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Clinical Trials

Importance of questions

Image of Einstein with a quote.

Formulate a research idea

Start with a broad topic - it could be a health condition, procedure or tool, a research methodology, or health care policy. Most importantly it should be of interest to you. You can find ideas in text books, medical dictionaries and encyclopedias, review articles, conference proceedings and abstracts, and by checking out the bibliographies in each resource. Also, don't forget that many ideas start by talking with colleagues or professors!

Harvey, BJ, Lang ES, JR Frank, eds. The research guide: a primer for residents, other health care trainees, and practitioners. Ottawa: Royal College of Physicans and Surgeons of Canada; 2011.

What Makes a Good Research Question? Duke University.

Refine your topic

A good research question will meet the FINER criteria developed by Hulley et al (2007). It will be:

Feasible - number of subjects, methodology, scope, time, money

Interesting - does the investigator want to study this topic?

Novel - will the study provide new findings or extend, refute, or confirm existing findings?

Ethical - will the institutional review board approve the project?

Relevant - will the study add to the scientific knowledge, clinical practice, health policy?

Hulley S, Cummings S, Browner W, et al. Designing clinical research. 3rd ed. Philadelphia (PA): Lippincott Williams and Wilkins; 2007.

Developing Your Research Question

Why should I formulate a structured research question?

  • To point you in a specific direction
  • To help build your literature search strategy
  • To improve your retrieval
  • To give you a way of evaluating answers

Where do questions fit into evidence-based practice?

  1. Formulate the question
  2. Search for the evidence
  3. Appraise the evidence
  4. Apply the results
  5. Evaluate the process

What characterizes a good question?

  • well-conceptualized
  • well-developed
  • relevant
  • direct and clear
  • focused
  • includes all components

What does an undeveloped question look like?

  • Is there a benefit in starting a program to prevent elderly clients from falls at home?”

What does a well-formulated question look like?

“Is a fall prevention program more effective than education upon discharge from acute care in decreasing the incidence of falls in elderly clients who live independently at home?” (Lou & Durando, 2008, p. 98)

Write a research question

You can structure your research question in one of several ways but no matter which of the following structures you use, your question should be well developed, clear, and focused.


Patient or Problem, Intervention, Comparison Intervention, Outcome


Patient or Problem, Intervention, Comparison Intervention, Outcome, Timeframe


Person, Environment, Stakeholders, Intervention, Comparison, Outcome


Population, Interventions, Professionals/Patients, Outcome, Health Care Setting

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