Ideas for research projects can arise from all aspects of a health provider’s work. To provide the best clinical care, questions about a difficult case can lead to investigation of new treatment approaches. Patterns of disease characteristics or outcomes can be anecdotally noted from clinical practice. Discussion and consultation with colleagues can raise issues. Of course, reading the literature to keep current on patient care can lead to further questions.

Wherever specific questions arise, there are a few steps a potential researcher should take to conceptualize the issue as a research question and better define the purpose of the research effort:

  • Be more complete in literature search – investigate all the work that has been done; use multiple databases and multiple search strategies to ensure comprehensiveness (e.g., Medline, Ovid; Cochrane and other systematic reviews; meta-analyses)
  • Review past work critically
  • Build on past research:
    • What questions left unanswered?
    • Do you want to replicate and extend?
      • If findings agree, what are you adding?
      • If findings disagree or are discordant, is there something different about your patients or some characteristic of the disease/condition that may explain?
    • If you believe methodological error was made - do you want to correct?
    • Decide how another study can add to/refine what is already known?
    • This progression is often referred to as an "inverted triangle" - start with broad concepts and narrow down to a specific research purpose

All research starts with a question. If one person wants to know, there are likely others who want to know, too. By asking a question, developing a hypothesis and then setting a plan to conduct the work necessary to answer that question, you will have conceptualized the basics of what we know as research.

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