Step 1. Thinking about your research topic

Step 1. Thinking about your research topic

The first step of developing an idea is to explore the research in the area by reading around your chosen subject in the scientific literature (e.g current periodicals and academic journals) and related policy documents. This will enable you to better understand what is known already, and help you to identify gaps in the knowledge base, and refine your research ideas.

Some of the most useful resources to use include Google Scholar, Pubmed, Cochrane Library, CINAHL (nursing and Allied Health Professionals), and OpenSIGLE (European grey literature) in addition to journal libraries from academic funders such as NIHR. Some sites are free; others are on an institutional subscription basis which you may be able to access via your organisation.

Reviewing the literature across your area of interest will help you to develop an evidence informed research question to take forward.

Research or evaluation?

A common question is “Is this research or evaluation?” Within the NHS these definitions may be slightly different to those that you are familiar with (see below). The Health Research Authority (HRA) has developed an online decision tool which can help you decide whether your proposal is classified as research or not.

Research: Within the NHS, research is defined as the attempt to derive generalisable (i.e. of value to others in a similar situation) new knowledge against clearly defined research questions, including studies that aim to generate hypotheses as well as studies that aim to test them. This is done with systematic and rigorous methods, which are fit for purpose. This covers a broad definition of research, including e.g. qualitative and quantitative research, observational, epidemiological and experimental studies.

Evaluation: Within the NHS, evaluation can be considered as the systematic exploration of the intended and unintended effects of a programme and its potential (implications) for improvement. This is different to the NHS definition of service evaluation which is designed to answer the question "what standard does this service achieve?"