Zoo and wildlife veterinarians are increasingly expected to conduct original research for ACZM certification and career advancement, but research study design, data management, and data analysis are challenging subjects not traditionally covered in veterinary curricula or residency programs. To address this need, we are developing a suite of tools to aid wildlife health professionals in the process of framing a specific research question, determining whether the available data can answer the question, developing a suitable study design, and implementing procedures for extracting, organizing, and standardizing data from medical and pathology records. Options for a study design can generally be inferred from the nature of the research question and the sequence of events being studied,1 such as whether the investigator determines the events or exposures (experimental study) or the events occurred naturally (observational study); whether there are comparison groups; and whether the study will be prospective, retrospective, or cross-sectional. Each study design has its own strengths and weaknesses. Microsoft Excel® can be used to collect, organize, and manage research data, but the most effective methods for organizing data are often counterintuitive and require a better understanding of data output and analysis. Following guidelines for data acquisition and entry helps to minimize bias and maximize the usability of a research data set. Such procedures are equally useful for applying medical and husbandry data to evidence-based decision-making for collection management.
The authors thank Drs. Ilse Stalis and Steven Kubiski for helpful comments.
1. Grimes DA, Schulz KF. An overview of clinical research: the lay of the land. Lancet. 2002;359(9300):57–61.