Academia health research

13 Tips for health researchers

I’ve just been contacted by an old friend, asking if I could give her my top ten tips for research.

After compiling a list to test myself before seeing what was already out there on the internet, I was surprised to find that a (quick) search turn up only what I initially expected – the obvious  – and that my own list could add to what’s out there. So, here are 13 tips for the research process:

1. Passion

Choose a topic that fascinates you!

2. Boundaries

If you have no external deadline – choose one to work toward. Similarly, be strict with inclusion and exclusion criteria. In research it is very easy for the complex nature of, well, everything, to lead you to become overinclusive, and very easy for research parameters to go on.. and on.. and on.

3. Technical skills

Make sure you know how to use libraries, journals and databases properly. Seek advice and tutorials from librarians, and librarians who specialize in your field. Learn how to conduct a systematic search and identify everything you need to. Equally, keep a good record of your searches.

4. Precision

Be certain that you know exactly what the question you’re asking is. Practice explaining it to others. Make the research question as specific as possible.

5. Language

Ensure your language is carefully considered, explained where necessary,  and kept consistent throughout.

6. Lived experience

Invite and use perspectives of people who have personal experience of whatever it is you’re studying. Check your area and national data bases for patient groups relevant to your research. Investigate good practice around service user involvement, and meaningfully include people from the outset.

7. Outcome specificity

Make sure your outcomes tools are measuring what you think they are measuring and in a way that suits your research question. Also, a few well-selected measures are better than throwing everything you can think at the question.

8. Recruitment

Don’t overlook a good recruitment strategy. Start thinking about recruitment and making connections as early as you can.

9. Ethics

Consider ethical implications carefully. Do not start any aspect of the research until you have full ethical approval.

10. Support

If you can access them, work with your local Research Design Serice (RDS).

11. Ontology

If possible, request a methodological expert opinion on your method – which should be specific. Don’t neglect to consider the underlying assumptions and epistemologies, particularly for qualitative research. For example, qualitative research may take the form of ethnography, phenomenological, or thematic. You need to state what type of qualitative enquiry you are performing and conduct the study using that method and according to established guidelines.

12. Power

Don’t rely on statistics too much or over-report their significance, unless you have figured out you have the power i.e. enough people taking part to do so.

13. Value

Pay close attention to what your study adds to the existing literature and articulate it clearly, remembering to suggest policy implications or clinical recommendations.

Lastly: enjoy yourself! Take breaks, be creative when problem-solving and keep active… this’ll be when your best ideas magically spring to mind…

I'm a British clinical psychologist with a research background. I manage the Greater Manchester i-THRIVE Arts, Culture and Mental Health Programme, part of the national transformation of children's services. I also have an NHS clinical role in Lancaster and Morecambe working with children, young people and families (CAMHS). I began this blog in 2017 to record a WCMT Travelling Fellowship, from a research role at Arts for Health, Manchester Metropolitan University. I began clinical psychology training (DCLinPsy, Lancaster) in 2010, and studied the role of creativity in bipolar disorder, because of the known links, and partly due to my own experiences of creatively managing extremes of mood in adolescence and throughout my 20s. I have worked in several university psychology research departments including Manchester University in suicide prevention, the Spectrum Centre for Mental Health Research at Lancaster University (notable for service user expertise), and on the Dementia & Imagination research programme.

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