13.3  Choosing which topic to research

Each topic that is proposed for research has to be judged according to certain guidelines or research criteria (Table 13.1). There may be several research projects to choose from and you need to be able to make a considered and logical choice of which one to proceed with. Before deciding on a research topic, each proposed topic must be compared with all other options. The guidelines or criteria below can help you in this decision making process.

Table 13.1  Criteria for selecting your research topic.
CriteriaQuestions to considerPossible responses
Relevance (importance)How large or widespread is the problem? Who is affected? How severe is the problem?If a possible research topic is not addressing a priority problem, it is not worthwhile researching it, so you should drop it from your list.
Avoidance of duplicationHas the topic been investigated before within the proposed study area, or in another area with similar conditions? Can you find answers to the problem in already available, published or unpublished information, or just by using your common sense? If so, you should drop the topic from your list.
Urgency of data needed (timeliness)How urgently are the results needed for making a decision or developing interventions? Consider which research should be done first and which can be done later.If the research can’t be done in time, then there is no point in doing it.
Political acceptabilityIn general it is advisable for you to research a topic that has the interest and support of the woreda authorities. This will increase the chance that the results of the study will be implemented. Avoid any topic which does not have the support of the relevant authorities.
FeasibilityConsider the complexity of the problem and the resources you will require to carry out your study. If you don’t have the manpower, time, equipment and money available, then don’t do the research.
Applicability of results and recommendationsWill your study be practically useful? If your research isn’t going to be useful, then don’t do it!
Ethical acceptabilityYou should always consider the possibility of inflicting harm on others while carrying out research. Always consider whether there are any relevant ethical issues to be concerned about. If you think the research isn’t ethical or might cause harm or disturbance then don’t do it.
  • Look carefully at Table 13.1. Why should you consider these criteria before you undertake any research in your locality?

  • Going through each element in the table will help you think carefully whether the research is practical and whether it is worth doing at all.

The criteria for selecting your research topic can be measured by using a research rating scale, as shown in Table 13.2. Although the scale suggests that each criterion can be given a numerical rating, these should be used with great caution. For example, if a research topic is not practical or not ethical, then it should not be undertaken even if it is relevant, urgent and avoids duplication with other studies. However, Table 13.2 may help you to decide which of the possible research topics on your list is a higher priority than others.

Table 13.2  Scale for rating research topics.
CriteriaScale for rating
Relevance1 = Not relevant to a priority health problem (don’t do it) 2 = Relevant 3 = Very relevant
Avoidance of duplication1 = Sufficient information already available (don’t do it) 2 = Some information available, but major issues not covered 3 = No sound information available on which to base your research
Urgency1 = Information not urgently needed (no need to do the research now) 2 = Information could be used right away, but a delay of some months would be acceptable 3 = Data needed very urgently for decision making
Political acceptability1 = Topic not acceptable to community members and/or woreda managers (don’t do it) 2 = Topic more or less acceptable to all stakeholders 3 = Topic fully acceptable
Feasibility1 = Study not feasible, considering available resources (don’t do it) 2 = Study feasible, considering available resources 3 = Study very feasible, considering available resources
Applicability1 = No chance of recommendations being implemented (don’t do it) 2 = Some chance of recommendations being implemented 3 = Good chance of recommendations being implemented
Ethical acceptability1 = Major ethical problems (don’t do it) 2 = Minor ethical problems 3 = No ethical problems

Now attempt Activity 13.1 below. You will need a pen or pencil and about 15 minutes to complete this activity.

Activity 13.1  Choosing a research topic in your own community

Select an important health problem in your community that has been identified by yourself and by others in your community as a priority for action. Use the research criteria in Table 13.2 to ‘rate’ this health problem and enter the details in the table below. A maximum score for any topic would be 21 points.

Topic/health problem:
Avoidance of duplication
Political acceptability
Ethical acceptability

Considering these criteria in more detail will hopefully help you to decide whether to go ahead with your proposed research topic. If you have several possible pieces of research, using a list of criteria like this should help you to decide which one to tackle first. You may want to repeat Activity 13.1 for one or two other health problems in your community so you can compare them. For example, if one of your selected health problems is reducing the cases of malaria in your community, and it scores 20 points, you can see that this is a higher priority than a topic that only scores 15 points. Remember that consideration of some criteria might mean that you should not do the research at all; for example, if you don’t have the necessary resources or if the outcomes are unlikely to be accepted, then do not research that topic at this time.

13.2.4  Community participation in prioritising health issues

13.4  Clarifying your research question