Below are some practical tips for the novice researcher. Pay attention to these! They may divert intense frustration.
- Good research questions are based upon a thorough understanding of the relevant medical literature. Start your literature search and reading early.
- Find a research mentor! Working with a good research mentor can go a long way towards conducting a successful research project.
- Developing the research question is an iterative process that includes researching the medical literature, consulting with friends and mentors, and piloting studies. Questions change as a result of this process.
- Initial projects should be modest in scope. Too often first projects attempt to do too much rather than too little. Descriptive studies, local or regional surveys, or chart reviews may logically precede analytical studies, national surveys or cohort studies.
- Don't hesitate to call other investigators in your area of interest. Even experienced investigators are often willing to share their time and advice with novice researchers.
- Just because your research question has been the focus of previous investigations, do not despair! Examine the weaknesses of the previous studies: What questions remain unanswered? Was the power of the previous research adequate? Can the results be generalized to all patients or to your environment? Answers to these questions may serve as the basis of further research in the same area.
- Good research questions come at odd times. Keep a notebook to write questions down as soon as you think of them. Procrastination may cost you a study!
Vancouver JB et al. (1993). Planning a Research Study. Michigan State University, Office of Medical Education Research and Development.