Research glossary of terms

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Last Update

  • Updated.jpg 5 November 2016


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  • Bias is the deviation of results from the truth due to the way in which a study is conducted


  • When groups that have been randomly selected from a population do not know whether they are in the control group or the experimental group.

Campbell Collaboration

  • According to the Campbell Collaboration website, "...the Campbell Collaboration (C2) helps people make well-informed decisions by preparing, maintaining and disseminating systematic reviews in education, crime and justice, and social welfare."

Cochrane Collaboration

  • According to the Cochrane Collaboration website "...The Cochrane Collaboration is an international network of more than 28,000 dedicated people from over 100 countries. We work together to help healthcare providers, policy-makers, patients, their advocates and carers, make well-informed decisions about health care, by preparing, updating, and promoting the accessibility of Cochrane Reviews – over 5,000 so far, published online in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, part of The Cochrane Library. We also prepare the largest collection of records of randomised controlled trials in the world, called CENTRAL, published as part of The Cochrane Library."

Confounding & confounding variables

  • When an exposure and an outcome are both strongly associated with a third variable. Variables that cause/prevent an outcome from occurring outside of or along with the variable being studied. These variables render it difficult or impossible to distinguish the relationship between the variable and outcome being studied.

Critical appraisal

  • Critical appraisal is the use of explicit methods to assess published research through the application of rules of evidence to factors such as internal validity, reporting standards, conclusions and generalizability of findings. Critical appraisal is central to the systematic review process, and used in evidence-based health care to assist in clinical decision-making

Effect size

  • A statistical measure of the impact of a treatment (or intervention) on a given population usually measured against a control (e.g., placebo)

Exclusion criteria

  • The criteria used to exclude patients from a clinical study; also, used in the systematic review after searching to exclude research papers

Grey literature

  • Grey literature is defined as reports not published or indexed in the regular information channels

Inclusion criteria

  • The criteria used to include patients in a clinical study; criteria must be defined objectively and clearly so that anyone replicating the study can reproduce patient inclusion decisions precisely


  • A meta-analysis is an objective, analytical research methodology that will pool results from key clinical studies after the completion of a thorough systematic review

Narrative review

  • A narrative review summarizes the literature on a topic without generating pooled data a meta-analysis. This type of review provides a comprehensive overview of a topic rather than addressing a specific question such as how effective a treatment is for a particular condition. Narrative reviews do not report on how the search for literature was carried out or how it was decided which studies were relevant.

Null hypothesis

  • That the relationship between the independent and dependent variables the researchers believe they will prove through conducting a study does not exist. To “reject the null hypothesis” is to say that there is a relationship between the variables.


  • P-value shows the likelihood of an outcome occurring by chance. A widely accepted threshold p value is .05 i.e. If the p value is less than .05, the observed result is said to be statistically significant, and there is 95% certainty that the outcome did not occur by chance

PICO model

  • The PICO model stands for patient, intervention, comparison, outcome and can be used for the development of a literature search strategy and for clinical question development


  • Protocols are documents that plan a clinical trial; generally, a predefined written procedural method of conducting a clinical trial

Publication bias

  • A publication bias is a bias that arises from an over-representation of significant or positive studies in systematic reviews


Research is defined differently by different disciplines but is perhaps best understood by a number of key characteristics. First of all, research will often follow a structured, systematic and formal process which can be be replicated or designed specifically to solve complex local problems or to uncover new facts and relationships within a given context (Waltz and Bausell, 1981). As such, research is the process of seeking reliable answers to questions in an organized and objective way. (Payton, 1979). Research may be a controlled, empirical and critical investigation of hypothetical propositions (Kerlinger, 1973); it seeks to find the truth through study, observation, comparisons and experimentation. Searching for knowledge (often called objective truth) through systematic methods is a critical part of the research process (Kothari, 2006). Many of the definitions available suggest a link between good research which is systematic and well-designed studies which are directed towards objectively investigating problems.

Scoping review

  • A scoping review (also scoping study) refers to a rapid gathering of literature in a given policy or clinical area where the aims are to accumulate as much evidence as possible in a short time-frame and map the results

Search question

  • The search question is a reframing of the PICO model as an answerable clinical question


  • Sensitivity is the proportion of patients with a disease who are correctly identified as having that disease by a diagnostic test. If a test has a sensitivity of 90%, this means that it correctly identifies 90% of those with the disease but misses 10% (these people were ‘false negatives’ on the test).


  • Specificity is the proportion of people without a disease who are correctly identified as not having that disease by the diagnostic test.

Systematic review

  • A systematic review is a synthesis of the medical research on a particular subject; the SR uses thorough search methods and includes all or as much as possible of the research on the topic.
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