Asking the Right Question: Specifying Your Study Question
21 November 2013 (online)
The most important step in conducting a high-quality research study is to create a study question that will provide the guidance for the planning, analysis, and reporting of your study. The process of generating a novel, answerable study question seems like it should be simple at first blush. Perhaps your keen interest in a particular topic sparks an idea for a study that starts the creative process of hypothesizing and wondering “what if.” It is a wonderful experience to witness or be caught up in the joys of such a process. Finding inspiration for a study may, however, be a challenge, and the study idea emerges, instead, with time after thoughtful consideration of a topic. In either scenario, in order for you to design and execute your study, honing your idea and hypothesis into questions that can be realistically studied is required, adding a level of complexity to what at first seemed simple.
Creating the final study question is a formal and iterative process: You create an initial study question by answering questions, defining parameters, getting feedback from colleagues, and conducting a limited literature search. Then you refine your question and define major aspects of your study by using a Patients, Intervention, Comparison, and Outcomes (PICO) table for treatment and diagnostic studies, or a Patients, Prognostic factors, and Outcomes (PPO) table for prognostic studies. By taking the time to complete these steps, you will have a good structure for your research study and will be able to proceed to the next part, a literature review.
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