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The importance of copy and headings in patient recruitment materials


This is the second blog of our mini blog-series, where we’re taking a closer look into the different techniques to improve the likelihood of clinical study recruitment. If you haven’t read the first blog of this series yet, you can find it here. For our second blog, we’re looking at copy and headings.


Have you ever read something that instantly made you want to read on? Or have you begun to read something, and eventually given up because it didn’t resonate with you? This is where the importance of copy and headings in advertising comes into play.


Often, we think that posters need to be eye-catching, with more image and less copy, to grab and keep the reader’s attention, right? Well, it’s been suggested that there are potential differences between the way people react to clinical trial advertisements, compared with commercial advertisements. This means the standard rules of advertising – such as the need for eye-catching imagery and shorter content – may not apply to clinical trials. For example, one study found that 81% of patients who indicated that their disease has a high negative impact on their quality of life preferred an advertisement that had longer and more in-depth copy, compared to shorter content.


So, what really is effective copy in clinical study recruitment materials? Our research at COUCH Health, in collaboration with Lancaster University, helped us to explore this question in clinical study posters.


Finding the right balance

Our findings show that it’s all about balance. The trick is giving readers enough to truly understand and connect with what you’re talking about, without teetering on being too text heavy. When we presented posters with a fair balance between copy and imagery (Figure 1), most patients found this style to be the most appropriate. Patients felt they were informed of the essential study elements without being overwhelmed with information.


Figure 1. Type 2 Diabetes (left) and Cancer (right) posters that were presented.


Commercial advertisements usually avoid a text-heavy approach and focus on imagery. But interestingly, when we presented text-heavy clinical study posters to see if the reaction would be similar to commercial advertisements, the results showed mixed opinions. Generally, most seemed to be engaged by lots of text. Despite mentioning that most posters usually don’t have much copy on them, and they’re designed to inform consumers of a product, one patient replied:


A clinical trial is different to a product. It wouldn’t be right to not be fully informed from the get-go”

This suggests that people view clinical study advertisements different to typical consumer advertisements – and that more text on clinical study posters may actually be appreciated. But for the most part, the majority of patients preferred the poster with a fair balance.


‘Chunking’ the information

Grouping information – aka ‘chunking’ – is a process that’s known to help readers easily understand the information they’re given, and more importantly, remember it. It’s a method that students use to help them learn and retain information, so why not use it to help patients understand and remember clinical studies?


We used this approach (Figure 1) and patients generally liked the use of sub-headings and ‘chunking’ of information, as it made the poster more readable and easier to follow.

So, next time you’re looking to design a clinical study poster – chunking is an effective technique that should be considered, as it could help patients to really understand your clinical study and ultimately improve the likelihood of study recruitment.


Clear, concise headlines

Why do we sometimes feel drawn in to read some things, but not others? A headline is one of the most important aspects when it comes to advertising. It’s the first thing people will read, so it needs to be effective.


We found that ‘long-winded’ headlines were not considered effective by nearly all patients. Most appreciated a short and snappy headline, with a positive and upbeat message behind it (Figure 1). Some didn’t agree with a ‘positive’ headline; those who experienced a more negative time with their disease tended to feel these headings were tedious, and instead preferred a more direct, patient-focussed (not company-focussed) headline.


So, what’s an effective approach to take when thinking of a headline for your clinical study poster? Our results show:

  • A big heading that stands out

  • Snappy and to the point

  • Not a long-winded, tedious heading that most have seen before

  • Express emotion

  • Patient-focussed, not company-focussed

  • A relatable headline.


Know your audience

Lastly, it’s important that you resonate with your reader. You need to know your audience so you can direct your poster to the patient and focus on them and their needs. Patients are more likely to read the poster if your headline and copy are something that they can truly relate to!


This also means the concept behind your poster needs to be relatable, too. Watch out for our next blog that focuses on ‘Concept and Patient Centricity’ in clinical study recruitment posters.


And if you’re interested in learning more about the research we did, you can read the report here.


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