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Designing research

Find out where to get help in designing your research study and other important considerations.

Getting started

Consider your research question

The key issue for all NIHR research programmes is the question. It needs to be relevant, in simple terms, fit the remit for the research programme, and ideally one sentence.

It should be clear how it might benefit the target patient population, public group or the NHS.

You should also consider whether the research will still be relevant by the time it's completed, and  if it's already being answered elsewhere.

Ensure your application meets our assessment criteria

We assess research applications on the basis of whether they address an important research gap.

Each individual funding opportunity will have specific criteria. Before applying, read the:

  • scope, commissioning brief or research specification
  • applicant guidance
  • supporting information

attached to each funding opportunity before applying.

If you'd like tailored advice, you can contact the research programme you're interested in.

Get methodology advice

Whether your study is medical, diagnostic, pharmaceutical, bio-tech or is looking at healthy populations of people with social care needs, we can help.

If you are outside of the UK, not all of this support will be available or relevant to you. Find out more about Global Health Research.

Research Support Service

The NIHR Research Support Service (RSS) provides free and confidential support for researchers to apply for funding and develop and deliver clinical and applied health and care research. The experts in the RSS can help you to formulate your idea into a research question. 

Study Support Service

The Study Support Service helps researchers and the life sciences industry plan and deliver high quality research to time and target. It supports researchers across England in the NHS and the wider health and social care environment.

We provide this service for all studies eligible for support on the CRN Portfolio, regardless of location, study type, study size, therapy or research area.

Commercial contract research

If your study is fully sponsored and funded by a commercial organisation, visit our Study Support Service for Industry page to access information specifically for commercial contract research.

Applied health, public health and social care research

The NIHR Research Support Service supports researchers in England to develop and design high quality research proposals to apply to:

  • NIHR funding programmes
  • peer reviewed funding competitions for applied health or social care research in England

The service can advise all aspects of developing a grant application including:

  • research design
  • research methods
  • identifying funding sources
  • involving patients and the public

How to contact the NIHR Research Support Service

Medical technologies and in vitro diagnostic tests

Our NIHR Medtech and In vitro Diagnostics Co-operatives can help you plan research on new medical technologies and commercially-supplied in vitro diagnostic tests.

The centres can help you to build a multidisciplinary team that will work collaboratively with you to ensure you generate the evidence needed to support adoption of your medical device, digital technology or diagnostic in the NHS.

Methodology advice for medical technologies and in vitro diagnostic tests

Consider using remote methods of trial delivery

The pandemic accelerated the use of remote methods of trial delivery (RMTD) for both healthcare and research purposes.

These methods involve using technology to make it easier for participants to take part in trials by reducing the cost and the burden for volunteers.

Guidance on remote methods of trial delivery for researchers and the public

Involve patients, carers and the public

You should involve members of the public in designing your research. It can lead to better designed research and improve participant recruitment. 

Our prioritisation and funding committees will review how you’ve involved patients, carers and the public when they assess your research application. Read our advice on how to involve patients, carers and the public in research.

The Health Research Authority will also review how you’ve involved and engaged with members of the public when it assesses your research for ethics approval. Read the Health Research Authority’s advice on questions to ask about your public involvement.

Where to start?

The UK Standards for Public Involvement might be a good place to start when thinking about involving patients, carers and the public.

Include a plain English summary

Your research application should include a good plain English summary of the research project so that everyone understands  the research intention.


Involving the public in research costs money. Our guidance on payments and budgeting gives advice on how to cost for patient and public involvement at every stage of the research planning cycle, including putting together an application.

Who should you involve?

How you involve people will depend on the nature of your research, as well as the different activities people decide they would like to get involved in. NIHR has produced a framework for considering who might be involved in research, and taking into account different experiences.

When considering how and who to involve, you should consider how to make involvement opportunities inclusive.

Community engagement and involvement in Global Health Research

We champion the involvement of patients and communities in Lower Middle Income Countries (LMICs) in all aspects of the research we fund, to improve its reach, quality and impact. If you are applying for Global Health Research, read our advice on involving communities in your research.

Intellectual property

It’s important to have the right type of intellectual property (IP) protection for your research project.

NIHR-funded IP can take a wide range of forms, including:

  • know-how
  • data sets
  • copyright
  • trademarks
  • patents

Organisations that host NIHR funded research need to manage all forms of IP in an appropriate way. Read more about intellectual property.

Standard contracts

We use standard contracts developed with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to ensure that the IP generated from NIHR funding is secured within an appropriate legal, contractual environment to facilitate benefit realisation for patients.

The contracts outline a clear position on ownership and management of IP created using NIHR funding. As far as possible, they ensure that the IP you propose in your research application can be used in research and delivery of improved health and care.

They also allow DHSC to secure a return of investment where appropriate. Find out more in our intellectual property and commercialisation guidance.

Collaboration agreements

If you involve collaborators in your NIHR-funded project, you should consider the most effective way to formally manage this arrangement.

You need to make us aware of any collaborations. Our standard research contract contains provisions that recognise collaborations and the need to accommodate flexible IP ownership.

We need a clear understanding of any formal collaboration arrangements. For example, supply agreement or material transfer agreement. Read our guidance on collaboration agreements.

Global Health Research - building equitable partnerships

We are committed to establishing equitable partnerships between researchers in low and middle income countries (LMICs) and in the UK. Read more about how we can support you in building and maintaining equitable partnerships between LMICs and the UK.