Research: Things to think about early

Last updated: Monday, May 06, 2024

There are a number of questions to ask yourself before you begin your research in earnest:
1. Does it motivate me?  
Most pharmacists have multiple other responsibilities besides research, so it helps to select a subject that interests you in order to sustain your enthusiasm – particularly since some parts of the research process can be intense or time-consuming. If you have a choice, try and pick a project that stimulates you: maybe it's a topic you've always enjoyed, or perhaps you are excited by the potential clinical benefits.

2. Is there any earlier research on this subject?
Looking at research published by someone else before you start is essential. You can copy the methodology of others to help verify the findings in a different setting: all hospitals are different. This may add to the weight of evidence that helps to drive change. Alternatively, you may achieve quite different results which will demand explanation. Furthermore, any good published research will identify areas where the researchers saw room for improvement in their methodology or ways of broadening its application that you can adopt in your own research. This is not plagiarism – this is sound scientific method.

3. Who else do I need to help me?
Obviously, research needs to be carried out by competent people. Pharmacists have a broad scientific training, but you may find it valuable to enlist help from others e.g. a statistician, clinical expert, or academic. Going it alone is seldom an option and key players should be identified and 'won over' early in the life of a research idea. Research almost always takes longer than you think it will, so having buy-in from you line manager from the outset is also crucial for completion and success of the project. If you are a novice, try and get a more experienced colleague to act as a tutor or mentor.

4. How long will it take?  
Time can be a barrier to completing research, so make sure you establish a timetable with a start date and a finish date. These should be realistic. Completion dates are frequently determined by things like patient accrual rates, required sample size, and the nature of particular research methodologies. For example, it's quicker to send out twenty questionnaires than to interview twenty people.

5. Will I need money?
Money can be another barrier, but not all research needs cash. Clearly, an initial costing of the project, to get a ball-park figure, will indicate whether the project is within existing means, or whether funding will have to be sought. Organisations that might fund your research might include your employer, a local university, charities, NIHR, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society or Pharmacy Research UK.

6. What value might the results be? 
If your research idea is a good one and your methods are sound, then hopefully the results will be useful to the NHS. But if you can identify a definite potential value in advance this will be a helpful spur to your efforts. We touched on this in the introduction. Maybe your research will help to develop a new service or improve an existing one?

7. How will I share my findings? 
The endpoint of good research must be its wider dissemination, perhaps in the form of a report for internal consumption, a conference poster, or publication in a professional journal. Always aim to publish your research from the outset, because it helps to focus the mind on the right methodology.