Integrated Primary & Secondary Research
Step 1: Define your research topic and question
- Start with a thorough literature review
- Ensure that the research question has clinical or policy relevance and is based on sound a priori reasoning. A good question is what makes a study good, not a large sample size
- Be flexible to adapt your question to the strengths and limitations of the potential datasets
Step 2: Select a dataset
- Use a resource such as the Society of General Internal Medicine’s Online Compendium
- To increase the novelty of your work, consider selecting a dataset that has not been widely used in your field or link datasets together to gain a fresh perspective
- Factor in the complexity of the dataset
- Factor in dataset cost and time to acquire the actual dataset
- Consider selecting a dataset your mentor has used previously
Step 3: Get to know your dataset
- Learn the answers to the following questions:
- Why does the database exist?
- Who reports the data?
- What are the incentives for accurate reporting?
- How are the data audited, if at all?
- Can you link your dataset to other large datasets?
- Read everything you can about the database
- Check to see if your measures have been validated against other sources
- Get a close feel for the data by analyzing it yourself or closely reviewing outputs if someone else is doing the programming
Step 4: Structure your analysis and presentation of findings in a way that is clinically meaningful
- Think carefully about the clinical implications of your findings
- Be cautious when interpreting statistical significance (i.e., p-values). Large sample sizes can yield associations that are highly statistically significant but not clinically meaningful
- Consult with a statistician for complex datasets and analyses
- Think carefully about how you portray the data. A nice figure sometimes tells the story better than rows of data
This page contains materials taken from:
Smith, A.K., Ayanian, J.Z., Covinsky, K.E. et al. Conducting High-Value Secondary Dataset Analysis: An Introductory Guide and Resources. J GEN INTERN MED 26, 920–929 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11606-010-1621-5