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: Getting Started  



Reviewing the Study Protocol

Before choosing your methods, you need to understand the population you want to recruit so that you can plan accordingly.  First, you’ll need to consider what’s in your study protocol:

  1. How many people do you need to enroll?
  2. Are there any demographic specifications?
  3. Do the inclusion and exclusion criteria point to a general or targeted population?

Thinking carefully about your population will help you later on as you select your recruitment methods to find your participants.

Tip: Don’t reinvent the wheel. Review prior study campaigns

It’s a good idea to review prior study campaigns so that you can learn from what has and hasn’t worked in the past. If you or your colleagues have worked on a study campaign with similar recruitment goals, this can be your best asset in developing a successful recruitment plan.


Feasibility Assessment

Next you should assess any positive or negative factors that may impact accrual.  

Some examples may include:


  • A research area with high interest
  • An existing cohort
  • Access to a high volume referrer
  • Existing partnerships that you can leverage


  • Stringent eligibility criteria
  • Number, frequency, and intensity of study procedures
  • Aggressive timeline for accrual

If you have identified that you have several factors that may have a negative impact, you may want to plan and budget for extra recruitment resources.

Tip: Get a Cohort Count

Your pool of eligible participants at UCSF may be different than what you’re expecting. To check how many UCSF patients meet your study’s eligibility criteria, you can use the Research Data Browser (RDB), a point-and-click browsing tool that allows researchers to explore UCSF patient records de-identified from APeX. Visit the Research Data Browser page for more information.

Screen Fail Rate

Understanding what your study’s anticipated screen fail rate is ­­­­­can help you figure out how many people will have to be screened to get enough eligible participants. An industry standard is a 10:1 screen fail rate. This means that for every ten people that are interested in your study, one will complete enrollment. If you have identified that your study has positive or negative factors that may affect how many interested people will pass screening, you can adjust your rate accordingly.

If you have identified similar prior study campaigns, look back at the screening data for similar studies and try to understand:

  • How many people were spoken with over the phone?
  • How many people were screened in person?
  • How many charts were reviewed? 

Understanding these numbers will help you estimate the ratio of interested to enrolled participants. 

Screen failure rate examples

If your target enrollment is 5 and studies with similar recruitment goals as yours have had a screen fail rate of 8:1, then your recruitment plan should attract at least 40 potential study participants for screening

If you are brand new to recruiting for this type of study and population, start with a 10:1 estimate, meaning that you want to attract at least 50 potentials study participants for screening.

Now that you have reviewed your study protocol, assessed feasibility, and have a preliminary your screen fail rate, you’re ready to get started finding your participants. Our next guide on this topic is coming soon!