A Research Road Map: Fifteen Steps to a Successful Research Project
By Philip M. Hahn, MSc
The Research Road Map In Detail
1. Meet with your program director or departmental research coordinator as soon as possible.
- Find out what is expected by your program or department.
- Talk about potential research areas and suitable faculty members who might be available to support you in the completion of a research project.
2. Look for resources that provide an introduction to the basic concepts of research methodology and critical appraisal.
- Attend a local or national resource course or training program.
- Consult the references and additional resources listed at the end of this road map.
3. Find a research supervisor.
- Look for someone whose expertise is relevant to your field of interest and who is able to devote sufficient time and effort to supporting and supervising your work. Most health trainees and junior practitioners have limited research experience and will need someone to guide and advise them along the way. Finding a suitable supervisor is one of the most important steps to success in planning and completing a research project.
- Consider the following in your selection of a research supervisor:
- access to research funding
- availability to provide timely advice
- reports from current and former research trainees
- Agree on expectations, including those with regard to authorship of any publications that result from your project.
4. Pose a focussed and specific research question.
- Make sure your research question is novel, answerable and feasible.
- Consider the PICOT approach to framing a research question . This involves describing:
- the Intervention
- the Comparator
- the Outcome
- the Timframe
- Also consider the FINER criteria . Is your research question:
5. Develop a research outline .
- If your project is designed to examine a therapeutic intervention, check for applicable systematic reviews in the cochrane library.
- Collaborate with content and methodological experts. Your supervisor should be able to suggest suitable individuals and to facilitate an introduction to them.
- Determine which study design is the best fit and the most practical approach to framing your research project.
- Write an outline:
- Include a brief background statement highlighting the importance of your research question.
- Estimate how much time you will need to complete each of the anticipated stages of the research.
- List available and required resources and, if applicable, provide a budget estimate.
- If you already have a variety of interesting ideas to talk about, be sure to keep track of them, but for the purposes of your study outline you will need to boil them down to a single, focussed, primary study objective.
- Make sure your outline is concise - a maximum of two pages is best at this point.
- With the outline of your proposed research project in hand, arrange to meet with methodological specialists in preparation for writing a more detailed protocol.
6. Meet with methodological specialists with particular expertise in your area of study.
- Discuss pertinent design issues, focussing on the primary study objective.
- Be realistic:
- Consider conducting a clinical audit, systematic review or survey as a manageable project for your first venture in to research.
- Select the tools that will be appropriate for your analysis of the study data (databases, data entry software).
- Investigate which file formats for data recording will allow your study data to be imported into an appropriate application for statistical analysis (Excel spreadsheet).
7. Develop the research protocol .
- Include details on:
- Recruitment of study participants
- Inclusion and exclusion criteria
- Design features such as criterion standard for a clinical practice audit , the sampling technique for a survey , or the random allocation technique and creation of placebos for a randomized controlled trial 
- Any secondary objectives, questions and outcomes
- Statistical issues such as estimating sample size and methods to analyze the data
- Your timetable for starting and finishing the project, as well as the anticipated timeframe for each phase of the project
- ethical considerations such as safety, confidentiality, and informed consent 
8. As applicable, obtain institutional and research ethics approval.
- Seek help from your research supervisor and other university and hospital personnel who are knowledgeable about and experienced with approval process and requirements.
- Find out whether your project is eligible for an expedited review, which will take less time tha a full Research Ethics Board (REB) review. A clincial practice audit, for example, might be eligible for an expedited review.
- If your research involves humans or human tissues, review the Tri-Council policy statement  and complete the Tri-Council tutorial on the ethical conduct for research involving humans .
9. Seek necessary funding.
- Seek departmental and university funds first.
- If appropriate, submit a grant to an external funding agency such as the Physicians' Services Incorporated Foundation or the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
10. If you are conducting a clinical trial, ensure that it is registerd with ClinicalTrials.gov.
11. Collect and analyze the data.
- Report confidence intervals, if appropriate, in addition to p-values for the results of the primary and any secondary research questions .
12. Present your findings.
- Find appropriate venues in which to present your work as soon as possible, such as your department's annual research day and relevant local, national and international meetings.
13. Prepare and submit a manuscript describing the study and its results to a suitable journal.
- Focus your attention on what readers are most likely to look at; the title, abstract, tables and figures
- Develop a systematic approach to the introduction, methods, results,and discussion
- Improve the paper by learning how to obtain and incorporate useful feedback
- Establish authorship and the order of authorship:
- The ICMJE criteria for authorship credit states that authorship requires: (1) substantial contributions to conception and design, or acquisition of data, or analysis and interpretation of data; (2) drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual content; and (3) final approval of the version to be published .
- Be prepared to describe the contribution of each author.
- Also consider those whose contribution should be acknowledged in the published article.
14. If your manuscript is accepted, revise it according to the editors' and reviewers' comments.
15. Celebrate with your coauthors.
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