Research can take multiple forms. Each of the forms of evidence has potential strengths and weaknesses. In theory these forms of research can be arranged into a hierarchy or ladder, with a pecking order of the evidence.
In order to understand the hierarchy we will first run through different forms or categories of evidence.
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Expert opinion must take into account a significant amount of evidence?
Case reports can be useful in generating hypotheses?
Case series are retrospective?
In a case control subjects are matched with other subjects who have similar outcomes to assess for factors which may be associated with the outcome of interest?
A prospective cohort looks at a group of people who all have the same outcome and tries to identify commonalities in their cases?
A cohort study contains individuals with a commonality but also different characteristics?
A retrospective cohort study is prone to inaccuracies in it’s data capture when compared to a prospective cohort?
A controlled trial mitigates against allocation bias?
A systematic review should appraise all of the relevant literature on the topic being addressed?
The more heterogeneous the meta-analysed studies are the more valid the result?