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

What questions should methods descriptions answer?
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Methods descriptions address the following questions:
  • What population does the data estimate?
  • How much statistical uncertainty is associated with the estimates due to the data collection procedures, sampling methods and processing approaches?
  • What is the effect of the data collection questionnaires or instruments on the reported measures? and
  • What is the impact of the methods on the possible interpretations of the results?

How Important is Up to date information?
Some researchers need the most recent estimates—others can work with older [often more reliable] indicators. Older estimates are sometimes more reliable because they include more information. This can happen when data collectors receive more complete or revised submissions from respondents.

If researchers want to know about current conditions, the lag in collecting, processing and reporting statistical results often means that they will have to estimate current conditions based on data collected earlier. As new results are reported, these figures will change.

Even when statistical information pertains to an historical period, currency is a key concern. While it may seem that facts are established and permanent, in fact, subsequent investigations often lead statisticians to modify older tables. This could happen because new information is discovered or because new methods lead statisticians to change their estimates. When a new procedure is introduced to collect material, old estimates based on different procedures are adjusted to achieve comparability.
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