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Effective research: a discussion of essential elements.

As a researcher involved in collaborative projects in neuronal plasticity in sensory systems supported by NH&MRC Research Grants and in research in teaching in the area of virtual microscopy supported by an ALTC Grant, I would like to convey to ATMS members some of the main elements involved in conducting effective research. I feel that the best way to convey this discussion is in point form. The information supplied is based on my own experience as well as discussions with research colleagues.

Effective research should commence with a specific question that ideally should, when answered, add to a body of knowledge, solve a problem or offer new insight into an issue. In my experience, the question should be fairly simple in order to be quite certain that one can achieve an outcome. The question should encompass the main concepts of the research to be undertaken. Researchers can become too ambitious and subsequently find that the time scale of the project is not manageable. A research question should not lead to too many variables in the design of the project because excessive variables can lead to criticism about the validity of the project. It may seem frustrating to spend time obtaining a good research question but in the long run it will provide the project with direction.

One should examine the target audience in order to focus the project on those who have a particular interest in the outcome of the research. This is especially significant in natural therapies as there is a considerable variety of modalities and the project may bridge several of these.

Another important element before commencing a research topic is to undertake a literature review which should reveal how much is already known about the topic and also narrow the area of research especially if one is dealing with a very broad area of interest. Ideally, a comprehensive literature review should attempt to avoid duplication of research.

Effective research should convey clear aims and methodology, which includes an examination of reliable data collection and an adequate sample size so that the data analysis becomes statistically meaningful. A small sample can lead to conclusions which are not statistically relevant and are unreliable. One should also examine the availability of resources within budget constraints such as easy access to participants, the type of equipment required, the involvement of organizations, the types of procedures to be followed in the data analysis, etc.

Ethical considerations are very important and essential in developing a research project. For example, protecting the confidentiality of participants, maintaining the strict codes of practice outlined by professional organizations and avoiding plagiarism. Before commencing a research project, one should always investigate if ethics approval is required.

The results of the project should be able to withstand critical scrutiny in order to support important elements such as reliability and validity, which allow for replication of the research. Conclusions should remain within the justification of the data and avoid sweeping statements which cannot be substantiated.

Other elements of good research are to be passionate in order to gain an understanding in a particular area of interest and to have a strong commitment to objectivity and logical reasoning which enhances the ability of good decision-making both at the instigation of, and during the course of, the project.

Collaboration is another area, which should be explored as it enables people of different backgrounds and views to add unique aspects to the research topic. For instance, a research project in natural therapies may be enhanced by the inclusion and subsequent experiences of a massage therapist, naturopath, and acupuncturist. In many ways, this multimodal investigation to a research question can only serve to enrich the conclusions derived. In collaborative research a management plan is important in order to clarify individual responsibilities for the project and to appoint a person who is responsible for its overall co-ordination. In my experience, the principal researcher is usually responsible for the latter task. In collaborative research feedback (from within the group and external to it) is vital for examining elements of the project which have been achieved, determining if there is a need for a change in focus and envisaging future directions.

In summary, these are by no means all the elements of effective research but based on my experience they are some of the main ones. Although it may seem daunting at first, following the guidelines presented in this article will encourage effective research which is more likely to be published in a reputable refereed journal.

Patrick de Permentier BSc (Hons), UNSW MSc (Research), UNSW, Grad Cert H Ed (UNSW), Diploma Remedial Massage (NSW School of Therapeutic Massage)

Lecturer, Anatomy Department, School of Medical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, UNSW. Lecturer in Anatomy and Physiology, NSW School of Massage, Sydney. ATMS Member's Representative, Council member ANZACA (Australian and New Zealand Association of Clinical Anatomists), Member ANS

(Australian Neuroscience Society)
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Author:de Permentier, Patrick
Publication:Journal of the Australian Traditional-Medicine Society
Date:Jun 1, 2011
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