The research question

Too many studies done by clinical investigators are based on research questions which nobody really cares about, not even those investigators. This is often because they are driven by the need to get something – anything – published rather than by genuine scientific inquiry and the desire to fill a gap in the evidence base.

This approach can result in what editors and statisticians call a fishing expedition, leading to data dredging and analysis of multiple outcomes and, in turn, to false positive results (type I errors) and false negatives owing to lack of power (type II errors).

The research question should be stated clearly, along with an explanation of where it came from and why it is important.

Editors and peer reviewers look for signs of scientific method. They weigh up the importance, relevance, and originality of the research question and decide whether the right methods have been used to answer it.

This section was adapted from an article by Dr Trish Groves, BMJ’s Director of Academic Outreach.
Oral Diseases (2010) 16, 313-315.