Academic journal article Visible Language

Design and Language Impact on Study Volunteerism in Medical Research: Learnings from a Controlled Study of Recruitment Letters

Academic journal article Visible Language

Design and Language Impact on Study Volunteerism in Medical Research: Learnings from a Controlled Study of Recruitment Letters

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Research on human subjects in health and medicine is a necessary part of studies ranging from taking online surveys (less invasive) to taking blood draws (more invasive). Without them, our ability to learn about and improve health is limited. However, recruitment for such studies is difficult. Patient registries aim to speed up scientific advancement by reducing the time and effort spent to recruit participants by maintaining a cadre of ready volunteers. Invitation by mail is an effective route to approach a large number of potential registry volunteers at relatively low cost. Our research question was whether the letter recipients' response (by signing up on the patient registry) to the invitation could be increased by "perking up" the letter content using 1) more motivational language, and 2) enhancing the graphic design of the invitation. We tested four models and sent them out to 10,000 recipients. Our results showed that in this application, a conventionally worded and typeset letter is more effective in recruiting altruistic volunteers than one that uses motivational language or modernist design principles. This has implications for how designers apply their skills in this context.

KEYWORDS

health research, graphic design, study recruitment, applied linguistics, design for volunteerism and altruism

INTRODUCTION

Medical breakthroughs and innovation in public health are dependent on the volunteerism of research participants in order to gather new knowledge about health and health behaviors and validate and make relevant scientific discovery. However, recruitment for such studies is difficult. Patient registries aim to speed up scientific advancement by reducing the time and effort spent in recruiting participants by maintaining a cadre of ready volunteers. Invitation by mail is an efficient way to approach a large number of potential registry volunteers at relatively low cost, but its response rate is low. Our research question was whether we could make a more effective letter by "perking up" the content using 1) enhanced visual communication tactics, and 2) applying "call to action" language. We tested four models sent out to over 5,000 recipients. A classical, two-by-two factorial study design allowed us to test the effectiveness of each factor independently and in combination. Our findings show that overt attempts to appeal to readers both visually and verbally are ineffective and actually decrease the likelihood of study volunteerism. A conventionally worded and typeset letter is more effective than one that uses motivational language or modernist design principles for altruistic individuals.

BACKGROUND

Recruitment is a critical component of any research study. It was estimated that in 1999, only 5% of the public who contacted a researcher about a study was eligible and completed the study procedures (Sung, 2003). A review of a sample of studies conducted in the United Kingdom from 19942002 found that less than 33% (McDonald, 2006, pp.7-9) of the studies met their recruitment goals, and this percentage did not substantially increase- even with approval to increase the recruitment timelines. In fact, less than 4% of cancer patients in the U.S. participated in a clinical trial (Raeth, 2011). Difficulty recruiting participants into studies is not a new problem (IOM, 2012); however, meeting study recruitment goals is becoming increasingly difficult (Treweek, 2013). To combat this problem, it is essential that researchers develop a well-designed recruitment strategy and appropriately estimate the number and types of contacts they need to meet their goals. One mechanism to expand the reach to potential participants is to create a registry of volunteers who permit their medical record information to be accessed by researchers. When future studies start recruiting participants, the registrants' up-to-date medical records can be screened for eligibility for each study to expedite the recruitment process. …

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