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How to plan a research project

The table below, adapted from Lieberman (2006), outlines 12 steps involved in planning a research project.

Resources & guidance
1. Ask a question See tab: Research question
2. Discuss with mentor & identify collaborators See tab: Collaborators
3. Review literature See tab: Literature review
4. Write hypothesis See tab: Hypotheses & aims
5. Define specific aim See tab: Hypotheses & aims
6. Review feasibility See tab: Research question
7. Study design & methods See page: Study Designs
8. Create a budget See page: Budgets & Funding
9. Develop protocol See page: Protocols
10. Explore funding sources See page: Budgets & Funding
11. Write research or grant proposals See page: Writing Proposals
12. Obtain ethics approval See page: Ethics Approval

Adapted from: Lieberman, D. (2006). Organizing and designing a research study: a 12-step approach. Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, 64(6), S2-S3.

To develop your research question:

  1. Evaluate any research ideas against the FINER criteria
  2. Formulate an answerable research question using a framework such as PICO(T)

The FINER criteria

Developed by Hulley at al. (2007), the FINER acronym stands for:

  • Feasible
  • Interesting
  • Novel
  • Ethical
  • Relevant

The table below -- adapted from Lopes et al. (2016) -- has questions to help you determine if your research meets each criterion, and strategies for addressing each. Click the image to view it full-size.

Adapted from: Creating a research idea: steps and challenges by F. O. A. Lopes et al. (2016)

Formulate a research question

Using a framework such as PICO(T) will help you to formulate a clear and answerable research question.

The Library's Literature Searching Guide includes guidance on developing a clinical question using PICO(T), as well as alternative question frameworks which may better suit your research topic.

Literature Searching Guide - Formulating a Question

Choosing a Research Question: Focusing the Research Question Part 2 (13 mins 10 secs)

This lecture by Dr John Powers is part of the Introduction to the Principles and Practice of Clinical Research (IPPCR) course by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). Access the full playlist via the tab "NIH Lectures".

Additional resources

Monash Health Research Repository

The Monash Health Research Repository (MHRR) tracks, organises, and promotes the work of Monash Health employees and hospital-based researchers. The repository collects a wide range of research outputs, including journal articles, books and book chapters, conference abstracts and posters, theses and dissertations. It is publicly accessible to a global audience. 

Find collaborators with the MHRR

The MHRR can help you find potential collaborators and/or supervisors in various ways. Click the links in the table below to explore.

Research Outputs

Search the MHRR with keywords on your research topic (e.g. sepsis, PIVC) to find relevant publications. Take note of which researchers authored key articles.

This will give you a sense of who at Monash Health is publishing, or has published, on your topic(s) of interest -- and who you might approach. 

Researcher Profiles

Visit a researcher's profile to find a list of their publications and key research interests.

Looking for a supervisor? Check to see if they have indicated that they are 'Available for supervision'.

Departments & Affiliations

View a Monash Health department's profile to find a list of their affiliated researchers.

E.g. if you are looking for imaging expertise, you could browse the Radiology profile to find affiliated researchers.

See the MHRR user guide for information on setting up a researcher profile, submitting your work, and advanced searching.

MHRR User Guide

REDCap is a secure web application that is specifically geared to support data capture for research studies. The Monash Health REDCap User Group is open to all Monash Health employees. The group stays in touch via a Teams chat, and can connect you with other active researchers across Monash Health.

Visit the group's SharePoint site for more information or contact the Library team.

Monash Health REDCap User Group

Literature review

Ensure that you have a thorough understanding of the existing body of knowledge in your research area. You can do this by conducting an effective literature search based on your research question.

The Library offers a wide range of support for searching the literature, from webinars and online guidance, to one-on-one research consultations and a literature search request service.

Literature Searching Guide

Overview of Library Research Support

Complete this online form to request research support and learn more about each service offered.

Request research support

Why do a literature search?

