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Jefferson Medical College Alpha Omega Alpha Guide to Research

Planning a Project

As you begin your project, you will likely receive a lot of guidance from the principle investigator and other co-investigators. The following will be a brief overview of the steps you will go through.

Literature Review

This is an important starting point for any research project.
Here are a few tips for getting started:

  1. Be sure to use appropriate search terms as you try to find articles relevant to your research project. Most people use a search engine such as Ovid MEDLINE® or PubMed to get started.
  2. Ask one of your co-investigators what the most respected journals are in their field. Most times, studies published in these journals will have made more of an impact on clinical practice than those published in less reputable journals.
  3. Pay attention to the study design and scope of the papers you are using as the foundation for your project. The following figure is a schematic representation of the various tools for practicing evidence-based medicine. The pyramid can give you an idea of the impact the papers you are reading might have made on clinical practice.
  4. Tools such as the Write-N-Cite program available through Jeffline can be used to maintain a working reference list throughout the project. If you start adding articles during this phase, it will be much easier to write the paper with appropriate citations later on.

Figure 4: Evidence-based Practice Tools Summary
(Source: http://healthlinks.washington.edu/ebp/ebptools.html)

Best evidence pyramid diagram; the elements of the diagram are explained below

Data collection

The source of your data depends on your study design. You may be working from a departmental database, electronic medical records, patient charts from the archives, surveys, questionnaires, data collection sheets, or experimental data. The most important part of this phase is staying organized. Master spreadsheets are often used to compile data and can be created on a program such as Microsoft® Excel.

Data analysis

This can be a challenging phase depending on the level of analysis your project requires and your background in statistics. There are statisticians available to principle investigators at Jefferson, but the decision about whether or not they will be hired is up to the physician you are working with. It may be that one of your co-investigators has prior experience with the type of analysis your project requires. If you are responsible for data analysis, there are several resources available to help. Simple calculations can be made using Microsoft® Excel. If you are looking for significance and doing regression analysis, there are a number of computer programs available. Some of the most user-friendly statistics programs interface with the spreadsheets you may have created using Microsoft® Excel and can be very helpful for crunching numbers and generating good graphs and charts. Some programs are:

SPSS®
STATA®
JMP®

Writing the paper

Believe it or not, this may not be the last step in the project. It is often possible to write the introduction to a paper based on the background literature search you perform as you are getting started. This makes sense: the introduction often presents the argument for doing the study, and this is something you should be able to articulate from the very beginning. Likewise, the methodology for your research should be clear from the beginning of the project.

An effective strategy for staying focused during data analysis is outlining your Results section at the beginning of the project. For example, creating tables with the variables you are studying and the outcome measures you wish to report can help you think through the information your readers will want to know. When it comes time to write the paper, you will just plug in the results you get.

While you probably can’t get much of the Discussion part of the paper written ahead of time, keeping track of the references you collected in the Literature Review phase, described above, means that you already have a working bibliography. In other words, it’s probably possible to have about 65% of the paper written at the beginning of your project. Knowing this, if you have a period of a few days or weeks when you can focus more exclusively on your research project, you can place yourself at a huge advantage when your schedule gets busier.

When you are working on the finished product of your paper, be sure to check the website of the journal to which you plan to submit. Many journals post a guide for authors on their website that provides specific instructions for presenting results and formatting a paper for publication. Journals are often very particular about the items they require during the submission process, and there will be specific documents you need to prepare in addition to the paper itself.


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