How to draft a research question

The objective of the research is to explicitly answer to a problem defined in an explicit manner. Formulating a proper clinical question is a prerequisite to obtain a precise result. Squeezing multiple topics into one clinical questions lacks of efficacy, making the overal comprehension of the data weaker and less powerfull.

The final research query consists of a statement about the relationship of two or more variables, clearly identyfying the independent and dependent variables and the populations under examination.

In order to correctly read and intrepret data, a clean database and a well placed query are fundamental at this step.

A research question is composed by four main aspects;

  1. Population of interest.
    The population of interest is the group of people with specific characteristics (inclusion criteria) that makes them suitable for the study.

  2. Intervention.
    The indicator is the interest variable of the study. It might be a diagnostic test, or a therapeutic intervention, or a specific drug or device , or simply a condition, like the exposition to some risk factors . The research is interested in assessing the relationship between the indicator, the independent variable, and a specific result observed, the outcome.

  3. Comparison.
    The comparator is the population that is confronted with the population of interest. It might be the population not bearing the inclusion criteria set at the beginning of the study, or a population that is not exposed to indicated risk, or the same population take as population of interest but investigated in two different moments, for example, before and after a treament.

  4. Outcome.
    The outcome is the dependent variable, whose relationship with the independent one is at the centre of the study. The oucome might be therefore the risk of developping a disease, or the accuracy of results of a new testing device, or the decrease of adverse effects of a drug, or the regression of specific symptoms.

Once those aspects have been properly identified, the research query can be classified into a specific type:

  1. Treatment.
    This is the chosen one if the researcher has held experimental trials. This type of query assesses the effect of a specific treatment or intervention held on the population of interest.

  2. Diagnosis.
    This is the chosen one if the researcher wants to assess specificity and sensibility of an instrument, This type of query assesses the accuracy of a specific method or instrument in providing the correct diagnosis.

  3. Cause or etiology.
    This is the chosen one if the researcher aims at understanding the origin of a disease. This type of query assesses the effect of the exposition or presence of determined factors.

  4. Economic evaluation.
    This is the chosen one if the researcher wants to understand the cost efficacy of a drug or a treatment.This type of query assesses impact.