Basics of research (part 3): Research study design

Edward A Panacek, Cheryl B. Thomoson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


There are a large number of clinical research designs that have stood the test of time. There is no single research design that is best to answer all research questions, and every research design has appropriate applications. This article describes the most common designs and a recommended classification system. However, in the process of performing research, there are always other options and "hybrid" studies combining elements from different designs, are not uncommon. Though it is a good practice to think of research designs in terms of degree of scientific integrity or rigor, it must be recognized that every design type has both advantages, as well as disadvantages. In addition, there are usually many different ways to answer the same research question. Which design is most appropriate is dependent largely on a stage of evolution of the investigative process. An understanding of the full breadth and spectrum of research study designs is necessary to select the model that is most appropriate for a given investigation. In general, it is best to use the most scientifically valid design that the circumstances will allow. However, the actual decision regarding the research design usually represents a compromise between lofty scientific goals and the clinical or resource limitations of the research setting. Therefore, be realistic about the resources available for the research, including the time frame that is available. Realize that research is done in incremental steps, and it is unusual to be able to answer the entire research question in a single study. It must be emphasized that the process of planning and revising the protocol, prior to starting the actual data collection, is critically important. The extra time spent planning will pay off in time savings during the actual study itself. Involvement of a statistician during the planning process, before collecting any actual data also is important. Once you have a sense of which research study design is most appropriate to answer your research question, the next step is to flesh out the actual research protocol itself. That process will be addressed in the next part of this series.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)139-146
Number of pages8
JournalAir Medical Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1995


  • clinical research
  • research
  • research design
  • research methodology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine
  • Emergency


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