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Health & Biomedical Research: Getting Started

Getting Started

Research Goals

Arguably, the research question is the most important piece of a research project.  It guides nearly every step in the process of discovery and examination.  So, it is important that this first step is managed thoughtfully. 

Often times, research questions originate from broad topics of interest, like "immunotherapy in the treatment of leukemia".  The researcher gathers background information on the topic, and uses it to narrow their focus and identify a gap in what is known about the topic.  Next, the information gap is formulated into a question that presents a clear purpose for the research.  See the Background Information tab for reference sources.  

Many research question frameworks have been developed to assist researchers transform topics into well-defined research questions, and provide a strategy for targeting relevant literature.  See the Question Frameworks tab for examples.  

Scholarly Sources

Research at the university level involves the use of more sophisticated tools and resources.  In addition to using popular sources, such as news and magazine articles, you will almost certainly be required to use scholarly sources to complete research and writing assignments. 

A scholarly source is a written work that has been peer-reviewed or refereed.  The terms peer-reviewed and refereed are used interchangeably, and refer to a process of evaluation.  Experts in the subject matter (i.e., peers) evaluate (i.e., review) the work for quality and deem it deserving or undeserving of publication.  This evaluation investigates the authority, accuracy, and relevancy of the work.  Because scholarly sources are rigorously reviewed by experts, they are considered the most reliable sources of information.  

Characteristics of Scholarly Sources

The table below outlines differences between scholarly and popular sources.  To determine with greater certainty whether a source is scholarly, visit the publisher's/journal's website and review the "About" or "Author Information" section of the site to learn if its publications are peer-reviewed.  Search for journal websites at: Scimago Journal & Country Rank.  

Scholarly Sources

Popular Sources

  • Written by scholars, scientists, researchers, and/or industry experts.

  • Presents new research, or examines existing research. 

  • Intended for consumption by a sophisticated audience. 

  • Published by scientific and academic journals, university presses, professional societies, and academic publishing houses. 

  • Scholarly articles almost always include an abstract and citations.  Many scholarly articles will also provide a methodology.  

  • Example: Journal of the American Medical Association.  

  • Written by journalists and professional writers.     

  • Provides information and/or opinion on current events or popular culture. 

  • Intended for consumption by a general audience. 

  • Published by mass media companies and popular publishing houses.

  • Example: Newsweek

Frameworks Used in Medicine/Health 

The PICO Framework. 

This framework is commonly used to develop clinical research questions.  It helps clinicians identify the essential pieces of information needed for finding an answer for the patient or problem at hand.  The C and T are optional.   

P Patient or Problem
I Intervention 
C Comparator (Current gold standard)
O Outcome
T Time 

The PEO Framework

This framework is commonly used to develop qualitative research questions about relationships between exposures and outcomes.  

P Population
E Exposure
O Outcome

The SPIDER Framework

This framework is commonly used to develop qualitative research questions about samples rather than populations.    

S Sample
P I Phenomenon of Interest
D Design
E Evaluation
R Research Type

Background Information

Reference items, like encyclopedias are a good source for background information. Popular web-based references, like Wikipedia, can also be consulted for background information, but should not be heavily relied on or cited in your research.

Encyclopedias (Electronic)

Search the Library for more reference books