Designing your Study
The information below provides an overview of the research process from idea development to publication.
Identifying the research problem and developing a question to be answered are the first steps in the research process. The research question will guide the remainder of the design process.
Developing an idea and turning that into a research project will involve:
- Gaining support from your managers and engaging a project team
- Using the library resources for background information and literature searches
- Finding out what data is currently available that might meet your needs
- Developing a method to conduct your research.
- Contacting the SESLHD Research Support Office for ethics advice
- Seeking funding through seed funding, scholarships or through larger state or national grant schemes
- Translating your research findings into practice through publication, conference presentation and local change management.
A literature review is a critical summary of research on your topic of interest and helps to put the research problem in context or to identify gaps and weaknesses in prior studies to justify a new investigation.
Some topics have been very intensively researched and a literature search can produce thousands of papers. In these instances a good quality recent review can be a good start. Systematic reviews use structured, rigorous processes to search for, obtain, review and synthesise evidence. Your site library can assist you to find and appraise literature on your research topic.
Places to find systematic reviews include CIAP, the Joanna Briggs Institute, and the Cochrane Library.
If no review is available, CIAP provides eLearning modules that will help you to appraise studies yourself.
The study design refers to the overall plan for obtaining an answer to the research question or for testing the research hypothesis. The design will need to consider:
- The research question and hypothesis
- Strengths and weaknesses of alternative designs
- Feasibility, resources, time frame, ethics
- The type of study being conducted - qualitative, quantitative, or mixed.
It is important to clearly identify and label the study design using standard terminology, e.g.:
You will also need to specify the major elements of the design including:
- Variables, instruments
- Participants - sampling frame, sample size, selection procedures
- Timing of testing/intervention.
To justify your choice of design, which will be important for gaining ethical and scientific approval and for seeking funding, it is important that the design is:
- Appropriate to answer the research question
- Valid and free from bias
- Precise and powerful
The George Washington University provides useful information about various study designs, including advantages and disadvantages of each.
Depending on the type of study you are planning, you may or may not have participants. For studies with participants it will be important to consider:
- Who will be studied? What is your target population and the inclusion and exclusion criteria?
- How will participants be selected? How will you sample to ensure that your participants are representative of your target population? Consider:
- Simple random sampling
- Stratified random sampling
- Cluster sampling
- Systematic sampling
- Convenience sampling
- How will you recruit participants?
- How will you allocate participants to study groups?
During the design of the study, the sample size calculation will indicate whether the study is feasible. During the review phase, it will reassure the reviewers that the study is feasible and that resources are not being wasted by recruiting more participants than necessary.
It is important that you can justify your proposed sample size and provide data to calculate and state how your sample estimates were obtained.
Sample size calculators, such as this one at Austvet, are available online.
There are lots of ways that you can get data for your project. Some may already be collected on an on-going basis, for example in:
- Patients’ healthcare records (paper records, eMR, FirstNet) or in ORBIT
- IIMS reports
- Coded discharge data
- Routine audits such as MAXC and EoC, the state and national audit returns for ICU, stroke, cardiac and rehab patients
Below are some sites that publish routinely collected data which can be used for the purpose of background information.
- Australian and local demographic data compiled by the Diversity Health Service
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
- Health Stats
- Australian Bureau of Statistics
There is often a degree of trade-off. Available data may not be quite what you want – patient records are created to record patient histories, not as research databases so there may be a lot of gaps and you may not be sure of its accuracy. It may, however, be quicker and easier than collecting new data yourself. Collecting data yourself may involve:
- Auditing patient records
- Conducting patient assessments
- Observing practice
- Surveying or interviewing patients and staff
Once you have planned how to collect your data, you will need to analyse it to draw meaning from it in relation to your original research question.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics contains information about statistical concepts including:
- Quantitative and qualitative data
- Measures of central tendency
- Measures of error
- Measures of spread
- Correlation and causation
All research involving humans at SESLHD requires ethical approval. The purpose of this is to ensure that the study is conducted with ethical principles and considerations in mind and that the study is:
- Respectful of the people involved
- Intended to produce benefit for staff, patients and the community
- Not placing participants at risk of harm
- Scientifically valid
- Recruited fairly
- Not arduous in terms of participation
- Conducted with informed consent.
Further information about ethics and governance processes can be found under relevant sections of this website, or by contacting the SESLHD Research Office.
Depending on the size of your project, you may or may not need to seek funding. If you do need funding and you are not a practised grant writer, it is generally easier to seek "seed funding" that might cover some of the expenses involved in running a small pilot study. The results from that pilot can then be used to compete for larger funding pools in state and national grant schemes.
Local seed funding opportunities will be advertised under the "Grants" section of this website, publicised on LinkedIn and distributed via facility newsletters.
Larger grants are administered by a variety of bodies. GrantConnect is a centralised publication of forecast and current Australian Government grant opportunities and may help you to find grants relevant to your area of interest.
All grant administrators will want to know the details of your project as suggested on this page (literature review, study design, data collection and analysis etc.) as well as how you intend to use the funds you are requesting. The Office of Health and Medical Research has a Budget Costing Template that may assist you with this.
The aim of research is to improve health outcomes for patients. This is achieved by translating positive research findings into practice. To make this happen, you will need to share your findings with your team, the organisation and with others who are interested in your research area.
To share your findings:
- Send your abstract to the SESLHD Research Office for inclusion on the website
- Present your project to your department
- Contact the SESLHD media team for inclusion in facility or district newsletters, LinkedIn or the local paper
- Present to a special interest group or conference
- Write a journal article