help others. For more ideas about why people enroll in clinical research, refer to Enrollment in Clinical Trials: Statistics and Patient Recruitment Strategies.

It’s important to remember not to promise any personal benefits or positive outcomes, as this is both misleading and unethical (such materials will not get IRB approval).

If there is any financial compensation involved, this should be mentioned without highlighting it in any special font or formatting. Let’s examine the examples below:

  • POOR: By participating, you will receive access to a cutting-edge treatment that could cure your diabetes, and you will receive $500 for participation!

This line alludes to a positive outcome for participants and highlights a monetary incentive, further without clarifying stipulations, and is thus misleading and unethical.

  • BETTER: By participating, you can help us in trying to find a new treatment for people with diabetes worldwide, and will be compensated $500 for your time and commitment to the entire study.

The potential benefit stated is realistic and taps into the desire to help others. Furthermore, it clearly explains that the compensation is only awarded upon completion of the entire study, and this information is not made to stick out in any way from the rest of the text..

4. What is required of me?

When potential participants make a well-informed decision to enroll in a clinical trial (i.e., they are fully aware of what it involves), they are less likely to drop out. A strong factor in this decision-making process is what is expected from them throughout the trial, including expected time commitment, travel requirements, and mandatory procedures. This information should be laid out clearly in your recruitment flyer.

Aim to capture the entire picture; focus on what is most relevant, but make it complete. Again, keep the language clear and simple, as illustrated by the contrast between these two examples:

  • POOR: The study lasts 3 years, and you will undergo numerous tests and procedures at specific intervals, plus follow-up appointments.

While certainly concise, this information is far too vague, which can create confusion or even suspicion and distrust. The lack of clarity leaves room for participants to make assumptions about the research protocol, which can deter them from enrolling or lead to drop-outs when they realize it’s not what they expected.

  • BETTER: You will attend one study visit at the central location every 3 months, for 3 years (12 visits in total). At each visit, your blood will be drawn, and you will be asked to answer a short (5 min) survey. After the 3-year period finishes, there will be a single follow-up call (by telephone) 4 months later.

This description eliminates confusion as it states the exact frequency of trial site visits, so participants can accurately gauge the travel requirements. It specifies what the visits involve as well, which can help build trust as study details are presented transparently right from the beginning.

5. How can I get more information or sign up?

Finally, an effective research recruitment flyer will include a clear call-to-action that guides eligible participants to contact details where they can get more information or sign up. This should be direct and avoid ambiguities.

To help people reach you and your team, provide multiple contact options, such as a phone number, email address(es), website URL(s), QR code(s), and in some cases, even tear-offs.

Consider the following examples:

POOR: For more information and to sign up or to contact the study’s principal investigator Dr. Michaels for any questions or doubts you may have, please call +1(311)999-8888 or visit[9tiwjh4

This is a run-on sentence with subpar grammar that is not entirely clear to follow. The contact information consists of only one phone number (calls only), and a very long URL that is too difficult (or even impossible) to copy accurately. Importantly, the call-to-action is not overtly clear, indicating that readers should call “for more information” “and to sign up” “or to contact the PI.”

BETTER: For further information or to sign up, call or send an SMS to Dr. Michaels at +1(311)999-8888 or visit

Here you have the same information but written more concisely, and with a clearer call to action (to get more information, or to sign up). The URL is shortened so that it can be written down easily, and the phone number is set up to receive text messages as well as calls.

Design: What makes a flyer look professional yet captivating?

