9 Tips to Design Better Case Report Forms (CRFs) for Clinical Trials

9 Tips to Design Better Case Report Forms (CRFs) for Clinical Trials

If you need support to design a CRF, please contact us at info@klindat.com

Case report forms (CRFs) are an essential tool in clinical research for collecting patient data and ensuring the integrity of clinical trial outcomes.

When designing CRFs, sponsors and investigators should focus on creating forms that are user-friendly, accurate, and aligned with the study protocol.

In this article, we will explore the key considerations and best practices for designing better CRFs to improve data collection in clinical trials.

What is a Case Report Form?

A case report form (CRF) is a document used to record all the necessary information about each trial subject in a clinical trial.

It serves as a tool for data collection, allowing researchers to gather relevant data to answer research questions and demonstrate compliance with protocols and good clinical practice (GCP) guidelines [1].

The design of CRFs plays a key role in ensuring the accuracy and completeness of the collected data.

Paper vs. Electronic CRFs

When designing CRFs, researchers have the option to choose between traditional paper forms and electronic CRFs (eCRFs).

Electronic forms offer advantages such as improved data quality, online discrepancy management, faster database lock, and easier data analysis.

However, they require upfront investment for technology and training, which may not be feasible for all studies.

The choice between paper and electronic formats should be based on the study’s needs and available resources.

Principles of CRF Design

Designing better CRFs requires careful consideration of several key principles to ensure data accuracy, standardization, and ease of use for researchers.

Here are some essential principles to keep in mind when designing your CRFs [2]:

  1. Alignment with Protocol

CRFs should align with the approved study protocol and clearly reflect the primary and secondary endpoints of the research.

They should collect data that supports the study’s objectives and ensure patient eligibility and safety.

It is crucial to avoid collecting any additional data that is not necessary for analysis or outside the study’s requirements.

  1. Avoid Duplication

To streamline data collection and minimize errors, CRFs should avoid duplicating data collection points.

For example, collecting both a patient’s age and date of birth may be unnecessary.

Only collect data points that are essential for the study and analysis.

  1. Be Clear and Concise

To ensure accurate data entry, CRFs should provide clear and concise questions, prompts, and instructions.

Unclear or ambiguous instructions can lead to data discrepancies and delays in data analysis.

Instructions outlining where data should be recorded, can also improve data entry accuracy.

  1. Avoidance of Free Text

Minimizing free text responses in CRFs is recommended as they are difficult to interpret and analyze.

Instead, provide predefined answer options using checkboxes or drop-down menus.

If an “Other” option is necessary, leave space for further information to be collected.

  1. Proper Formatting

CRFs should be well-structured and organized to facilitate easy reading, understanding, and accurate data entry.

Consistent formatting, including font style, size, and alignment, should be maintained throughout the document.

Separate sections should be clearly delineated, and page numbering should be consistent.

  1. Standard Data Formats

To ensure consistency and ease of data interpretation, use standard data formats such as date formats (e.g., dd/mm/yyyy), and specify the units of measurement for relevant data points.

  1. Training and Guidelines

Provide clear instructions to all site personnel on how to complete the CRF accurately.

Consider developing a CRF completion guide that outlines step-by-step instructions for data entry.

  1. Review and Validation

CRFs should be reviewed and validated to ensure that they meet the study’s requirements, protocol, and data protection regulations.

The principal investigators should review and sign off the CRF to validate the accuracy of the entered data.

  1. Version Control

CRFs should be consistently versioned and dated to track any changes made during the study.

If amendments are made to the protocol, the corresponding changes should be reflected in the CRFs.


Designing better CRFs for clinical trials is crucial for ensuring accurate and complete data collection.

By following the principles and best practices outlined in this article, study sponsors and researchers can create CRFs that are aligned with the study protocol, user-friendly, and optimized for data accuracy and analysis.

Remember to consider the specific needs of your study and consult with relevant stakeholders for feedback and validation.

If you need support to design a CRF, please contact us at info@klindat.com


[1] Bellary, S., Krishnankutty, B., & Latha, M. S. (2014). Basics of case report form designing in clinical research. Perspectives in Clinical Research, 5(4), 159–166.

[2] How to Prepare Case Report Forms

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