Questionable Research Practices in Study Design

From The Embassy of Good Science

Questionable Research Practices in Study Design

What is this about?

Research practices that might be considered ‘questionable’ can occur at any point in the research process, from study design, through collaborations and data collection, to the reporting and dissemination of results. A list of major and minor research misbehaviours, categorised by when they occur during the research process, has been collaboratively developed by research integrity experts[1]. The list includes eight items specifically on study design.

  1. Bouter LM, Tijdink J, Axelsen N, Martinson BC, Ter Riet G. Ranking major and minor research misbehaviors: results from a survey among participants of four World Conferences on Research Integrity. Research Integrity and Peer Review. 2016 Dec 1;1(1):17.

Why is this important?

An appropriate, transparent, and meticulous study design is the foundation on which to build trustworthy, high quality research. Questionable practices related to study design include:

1.      Propose study questions which are clearly irrelevant [including questions that have already been or could be answered adequately by a systematic review of the literature]   

2.      Choose a clearly inadequate research design or using evidently unsuitable measurement instrument [which will not lead to a valid, reproducible and efficient answer to the main study question, taking  into account the state‐of‐the‐art in the field at issue]  

3.      Present grossly misleading information in a grant application

4.      Write no or a clearly inadequate research protocol  [in which essential details are lacking]   

5.      Ignore substantial safety risks of the study to participants, workers or environment  

6.      Ignore substantial risks of the expected findings for society or environment   

7.      Importantly change the research design during the study without disclosure  [or – if applicable‐ without permission of sponsor, Institutional Review Board or Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee]   

8.      Give insufficient attention to the equipment, skills or expertise which are essential to perform the study                            (From Bouter et al 2016[1]).

  1. Bouter LM, Tijdink J, Axelsen N, Martinson BC, Ter Riet G. Ranking major and minor research misbehaviors: results from a survey among participants of four World Conferences on Research Integrity. Research Integrity and Peer Review. 2016 Dec 1;1(1):17.

For whom is this important?

What are the best practices?

Pre-registration of study protocols enhances the transparency of the research process and lends credibility to results.

Other information