Become familiar with the subject literature, authors, and most importantly, the methods.
Aim for knowledge gaps in the latest studies or systematic reviews ("future studies should...").
Formulate your research question
Identify the appropriate design to answer your question (see diagram below).
Identify what data you need to answer your question.
Select your data collection tools.
As a PhD student, it's crucial to understand that research ideas always—let me emphasize, always—stem from a deep and comprehensive understanding of the existing literature.
Your starting point should be immersing yourself in the latest scholarly papers, reviews, and articles in your field to identify the open questions with the potential for clinical impact. If you wish to deepen your intellectual arsenal, don't hesitate to delve into literature from interdisciplinary or even unrelated areas. Remember, groundbreaking ideas typically emerge in one of two ways:
a problem: either there are pressing problems desperately seeking someone with the right expertise to solve them, or
a tool: there are innovative tools or methodologies in search of the right problem to tackle.
So keep reading, keep questioning, and keep connecting the dots.
The research question, aim and objectives
When starting a new research project, it is important to develop a sound research question. This is a crucial step in the research process, as it will guide your research activity. Therefore, you should not rush to write an effective research question.
A properly written research question has several characteristics.
It should be clearly defined, and free of jargon.
The question should be sufficiently focused to steer your research to its logical conclusion. It should summarize an outstanding issue or problem you want to investigate through research-by a literature review or an experimental study or a theoretical exercise.
It must be addressed within your limited time frame and other available resources (e.g., money, equipment, assistants, etc.).
Major Steps to Write a Research Question
Often, you already have a broader subject that interests you. For example, say organismal biology. However, this alone will get you nowhere, whether you are a graduate student or professor writing for a grant. Following steps can help you to organize priorities.
Narrow down your broad idea to a topic that can be investigated (e.g., biodiversity maintenance). It is easier to do this if you follow your own curiosity and are passionate about a particular research question or problem.
Get a good and accurate feel for this general topic. Do some preliminary reading, on top of what you know already. Here, review papers are very helpful (note: these are not the same as meta-analyses!). Ask yourself, what has been done previously and more recently? How were these studies conducted? What hypotheses were tested? After some weeks at this, you should be able to identify key gaps in knowledge, i.e., new questions. You may also find conflicting evidence or inconsistencies in the literature. It is the time to revisit old questions again (i.e., do a replication).
This step is often the hardest. Here, you must refine the topic further — and “run with it”. This is sometimes a matter of taste or style. Other times it can be dictated by what is most logistically feasible to do. In worst cases, you follow a fad or are told by your supervisor what to do.
Wyatt J and Guly H (2002) 02 Identifying the research question and planning the project. Emergency medicine journal: EMJ 19(4): 318.
Writing the paper
Writing a research paper is an organized endeavor that often starts with a thorough exploratory data analysis and a careful examination of your results. Identify the most critical figure or table from your findings, which will serve as your narrative's cornerstone. In essence, you're writing the story of this figure or table. Before diving in, you should clearly understand the author list. Then, proceed in the following order:
Always start with a template or reporting guideline, Find it according to your study design here: https://www.goodreports.org/
0. Download the reporting guideline. Transform it in a template document. Keep the Headings and fill the requested information in this order:
Then, with the Methods section, leverage what you've already established in your research protocol.
Next, outline your Results, expanding upon the key figure or table.
Move on to the Discussion, synthesizing your findings and their implications.
Once the paper's core is robust, draft the Introduction to frame your study within the broader scientific context.
Write the Abstract, succinctly summarizing the key points of your paper. (abstract for systematic reviews)
Finally, craft a compelling Title that encapsulates your research.
As a last step, review and finalize your References.
By adhering to this structured approach, you'll increase the clarity and impact of your paper.
Tools I usually use during this process:
The peer-review process
The peer review process is essential for identifying weaknesses in your research paper. When you receive comments from reviewers, make sure to compile a list and address each point thoroughly. Integrating most of the feedback usually enriches the quality of your paper. It's acceptable to disagree with a reviewer, but if you choose to do so, be prepared to present a well-reasoned argument for not implementing the suggested change.
Extending the impact of your research
After your research paper is published, the work isn't over yet; it's crucial to disseminate your findings to reach the widest possible audience and make a lasting impact. Here's what you should consider doing post-publication:
Create a Twitter Thread: Break down your research into easily digestible pieces and share it in a Twitter thread. This will make it accessible to a broader audience, including those outside your specific field. Use relevant hashtags to maximize visibility.
Contact Your University's News Center: Your own institution is likely eager to spotlight faculty and student accomplishments. Provide them with a press release or an article summarizing your findings in layman's terms. They can help distribute this information through their networks.
Reach Out to Journalists: Contact journalists who cover your area of research. Prepare a short pitch explaining your research and why it's significant. Be ready to break down complex ideas into language that a general audience can understand. If your study has societal or practical implications, emphasize those.
Promote on LinkedIn: Share your work on LinkedIn, focusing on the problem you've solved. Use this platform to connect with professionals who might apply your research in a practical context. Attach the paper or a link to it, and use relevant keywords to make your post searchable.
Scientific writing and poster presentations
Writing (general): Equator-Network
Simera, I., Altman, D.G., 2013. Reporting medical research. Int. J. Clin. Pract. 67, 710–716.`
Gemayel, R., 2018. How to design an outstanding poster. FEBS J. 285, 1180–1184.
Fixing academic posters: the #BetterPoster approach: https://astrobites.org/2020/02/28/fixing-academic-posters-the-betterposter-approach/