4 Health research

Health research overview

Health and medical research improves the health and wellbeing of people.

It is concerned with discoveries about:

  • how our bodies and minds function and how they respond to disease
  • the development of new drugs, procedures and therapies
  • influencing behaviour to improve health
  • making our health services more effective and efficient.

Source: Australian health and medical research.

Health research encompasses many disciplines and is undertaken in diverse settings, including hospitals, universities and the community.

Qualitative and quantitative research

When planning or critically appraising research papers, you need to consider how well the methods used to collect and analyse data support the researcher’s hypothesis or findings and how well it answers the research question. These methods are broadly categorised as Quantitative or Qualitative, or Mixed Methods (using both approaches).

The table below summarises the differences between the two approaches.

Qualitative versus quantitative research
Area Quantitative Qualitative
  • Experimental and statistical
  • Allows you to test a hypothesis
  • Naturalistic and interpretive; ethnographic and phenomenological
  • Allows you to formulate a hypothesis
  • Measure, test, predict and describe using statistics
  • (how much? how often?)
  • Rich descriptions of behaviours and realities
  • (explore what? why?)
  • Requires a large sample size
  • Experiments, surveys, questionnaires, large datasets, structured interviews and observations (recorded as numbers).
  • Requires the same question criteria for each participant
  • Generally a small sample size
  • Field research, case studies, open-ended interviews and observations.
  • Allows room for flexibility and follow-up
  • Generally expressed in numbers
  • Numerical or quantifiable
  • Generally expressed in words
  • Interviews, transcripts, notes, journal entries
Data analysis techniques
  • Statistical analysis
  • Textual analysis
  • Can be used to establish generalisable facts about a topic
  • Primarily exploratory research to explain or understand a topic


Translating research into practice (TRIP)

The creation of knowledge does not, of itself, lead to widespread implementation and positive impacts on health. The knowledge must be translated into changes in practice and policy for the benefits and impacts to flow.

Source: Research translation (NHMRC).

Translation science, also known as implementation science, is testing implementation interventions to improve uptake and use of evidence to improve patient outcomes and population health.

Source: Translation research in practice: An introduction.

Have a guess!

Learn more about implementing evidence into practice with the Implementation Science Research Directory, which includes digital resources such as the Queensland Health AH-TRIP online training.

Research ethics and governance

It is a requirement that all health research be conducted in an ethical manner.

UQ’s Ethics, integrity and compliance webpage explains the processes UQ researchers must follow when conducting their research.

Reviews and other types of research

There are many different types or methods of research used in health, ranging from a traditional literature review to a meta-analysis.

When reporting research, you can adopt a standard approach for undertaking, writing and publishing your research. For example, the EQUATOR Network provides reporting guidelines for different study types.

The word review may mean different things. Literature reviews range from narrative or traditional literature reviews to systematic reviews, scoping reviews or systematic quantitative reviews.

Literature reviews guide
Explains different types of literature reviews and the difference between literature reviews and systematic reviews.

Systematic reviews guide
Provides an overview of systematic reviews and resources to support producing one.

Systems, tools and techniques to support health research

The research process has many facets. These include finding, using and managing information and data, using research software tools, disseminating your research outputs, as well as complying with institutional and government requirements.

We provide guides for researchers on key tools and systems and how to use them:

  • UQ eSpace is UQ’s institutional repository to keep your research output and research data profile up to date.
  • UQ Research Data Manager stores and manages research data for research projects for UQ HDR students and staff.
  • Digital Research Notebooks can be requested and use a notebook to store, organise, curate and share all your project’s research data and research notes for UQ HDR students and staff.

Research techniques
How to find, analyse and visualise research information and data, including data visualisation, text mining and text analysis and using NVivo in systematic reviews.

How to find
Techniques and resources to find specific information formats, including research data, statistics, grey literature and government information.

Finding data and statistics

Before you start searching for research data, you must define the data you are looking for. This will help focus your search and the sources you use. It means not only considering your research discipline, but also the nature of data you require. For example:

  • the variables required
  • geographical location
  • timeframes
  • frequency of data collection
  • the data analysis tools you will use.

Sources of data include government websites, data catalogues, data directories and institutional repositories. Before you start searching determine whether you need data or statistics. It can also help you decide if you have found suitable data for your research.

Decorative Data versus statistics

Statistics are the results of data analysis – its interpretation and presentation, whereas data is the individual items of factual information that have been recorded.

Data versus statistics has further information.

Research data

Research data guide
Explains how to evaluate data, steps to take to search for data and provides many links to data sources.

Data visualisation guide
Explains the basics of data visualisation and tools to help you work with and display your research data.


Statistics guide
Helps find reference resources, books, journal articles, census data and websites related to statistics.

Key sources for Australian statistics

Key sources for international statistics


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Health Information and Research Essentials Copyright © by The University of Queensland is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.