Recruitment is one of the main barriers in research. To tackle this issue, it’s essential to start early and plan for success. In this series we will introduce some key elements of recruitment budgeting and planning.

View our recruitment resource guides here:

Part 1: Getting Started

Part 2: Finding your participants 

Part 3: Developing a budget

Part 4: Creating Recruitment Videos


Recruitment Planning: Finding Your Participants  


Once you have determined your enrollment targets, screen fail rate, and identified similar studies you can reference, you are ready to find your participants. It’s important to understand that most recruitment methods have a low yield, and it’s best to choose several strategies to help increase your chance of success.  Because you will want to monitor and adjust your recruitment efforts and resources based on what’s working, you should plan multiple strategies and detail them in your IRB protocol. 

In the methods listed below we have provided estimated yield of interested participants—please note that this is for estimation purposes and can vary greatly, and the best estimates will come from reviewing prior recruitment campaigns for similar studies.  If you have an addition or correction to any of the information provided here, please email [email protected]. You can also find an overview of common recruitment methods, with information on cost, time required for implementation, and target audience. Includes contact information for Bay Area media outlets on our Recruitment Resources Tip Sheet.

Recruitment Methods: The Basics

If you are unsure of what recruitment methods to choose, or if you have a limited budget, you may want to start with methods that have a low barrier to entry. Here are some recruitment methods that are relatively easy to implement:

Clinic Recruitment: If you are recruiting a small and targeted population that is seen within the researcher’s clinic, you may be able to recruit within the clinic. If you utilize chart review, keep in mind that this can require significant effort from the research staff, and it’s a good idea to have some flyers and print materials available to aid in clinic recruitment.

Yield: Varies depending upon cohort population at UCSF Health and amount of staff time dedicated to chart review.

Flyers/Print materials: Flyers and print materials are an easy and low cost method of publicizing your study. You will want to make sure to check the posting locations every two weeks to replenish and repost flyers. 

Yield: Depending on your study, you can estimate that you will get one interested person per week per ten flyers posted.

ResearchMatch: ResearchMatch is a secure national recruitment registry that brings together researchers and people who are interested in learning more about research studies. UCSF Researchers can explore this tool in feasibility mode or can request IRB approval to use for recruitment. ResearchMatch is free to use, and is a good complement to other recruitment strategies.

Yield: varies depending on the study. This tool works very well for studies that are survey-based or can be done remotely. If your study requires a visit, you may be able to find a few interested local participants per month.

Craigslist: posting your study on Craigslist is free and can be a good way to reach healthy volunteers or a cohort that is likely to be found among the general population. If you post your study on Craigslist, you will want to make sure to repost the study every few days so that it appears near the top of the listings.

Yield: If you consistently repost your study, you may get 2-5 interested participants per week.

UCSF Clinical Trials: UCSF has a new clinical trials site for the public to search trials and reach out to the study team. This resource is free and does not require IRB approval. Study listings are pulled directly from You can view tips on how to optimize your UCSF Clinical Trials listing here.

Yield: Varies. UCSF Clinical Trials is a new website that will grow in popularity as it is further publicized.

Create a recruitment or retention videoVideoScribe allows users to create high-definition whiteboard-style animation videos such as the video on this page. To learn more, view a VideoScribe tutorial produced by PRP.

Recruitment Methods: Targeting Participants

With a little planning, you can utilize two methods that are effective at targeting potentially eligible participants.

Recruiting via the Electronic Medical Record: If you have a cohort that can be identified with data in the electronic health record, you may wish to use this as a resource for recruitment. This method requires some advance planning to allow for time for the data extraction, but it can be one of the most time and cost-efficient recruitment methods.

CTSI offers an EHR Recruitment Letter Service using an“honest broker” model designed to protect patient privacy and offer researchers a respectful and efficient method to recruit from electronic medical records. Learn more about the service here: EHR Recruitment Letter Service

Yield: For every hundred letters sent, you can estimate around 2-5 interested participants.

Social Media: Another way to target participants is through social media. Social media can work for recruitment campaigns that target a very specific demographic, or those who are likely to self-identify online as being impacted by a condition. This method can be efficient and cost-effective, but if your study team is new to social media recruitment, it can have a learning curve. Additionally you will need to monitor progress and adjust your strategy to ensure success.  You can learn more about how to use social media for recruitment at

Yield: This can vary greatly depending on your strategy, budget, and study characteristics, but you can estimate recruiting one participant per $25 spent on advertising.

Broad target: If you have a larger budget and need to recruit larger cohorts, you may want to consider adding some of the larger media campaigns, such as television and radio ads, and print ads. These can be costly to set up, but for large-scale recruitment campaigns, they can be an essential method of contacting large groups of people.

Yield: You can expect to receive 10-15 calls per advertising imprint.

Populations requiring special considerations

It’s important to keep in mind that certain populations require extra consideration and planning.  First, remember that the patient may not always be your target audience. For example, pediatric studies typically target parents/caregivers or their providers. Therefore, it is important to understand that your recruitment materials may need to target and appeal to parents, caregivers, providers, or the community and you should plan accordingly. 

Second, if you are targeting specific populations, you will want to make sure that you are using recruitment methods that will reach those populations and are culturally appropriate. If you are unsure of how to approach this, consult a colleague, or request a recruitment consultation.