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National Information Center on Health Services Research and Health Care Technology (NICHSR)

Define goals
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Researchers should begin with a conscious assessment of their requirements. While their goals will most likely change based on the material found, an initial assessment helps to focus the effort. Researchers will benefit from the participation of reference librarians who are professionals focused on finding research resources and organizing them for best use.

Key Points in Defining Goals for a Search
  • Clearly identify the material that you need.
  • Extend your efforts beyond the content of the material to obtain facts about the statistical properties of the results.
    • Researcher’s may bring a variety of perspectives which shape the statistical criteria for data validity.
  • There is no one correct approach or absolute standard for acceptable results—rather these depend on how a researcher intends of use the material.
  • Conclusions about the quality of statistical information should be reached by matching the inferences you want to draw with facts about the methods used to collect, compile and report results.
    • Searchers should not only look for material that is on point—but also obtain methodological documentation needed to judge the appropriateness of results to particular inferences.
In sum, researchers are well advised to spend time formulating their questions before they search for material or enlist the help of a reference librarian.
  • They may redefine search goals as new information is found and additional needs are identified.
  • The next page reviews the concrete steps involved in defining the goals of a search for health statistics.
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