Conceptualize Your Research
Form your research question
Congratulations–you have a brilliant research question! Now the fun begins:
What is it, exactly, that you want to know? The acronym PICOT (population-intervention (as applicable)-comparison-outcome-time) can help you to clarify what, specifically, you wish to investigate.
Has anyone else studied this question? Using your PICOT question to search research databases will help determine if your research question has actually already been answered.
What is (and is not) known about this area? A literature search will help you place your research question in context of what is already known, and what gaps exist, in the literature. This helps build a case for the importance of your research.
What do you expect to discover by answering your research question? A hypothesis is a prediction about the outcome of a research question, stating a relationship between two or more variables. A hypothesis serves as a framework for drawing conclusions about study results, and is informed by the literature, previous research, real-life experience, or a theoretical framework. A null hypothesis is a statement of no relationship between variables being tested, and is foundational to the scientific process.
- Research questions, hypotheses and objectives (Farrugia 2010)
- Posing the research question: not so simple (Thabane 2009)
- What is your research question? An introduction to the PICOT format for clinicians (Riva 2012)
Search the literature
The first step in any research project is to find out what is already known about your topic, and where there are knowledge gaps. Conducting a thorough literature search will help ensure that you are not replicating work, and that you are appropriately placing your research in context of what is already known.
There are several databases one could use to conduct a search of the published research literature. PubMed is a great place to start, since it contains citations for biomedical literature from MEDLINE, life science journals, and online books. These tutorials will help you get started: