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Year : 2017  |  Volume : 4  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 77-78

Research for dissertations: No need any more to dig graves…

Department of Community Medicine, Dr. D Y Patil Vidyapeeth, Dr. D. Y. Patil Medical College, Hospital and Research Centre, Pune, Maharashtra, India

Date of Web Publication15-Feb-2018

Correspondence Address:
Amitav Banerjee
Department of Community Medicine, Dr. D Y Patil Vidyapeeth, Dr. D. Y. Patil Medical College, Hospital and Research Centre, Pune, Maharashtra
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/jdrr.jdrr_7_18

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How to cite this article:
Banerjee A. Research for dissertations: No need any more to dig graves…. J Dent Res Rev 2017;4:77-8

How to cite this URL:
Banerjee A. Research for dissertations: No need any more to dig graves…. J Dent Res Rev [serial online] 2017 [cited 2023 Mar 29];4:77-8. Available from: https://www.jdrr.org/text.asp?2017/4/4/77/225635

Most senior academics will recall the days of a bygone era when we struggled with our postdoctoral dissertations. Some of us are guides today trying to come to terms with the internet-driven information highway while mentoring postgraduate students who are more net savvy than us.

Before the advent of the internet, we had to manually search the literature, right from choosing the title (now renamed “research question”), to review of literature and so on.

The first hurdle was choosing the topic. We would be directed to the musty interiors of the library, the graveyard of old dissertations. We were not supposed to repeat a topic which had been researched in the last 3 years. We would search this graveyard, digging, to exhume old dissertations, dress them up again, and bury it into another grave. That was the fate of most dissertations those days. Nobody, except a batch of future postgraduates, would ever read them. A dissertation was considered a “passport” to appear in the examination. Publications from dissertation were few. Review of literature was like a treasure hunt. With the keywords, clues to the treasure, we would search the “Index Medicus” for leads to publications in archived bound journals. Once located, we had to manually take notes as photocopying facilities were not available.

The rapid evolution of the information superhighway driven by the internet has changed the rules of the game. Dissertations are no longer buried. Research publications are expected from the thesis work which if published in open access goes in the public domain. Universities insist on soft copies of the work and plagiarism check certificates. Some universities even put up the dissertations in the public domain. Therefore, digging graves does not serve the purpose. Plagiarism check software would pick up recycled content.

This has made many postgraduate guides and reviewers of proposals extra cautious while approving the topic for research. Some of the old beliefs of not repeating a topic at any cost linger on. Reviewers and guides tend to reject any topic outright which might have been researched earlier without going into the subtleties of the proposal.

The internet enables rapid and thorough review of literature. Digital search with the help of PubMed and other search engines has replaced manual search using Index Medicus. The vast reach that search engines enable implies that articles on most topics could be easily retrieved.

As a consequence, whatever topic the postgraduate student selects, internet search more often than not would reveal that research on that topic has been carried out. Does that mean the topic should not be pursued further? The succeeding paragraphs discuss how prior research can be the starting point for a new researcher to travel further.

The research process is tedious and slow. Paradigm change is incremental and not sudden. It is more “drift” than “shift.” Ideas continuously keep refining as more researches on the same topic are carried out in different populations. A research is not buried prematurely. It is available on the internet to be retrieved by prospective researchers to either carry the work forward or confirm it.

How to refine previous research? If the researcher chooses a topic in which prior research has been carried out, which is more likely to be the case than not, the following points should convince the reviewer of the novelty of the proposed work.

First, the background of the chosen topic such as the public health burden in terms of morbidity or treatment challenges and cost will put things in context. These statements should be supported by references. The research question should flow logically from these considerations.

Second, one should then present an overview of recent studies carried out addressing this research question. This short overview should be synthetic rather than pedantic.[1] It should sum up the consensus or controversies rather than just narrating findings of previous studies.

The next step is using this synthetic review of earlier studies to identify any residual issues related to the research question. One should try to pick up the thread from these residues. These may be in the form of limitations such as small sample size, un-representative sample, nonavailability of state-of-the-art techniques or materials, measurement errors, and less rigorous study designs. All these limitations or controversies in earlier research should be summarized in an objective way. Usually, this robust review with a summary of limitations or controversies in prior studies is found lacking in a proposal prepared by a novice researcher.

Finally, the prospective researcher should explain in what way the proposed research overcomes some of the limitations of earlier studies or resolves few of the controversies generated by earlier studies. This is the gist of the new message the study promises to offer. It should also be the criterion for a study to qualify as original research.

There may be occasions where it may be difficult to identify limitations or controversies in prior research. Or even if they are identified, the proposed study may be unable to overcome them. One should keep in mind the limited resources in terms of time, materials, and participants. In such situations, it is perfectly in order to replicate prior studies. Properly carried out replication studies also serve a useful purpose for the following reasons.

Recently, there are concerns that because of the messy nature of empirical research, most published findings may be false.[2] This may not solely be due to lack of integrity but because of issues such as selection, measurement, and confounding biases, or just by chance. To overcome this problem, there is a strong consensus to have more replication studies, i.e., studies which try to confirm findings of previous research.[3] As a scientific activity, confirming or refuting earlier work is an important research contribution.

Lastly, replication of earlier studies also provides inputs for a systematic review or meta-analysis, i.e., an approach to explore the totality of evidence on a given research question.[4]

When approving or reviewing dissertations of postgraduate students, we should keep in mind that the work is not of an experienced scientist with unlimited resources but that of a novice researcher. Research work nowadays are not buried prematurely in dark corners of musty libraries but have increased longevity, perhaps touching eternity due to internet-enabled information sharing and digital archiving. Over the years, a particular research issue matures and refines itself as different researchers add individual contributions to the general pool of evidence. The research issue never dies. No need any more to dig graves for dead and buried research.

  References Top

Browner WS. Introduction. In: Presenting and Publishing Clinical Research. 3rd ed. New Delhi: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2012. p. 21-6.  Back to cited text no. 1
Ioannidis JP. Why most published research findings are false. PLoS Med 2005;2:e124.  Back to cited text no. 2
Moonesinghe R, Khoury MJ, Janssens AC. Most published research findings are false-but a little replication goes a long way. PLoS Med 2007;4:e28.  Back to cited text no. 3
Moher D, Liberati A, Tetzlaff J, Altman DG. Preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analyses. The PRISMA statement. Br Med J 2009;339:b2535. Available from: http://www.bmj.com/content/339/bmj.b2535.full?view=long& pmid=19622551. [Last accessed on 2018 Feb 03].  Back to cited text no. 4


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