A research recruitment flyer that clearly and concisely answers all the questions mentioned above, but which lacks attractive or magnetizing design elements will not stand out amongst other flyers. Visual cues may be the first thing that calls a reader’s attention toward the flyer. Therefore, it is important to give the flyer’s design due attention as well. Some ideas here include:

  • Format text with readable fonts and uniform font sizes. Good design practices dictate a maximum of two font styles on one flyer. Check that the fonts look good, either matching closely or complementing one another in contrast.
  • Use contrast wisely, by using light text colors on darker backgrounds and vice versa to improve readability.
  • Separate blocks of text with empty space. A single paragraph with all of the information jammed together is not visually appealing, and is harder to skim through.
  • Use images that are appealing and that relate to the content and resonate with the target audience - a picture of a cookie is not a good match for a blood sugar control study in people with diabetes.
  • Leverage elements of graphic design - use well-matched color themes, shapes and lines to separate text blocks or sections, and make use of contrast, empty space, and subconscious visual cues* to create eye-catching layouts with good alignment, symmetry, and balance.

For more information about visual design elements, take a look at this resource, starting from slide 14. *To understand what we mean by visual cues, see slide 22 of the same resource.

With all these design points in mind, you can create a visually balanced research recruitment flyer that stands out and grabs viewers’ attention, but which is subsequently easy to read as well. In terms of the actual text, make sure the call to action stands out clearly, and consider using a catchy hook or clever wordplay to grab readers’ attention in the heading.

A quick word on images - Images are a vital visual component, but can be distracting if there are too many or if they are not relevant. They can even be off-putting if they are poorly edited, skewed, or of poor resolution. It is important to obtain the rights to reproduce an image, or to use royalty-free images. Popular sites for finding royalty free images that allow commercial use include Pexels, FreeImages, and FreePik.

Consider hiring an expert to design the study recruitment flyer for you

With all of these considerations in mind, designing a research recruitment flyer might seem overwhelming, especially for sponsors who are already tied up with other duties. In some cases, it may be worth contracting an expert to help in the design of your recruitment materials (or to design them for you entirely). This could be an individual or an agency who specializes in clinical trial marketing in general, or with expertise focused around design.

Outsourcing the design process allows you to focus on core responsibilities, while bringing benefits of the expertise and experience of a professional to optimize the recruitment materials. In some cases this can save you time and even money, and you could end up with a streamlined partnership you can count on for future trials and even other pieces of study material. However, it’s also worth considering whether it would be more advantageous in the long-term to work on developing this skill internally, learning and improving your ability to develop effective recruitment flyers quickly.

Don’t forget the IRB!

Don’t forget that all study material must pass IRB approval before being distributed. Ensure your research recruitment flyer follows IRB guidelines, has all the relevant information, and that you are happy with the design before submitting it for approval.

Once your flyer is IRB approved, you cannot modify it in any way without subsequent approval. If you determine that it is under-performing and decide to make changes, you will need further IRB approval.

With that in mind, it’s a good idea to consider creating a couple of versions of your recruitment flyer, submitting them as a package for approval. That way you can swap them out quickly without waiting for subsequent approval. These versions might use different images, different headings, alternative color schemes, or have entirely different designs. That’s up to you - with practice, experience, and measurable performance indicators you can monitor, you will be better able to understand what tends to work and what doesn’t work so well for your target populations.

Sample research recruitment flyer templates

There are some online resources where you can download templates and examples of good flyers, such as the websites of the University at Buffalo, University of Florida’s CTSI, and Northwestern University.

Remember that these research recruitment flyer templates are just starting points. Build on the ideas or concepts that you feel stand out using the writing and design tips we explained above, and you will be able to design good flyers that resonate with your patient population and encourage them to enroll by providing clear descriptions that empower them to make an informed decision.


The goal of effective recruitment materials is for interested prospects to contact you, after they make a personal, preliminary judgment of their own interest and eligibility. Step into your participants’ shoes to understand their needs and design a flyer that resonates with them and makes them feel empowered to embark on a new adventure in their health journey. Focus on the use of clear, direct, and simple language, laid out in a visually appealing way that facilitates comprehension and engagement.

While creating an effective research recruitment flyer requires an initial investment of time and money, it has the potential to boost recruitment numbers and help you get your study off the ground faster. As with all things, practice makes perfect, so it may take a few attempts to get it right. If you are pressed for time or feel overwhelmed, consider outsourcing the design to a professional designer who can bring their unique expertise to the table.