Designing Designs for Research
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In epidemiology, researchers are interested in measuring or assessing the relationship of exposure with a disease or an outcome. As a first step, they define the hypothesis based on the research question and then decide which study design will be best suitable to answer that question. How the investigation is conducted by the researcher is directed by the chosen study design. The study designs can be broadly classified as experimental or observational based on the approach used to assess whether exposure and an outcome are associated. Being able to control various aspects of the experimental study design enables the researchers to identify causal links between interventions and outcomes of interest. In several instances, an experimental study design may not be feasible or suitable; in such situations, observational studies are conducted. Observational studies, as the name indicates, involve merely observing the patients in a non-controlled environment without actually interfering or manipulating with other aspects of the study and therefore are non-experimental.
How to create a research design
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The study designs can be thought of as a pyramid. Case control studies are the first articles published on new topics so they make up the base of the pyramid. As we progress up the pyramid, the studies become more evidence-based and less numerous. Meta-Analyses are at the top of the pyramid because they can only be written after much other research has been done on a topic. There are many fewer of them but they offer very strong evidence.