Magic Mirror, on the Wall—Which Is the Right Study Design of Them All?—Part I

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The assessment of a new or existing treatment or intervention typically answers 1 of 3 research-related questions: (1) “Can it work?” (efficacy); (2) “Does it work?” (effectiveness); and (3) “Is it worth it?” (efficiency or cost-effectiveness). There are a number of study designs that on a situational basis are appropriate to apply in conducting research. These study designs are classified as experimental, quasi-experimental, or observational, with observational studies being further divided into descriptive and analytic categories. This first of a 2-part statistical tutorial reviews these 3 salient research questions and describes a subset of the most common types of experimental and quasi-experimental study design. Attention is focused on the strengths and weaknesses of each study design to assist in choosing which is appropriate for a given study objective and hypothesis as well as the particular study setting and available resources and data. Specific studies and papers are highlighted as examples of a well-chosen, clearly stated, and properly executed study design type.

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