Strongly framed research questions are clear as to the population (P), the exposures or interventions (E/I), comparison groups (C), outcomes (O), time when relevant (T), and what the investigator wants to know. A solid framework sets up the measurement model, analysis, and anticipated results. The purpose of this study was to estimate the extent to which research questions in journals that focused on patient-reported outcome measures (PROM) and quality of life (QOL) are clear.
All 440 research articles published in four PROM journals in 2020. excluding reviews, psychometric, and qualitative papers, were reviewed. Research questions were classified as: (i) adequately framed (ii) poorly framed; or (iii) unframed based on clarity criteria. Examples from each journal were presented and reframed to match results in the article.
Of 440 articles, 195 (44.3%) were classified as adequately framed; 230 (52.2%) as poorly framed; and 15 (3.4%) as unframed. There was heterogeneity across journals (Chi-square: 20.8; 6 df; p = 0.002). Only 29% were framed according to what the investigators wanted to know; 72% were framed like a “to do” list; and 6% were framed as a research agenda.
Almost half of the questions were poorly framed or unframed a practice that could contribute to research wastage. Even “adequately framed” questions rarely stated what they wanted to know a priori, increasing the risk of biased reporting. Researchers, reviewers, and editors should encourage the use established frameworks for research questions.