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Types of Research. Is it an observational or experimental study?

Types of Research. Is it an observational or experimental study?

In an era of evidence-based practice, regardless of the field, research is the fulcrum. The fourth industrial revolution has increased the speed at which false information spreads. Yet, valuable research remains in the corridors of academicians and policymakers since we write it in a language that the top elites understand. On our website, we report on various ground-breaking research findings for the general audience. However, there are terms that we cannot avoid when disseminating information from research papers. Several types of research exist and confer different messages. They also have different strengths and weaknesses when policymakers draft guidelines about a topic of national or international importance. Because our readers come from all corners of life, we’ve decided to demystify some of the pertinent features in epidemiology and statistics that scientists use to convey their information such that you enjoy the reading. In our inaugural article, let’s discuss the different types of research.

Research is the study of materials and sources to establish facts and reach new conclusions. It can be in any field of science – not only medicine and public health. After concluding, they can publish the data in renowned journals like the Lancet, AAAS, Pan African medical journal, New England Journal of Medicine, Nature and others. The aim is to educate the community about a disputed fact and draw policies that govern daily practice. From fiscal policy, engineering, nutrition to medical practice. No policy sees the light of day without evidence. Research provides the attestation.

Scientists conduct several research studies in two forms: observational and experimental studies.

In observational studies, the participants have specific features of interest that researchers observe and describe. The participants neither receive any treatment or intervention. Besides the observation, it’s business as usual. An observational study can be a case study, case-control series, cross-sectional, or cohort study. An example of an observational study is the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study.

In experimental studies, participants receive a prespecified treatment or intervention. Based on the nature of the study, health care workers cannot continue with routine care: they must act as the study design necessitates. Two or more groups of participants exist. They then receive different treatment of intervention plans, and researchers follow them according to the study design. The aim is to compare them and draw specific conclusions. Experimental studies exist to remove bias on particular treatments or interventions. If such a study involves humans, we then call it a trial, say the NADIA trial. The trials take on a different format.  They can have independent concurrent controls, self-controls, external controls, or uncontrolled altogether.

When experts cannot draw tactile conclusions about a topic of interest from a single study or trial – either because the available data is limited or the studies available used small sample sizes. They can garner these studies and conduct a meta-analysis. In other circumstances, one meta-analysis isn’t compelling enough; they can then review all the available literature. The results constitute a systematic review.

In our next article, we talk about observational studies in more detail. Don’t forget to share on various social media platforms.


Dr A. M. Ssekandi is a medical officer, researcher, content creator, author, and founder of He does private practice with a public touch. He is a certified digital marketer. He has earned certificates in Understanding Clinical Research and Writing in Sciences from the University of Cape Town and Stanford University respectively. He also has a certificate of Good Clinical Practice from

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