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What types of research are there?

Before any research can be carried out, the researchers need to find out where there’s a gap in their current knowledge and develop a new idea. They create a research question (hypothesis) and then put together a research plan (protocol) to try to answer it. There are many different ways of carrying out research, but if you’re involved in any study it’ll probably be one of these types:

An observational study of an illness

In an observational study, researchers assess participants (people who are the subject of a study) and their condition over a period of time, which helps to explore the natural course of an illness.
This method might be used to test out theories, for example whether tiredness is related to the amount of exercise a person does. This type of study could be done using tests comparing levels of tiredness with hours of exercise to see if they’re linked.

A trial to compare two treatments

A trial is used to test whether a new treatment works. It’s done by comparing a group of people who are taking a new treatment with another group who are taking the standard treatment (the control group). In a randomised controlled trial (RCT), participants are put in a group at random.

Because personal beliefs about which drug a participant is taking might affect the results, the tablets or injections for both groups will look the same, and neither the participant nor the researcher will know which group individuals are in until after the trial is over. This process is called blinding.

Qualitative research into patient experiences

Qualitative research finds out how people cope with a certain condition. For example, a participant might be interviewed about their experiences of tiredness or pain. Their comments will be recorded, and every word and phrase from all the interviews in the study will be looked at to see what the common ideas are. Participants might be asked to do the interview on their own or in a small group.


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