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Research Study Design

Research Study Design

Nursing Research, Step By Step, from: American Journal of Nursing

This series coordinated by the Heilbrunn Family Center for Research Nursing at Rockefeller University is designed to give nurses the knowledge and skills they need to participate in research, step by step. Each column will present the concepts that underpin evidence-based practice—from research design to data interpretation. Some articles are accompanied by a podcast offering more insight and context from the author. Articles from the series are listed below.


This article focuses on how to start the research process by identifying a topic of interest and developing a well-defined research question.

This article is an introduction to designing study eligibility criteria and recruiting study participants. 

This column continues with a discussion of sampling design and includes a consideration of probability and nonprobability sampling methodologies.

In this article, we explore measurement in quantitative research. We will also consider the concepts of validity and reliability as they relate to quantitative research measurement.

This column continues the discussion of outcome measures, focusing on questionnaire formats and guidelines for selecting and administering these measures in clinical research.

This article describes one type of observational study, the cross-sectional study, examining its strengths and weaknesses and discussing methods for reporting the study results.

This article describes prospective (following a group from the present into the future) and retrospective (studying a group from the past through to the present) cohort designs, examines their strengths and weaknesses, and discusses methods for reporting the study results. 

Like cohort studies, case–control studies connect a health outcome with a specific exposure, allowing researchers to compare the association between the two. Here, we compare cohort and case–control studies, discuss the selection of cases and controls, describe how one might evaluate whether an association exists between them, and outline potential sources of bias. We end by discussing when a case–control study might be appropriate.

This article discusses the alignment of research goals with secondary data sources, explores sources of publicly available secondary data that might be of interest to nurse researchers, and outlines the costs and benefits of using secondary data.

This article reviews the use of diagnostic and screening tests and tools in nursing research and clinical practice.

This article provides an introduction to qualitative methods in nursing research.

This article, one in a series on clinical research by nurses, explores the rich tradition of interpretive qualitative research practices, including phenomenology, grounded theory, ethnography, and case study

This article focuses on understanding causal inferences and methods for improving their use in observational studies.

This article describes the process of selecting the intervention, choosing experimental and control groups, determining study outcomes, and applying blinding and randomization.

This article describes the development of a research study from research question to empirical strategy.

This article focuses on hypothesis testing—and outlines the following five elements: (1) stating the null and alternative hypotheses, (2) calculating the appropriate test statistic, (3) interpreting the P value of the test statistic, (4) assessing statistical significance, and (5) interpreting the results.

Randomized clinical trials are among the highest levels of evidence researchers can use in evaluating new therapeutics or interventions. Besides classic parallel, two-group comparisons between an experimental condition and a control, another type of randomized trial is the cluster randomized trial. This study design helps evaluate the usefulness of an intervention at the population or public health level.

Building on previous articles in this series on sampling design1 and hypothesis testing, the current installment describes how to determine an appropriate sample size for a quantitative research project, and introduces the concepts of error, power, and effect size.

This article addresses the distinction between parameters and statistics; reviews sample populations, general populations, and validity; and defines descriptive and inferential statistics.

This article discusses the role and origins of the institutional review board, the independent research ethics committee that approves or denies research involving human subjects.


More articles on research study design:

Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine. (n.d.). Study designs. 

This short article from the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, University of Oxford, gives a brief guide to the different study types and a comparison of the advantages and disadvantages.