A literature search:

  • is an essential element of best practice research, even in fields with a relatively small body of literature
  • may identify one or more studies that you were not aware of
  • can prevent you from unknowingly duplicating another study, saving time and resources
  • provides a knowledge base that will help you with writing research proposals, ethics applications, and grant submissions
  • is necessary preparation for writing an original research article for publication in a peer-reviewed journal

You (or your supervisor) are likely to be familiar with many studies on your topic. This familiarity with previous research will aid your own; however, it is not a substitute for a comprehensive and up-to-date literature search.

Checking for in-progress studies

Note: This step is essential if you are planning a study that requires a significant investment of time and resources, such as a:

  • systematic review
  • meta-analysis
  • clinical trial

It often takes up to 18 months between beginning a study and publishing the results -- this can make it difficult to know if another researcher is already working on a study that is the same as the one you are planning. You can look for in-progress studies as part of your literature search.

Start by searching within:

Hypothesis writing in clinical research

Along with tips, this presentation includes a great example of developing a hypothesis. The slides were presented by Dr Joseph Coll as part of the Psycho-oncology Co-operative Research Group (PoCoG) from the University of Sydney.

Hypothesis writing in clinical research (PDF)

The research hypothesis: Role and construction

This book chapter by Phyllis G. Supino comes from Principles of Research Methodology. It offers a detailed explanation of types of hypotheses and approaches to generating a hypothesis.

The research hypothesis: Role and construction

Principles of Research Methodology (eBook)

Choosing a Research Question: Developing a Hypothesis and Objectives Part 3 (19 mins 8 secs)

This lecture by Dr John Powers is part of the Introduction to the Principles and Practice of Clinical Research (IPPCR) course by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). Access the full playlist via the tab "NIH Lectures".

Further reading

Consumer involvement in research

"Billions of dollars are lost annually in health research that fails to create meaningful benefits for patients. Engaging in research co-design – the meaningful involvement of end-users in research – may help address this research waste." (Slattery, Saeri & Bragge, 2020)

Review the below framework for information about partnering with consumers at Monash Health. This is a Prompt link that will only work onsite or via Citrix.

Consumer, Carer and Community Participation Framework

Visit the Monash Health Research page to view information for consumers interested in research.

Templates & toolkits

The Consumers Health Forum of Australia provides a free online toolkit. It covers methodology and topics such as communication strategies and recruitment.

Experience Based Co-Design Toolkit

File | NHMRC


The National Health and Medical Research Council's (NHMRC) statement on consumer and community involvement in research is a core document guiding health and medical research in Australia. The National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research 2023 also reflects a greater focus on consumer involvement than in previous versions.

Statement on consumer and community involvement in health and medical research

Research with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and communities

If your project will involve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and communities, refer to the below guidelines from the NHMRC. 

Ethical conduct in research with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and communities

Keeping research on track II

Consumer involvement in research - the power of partnerships (4 mins 56 secs)

This video from the Australian Clinical Trials Alliance features perspectives and advice from a PhD researcher and a consumer.

Further reading

NIH Lecture series

The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) provides free access to lectures from their course, Introduction to the Principles and Practice of Clinical Research (IPPCR), via their YouTube channel. Their IPPCR playlist has over 100 recorded lectures on topics such as:

  • Choosing a research question
  • Sample size and power
  • Introduction to clinical study design
  • Hypothesis testing
  • Randomisation
  • Quality management in clinical research
  • Research with vulnerable participants

How to navigate

  1. Click the button below to open the playlist.
  2. Scroll to find your topic(s) of interest. Some topics have multiple parts split across several videos.
  3. After opening a video, use the 'chapters' or 'Key moments' to jump to specific sections of the lecture. If you can't see these options, click 'Show more' in the description box underneath the video player.

YouTube playlist - IPPCR lectures

Introduction to Clinical Study Design: Where to Start Part 1 (15 mins 59 secs)

This introductory video from Dr Laura Lee Johnson discusses topics such as the question of interest, how analysis follows study design, and how a statistician sees a research study.

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