Planning your research

We have produced this short guide to help get you started in family therapy and systemic research.

Selecting a topic

Can involve:

  • Translating a clinical curiosity into a research question
  • Responding to a call for research or an offer of research funding in a certain area
  • Responding to an organisational or professional demand for research on a specific topic
  • Finding others to collaborate with you.  This brings together different expertises, allows you to share and develop ideas, and means you have others to moan to when things get difficult.

It’s crucial to think about who will make use of the results of your research.  For example, does it respond to a clinical need?

Mapping out the topic


  • Finding out what research has already been done
  • Talking to service providers and service users to hear their ideas as to whether it’s a useful topic to research, and how you might go about it.
  • Exploring possibilities for linking with other people who may be interested in this topic.  

Writing your research proposal

The most challenging thing will be making your research interest into a researchable question.

We have developed some guidelines to help you through this process.

If you work for an NHS Trust, contact your Research & Development Service early on for a consultation.  They can often advise you about research participants, ethical issues, and the feasibility and relevance of your study.

Note that most funders and institutions will have their own electronic form for this online. Keep in mind that the format changes regularly.

Here are exemplars of:

Applying for ethical approval

For more information on doing research within the NHS, visit the Health Research Authority.

If you’re planning to carry out research, you need to find out what kind of ethical approval you require.  For example, all research within the NHS and Health & Social Care requires an application for ethical approval through the Integrated Research Application System (IRAS) website.

You should check with your agency as to whether you need to also apply to any local ethics committees.

Looking for funding

Here are some tips:

  • Multi-site research is looked on favourably by funding bodies (for example, a clinician collaborating with a university-based researcher).
  • Visit our funding page for ideas of funding bodies to apply to.
  • Research funding applications may be strengthened by your having doing a pilot research study to ‘test the water’.  Find out whether your agency offers start-up money for these studies.
  • You should ask colleagues who have experience of applying for funding to have a look at your funding application before you submit it.
  • It may not always be possible to get funding for your project.  If your proposal is rejected, don’t be disheartened!  Try again with another organisation, revise it, or re-submit it.  If you are turned down, it’s a good idea to seek consultation from someone else.
  • Service user involvement in the development of research proposals is now seen as essential by funding bodies.

The Health Research Authority provides more information on funding for health research.

Research references

We include research which is directly relevant and useful to family therapy and systemic practice, and to the families, individuals and communities...