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Writing a Research Protocol. Michael Aronica MD Program Director Internal Medicine-Pediatrics. Assumptions. You already have a research question or problem Have already searched, read and critically appraised the literature. Title Purpose Introduction Hypothesis Setting(s)

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Writing a research protocol

Writing a Research Protocol

Michael Aronica MD

Program Director

Internal Medicine-Pediatrics


  • You already have a research question or problem

  • Have already searched, read and critically appraised the literature

Research protocol outline







External Validity


Dependent Variable

Independent Variables

Operational Hypothesis

Data Collection

Sample Size

Data Analysis

Time Table


Research Protocol Outline


  • Patients

  • Intervention

  • Comparison

  • Outcome(s)


  • Accurate

  • Relevant

  • Succinct

  • Use your PICO framing to make specific


  • A general statement of the purpose of the research

  • A series of specific aims

    • To describe….

    • To compare…

    • To determine to effect of…


  • Briefly justify the study in terms of existing information and the importance of the question.

  • 3 paragraphs

    • Why is topic important?

      • Why should I care; hook

    • What are the gaps in the literature?

      • Transition: the gap you will address

    • What is your study purpose?

      • Can include hypotheses or questions


  • Rephrase the purpose of the study in terms of the existing information and the importance of the question.

    • Specific “If-Then statement.

  • A statement about the relationship between two variables that is designed to answer a research question. Identify the direction of the relationship using terms such as greater than, less than, positively, or negatively.

    • The strength of a person’s spiritual convictions is positively related to their health

  • The second feature of a research hypothesis is that it must be testable. Essentially, hypotheses testing the relationship between variables requires observation, measurement, and analysis.

    • Valid indicators would be needed for measuring spiritual convictions and health.

Outline for a research protocol
Outline for a Research Protocol

  • Settings

    • Where will the research be done?

  • Subjects

    • Who will be in the study?

    • Inclusion Criteria: characteristics of potential subjects that contribute to the success of a study.

    • Exclusion Criteria: characteristics of potential subjects that may confuse, confound or invalidate results. By eliminating these subjects, the researcher can control some of the variability.

External validity
External Validity

  • To whom will your findings be generalizable?

  • The degree to which your sample’s findings will hold true to which population.


  • Study design you have chosen to use

    • Experimental

    • Cohort

    • Cross-sectional

    • Case-control study

    • Include some discussion to showthat this is the preferred design for your purpose.

Dependent variable
Dependent Variable

  • Usually the health outcome(s) that you are studying

  • What type of variable

    • Continuous

    • Catagorical/dichotomous

Independent variables
Independent Variables

  • Risk factors, casual factors, experimental treatment, and other relevant factors

  • Potential confounders

    • Age

    • Gender

    • Race

    • SES

    • Severity of Illness

  • Determined by literature search or experts

Operational hypothesis
Operational Hypothesis

  • Rephrase the purpose of the study as a series of comparative questions

  • Usually a statistical hypothesis

    • Eg. The mean bone density loss is greater in adolescents on Depo-Provera that those on BCP’s

    • ‘Mean loss’ operationalizes decreased bone density

  • Different from the null hypothesis

Data collection
Data Collection

  • How and by whom?

  • Prepare detailed protocol so that every step can be easily replicated by someone else.

    • Physiological or Biological Measurement

    • Observational Methods

    • Interviews and Questionnaires

      • scripts for structured interviews

      • formally constructed questionnaires

    • Records or available data

Data collection1
Data Collection

  • Include sample questionnaires or other data collection forms (instruments)

  • For Quantitative studies:

    • the measures should be objective

    • approach should be systematic

      • same questions or data in the same order

  • Two properties of instruments are important

    • Validity: how well do the data reflect reality?

    • Reliability: how well do results compare if the instrument is applied more than once?

Sample size
Sample Size

  • Calculations and the assumptions on which they are made.

    • Alpha: the probability of a Type I error.

      • Usually set at .05

      • Alpha errors are like false alarms: you think you’re on to something, but you’re really not. your result is a false positive

    • Beta: the probability of a Type II error.

      • Usually set at .2

      • Beta errors are false negatives; there really is an effect in the real world, but the study missed it.

  • Also need to know the baseline characteristic of your sample (eg prevalence) and the clinically significant change you are trying to measure

  • Online power calculators

Data analysis
Data Analysis

  • Outline a strategy for analysis

  • A detailed list of statistical procedures is not necessary.

    • Parametric vs non-parametric

    • Continuous outcomes vs dichotomous outcomes

    • Continuous variables va categorical variables

  • Your strategy should indicate how you will test each operational hypothesis.

  • Discuss confounding and any other means for controlling bias.

    • Stratifying

    • Regression

Time table
Time Table

  • Plan for accomplishing each step of the study

  • Help to organize the structure of a research program

  • Can assist in keeping on schedule and avoiding “costly” delays

  • Are especially important in residency-based research due to deadlines

  • Present in table format


  • Not necessary for IRB submissions

  • Will be needed for institutional or other grants

  • Know what the award is for and what are the constraints.