Why do we need research?
Participating in research
A lot of what we do in our daily lives is based on common sense, what we have learnt from others or what we have learnt through personal experience or observation. But sometimes common sense is not the best approach and sometimes there are conflicting theories about what is best or what works in a particular situation. Moreover, what works in one situation or for one condition might be ineffective or even dangerous in another, or when combined with other measures. Common sense approaches may overlook the impact of external factors which may contribute to what is observed. Even in the domain of healthcare, there are gaps in knowledge, theories about how something might work better and ideas for improvement.
As healthcare professionals cannot afford to take risks, research is needed. For clinical trials, this is even a legal requirement in that pharmaceutical companies cannot obtain marketing authorization (i.e. permission to sell their new drugs) until they have proved to the relevant authorities that the drug is safe and effective. They do this by performing a series of clinical trials.
Carefully organized and controlled research enables researchers to test and compare different theories and approaches, explore different methods and learn from other people’s experience. It also enables them to rule out or at least consider external factors which might influence their results. For example, before concluding that drinking green tea is good for X, Y or Z, it is important to ensure that the tea drinkers studied do not have something else (i.e. other than drinking green tea) in common such as being more physically active than non-tea drinkers or being vegetarians, which might equally explain the findings.
Another advantage to carrying out research is that for a lot of studies, the findings can be recorded numerically and then statistically analysed in order to determine whether the findings are significant (i.e. the extent to which it can be claimed with a specified degree of certainty that they are not just due to chance). With quantitative studies, the results can usually be generalised to the wider population (e.g. to people with dementia, carers, GPs or lay people in general, depending on the group studied). This is because measures would have been taken to ensure that the group of people who took part in the study were, as far as possible, representative of other people in that category.
The advantage to many qualitative studies is that they permit an in-depth investigation into a particular aspect of human experience. They give people the opportunity to explain in their own words how they feel, what they think and how they make sense of the world they live in. Whilst it is not possible to make generalisations about a wider group based on a small qualitative study, in some cases the results may be transferrable to other like situations or groups. However, the advantage to qualitative studies is that they provide rich, meaningful data and insight into the complexity of human experience with all its contradictions, differences and idiosyncrasies. Some address topics which have not previously been researched and may even deal with controversial, sensitive or taboo issues. Some studies also serve to give a voice to vulnerable or minority groups.
Last Updated: Friday 21 August 2009