Resources for researchers

Strengthen grant applications with strategic study communications

Study recruitment, implementation, and retention all require communication. A strong strategy coupled with the right tools can:

  • Strengthen your grant application
  • Save time and money over the grant’s lifespan
  • Maximize the effectiveness of your study team’s efforts
  • Make the most of limited resources
  • Contribute to the success of the project

Things to consider as you develop your next submission

Identify the best ways to reach your audience, whether they are patients, providers, the public, or other researchers. Their characteristics (including age, SES, location, culture) determine the communication channels that the study should use. A teen may prefer a text-message reminder while an older person may appreciate a call from the study coordinator.

Assess potential technologies—computers, laptops, tablets, mobile phones—and how they might be used. Should a website be mobile friendly? Does the target population use social media? Identify emerging trends so the technology you build your proposal around isn’t outdated when it comes time to implement.

Avoid false starts. Whether the study needs a recruitment flyer or an online decision aid, testing effectiveness after a product is developed can cause setbacks if extensive changes are required. Instead, an iterative process with early message  and usability testing can collect valuable data to guide the communication and minimize expensive, time-consuming changes when it’s time to pilot.

Ensure that communication is culturally competent, at an appropriate literacy level, in relevant languages, and accessible to your audience. In addition to being most effective for your audience, you can also demonstrate to your funders  that the study is responsive to audience needs.

Keep the cohort engaged through follow-up. Don’t stop communicating with participants once they’re in the study. Build appreciation into appropriate parts of the protocol, and include low-cost ways of affirming the value of their participation—for example, by sending a birthday card or study update.

Think things through to the very end. Don’t leave Year Four (or Three or Five) activities til then. Begin with the study’s end goal in mind. If your project aims to create a patient-focused website that will be handed off to a health system at the end of the study, it needs to be built differently than one that is accessed by study participants in clinic waiting rooms.

How HCC can help

The DF/HCC Health Communication Core works with researchers to develop effective communication strategies, materials, and tools for many different kinds of studies.

We encourage you to consult with us at no cost during your grant application preparation. Both the initial consultation and follow-up are free. We can provide you with a budget based on our understanding of the study’s needs. If funding is limited, we’ll explore cost-saving options—like using social media for recruitment or templates and style sheets for user-friendly surveys. We have developed a streamlined process for low-cost websites for studies that need an online presence.

To discuss strengthening your grant application, contact us at health_communication@dfci.harvard.edu or call HCC Assistant Director Catherine Coleman at (617) 632-5078.