Introduction to Research


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Research is the process of asking a question and finding the answer in a structured way. Any process of finding an answer to a question is a form of research, but a research project (known as a study) will often look for a new way of doing something, what different people do or think, or which option out of many is the best.

The way that research is done will play a big part in whether or not its answers (also called results or findings) can be trusted. Research that is carefully planned and that follows a strict method will be more trustworthy than one that is unplanned and disorganised.

The focus and purpose of a research study can be almost anything. A lot of research looks to discover something new, to try a new way of doing something, or even to test if something is still true.

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Research in the NHS and social care

Research studies are carried out in many settings such as GP practices, pharmacies, hospitals, care homes, and community centres. One major source of research funding in the UK is the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), which is part of the NHS.

The discovery of new treatments is only possible because people volunteer their time to discuss their experiences and try out potential new treatments.

Why do we do research and how is it used?

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Everyone benefits from research studies. Research teams work together with patients and carers to provide high-quality evidence on the best treatments and practice in health and social care.

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Patients, carers, service users, health (and social) care professionals all use this evidence to help make decisions about treatments and care.

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Research helps us improve and provide the best possible care for patients and carers by looking at safe, effective ways to help prevent illness, provide better treatments, and improve services.

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The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) develop guidance for health and social care activities, which is used by health care professionals, patients, and carers to find the best ways to treat different conditions.

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When new, good-quality research shows a different treatment is better than the current one, NICE will update their guidance so that future patients and carers can benefit from the updated treatment.

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Research is valuable even if the findings suggest that a new treatment or process is not the best option - it is as helpful to know what doesn't work as well as what does work.

Research takes a long time, and it can take even longer for a new activity or treatment to become available to patients.

Participants themselves may not benefit from the results of a study, but without the selfless volunteering of participants, progress would stop and care could not improve for future patients.

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Find out more about research funded by the NHS

The NHS's research funding is distributed by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR). The results of any studies done with NHS funds must be made publicly available in easy-to-read summaries.

NIHR Evidence is where the results are presented in high quality summaries, making research informative, accessible, relevant, and ready to use for all.

Explore NIHR Evidence at and on Twitter at @NIHRevidence.