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Before You Start Your Research: How to Avoid Research Waste

Learn about how to publish in a scholarly journal

Research Waste

There is significant waste and inefficiency in the way that biomedical research is conducted. A study by Chalmers and Glasziou in 2009 estimated that 85% of the money invested in research is wasted through the inadequate production and reporting.(1) 

The different types of research waste can be divided into four categories:

Question Selection

  • Researchers conducting “old research”. The literature on the topic should be reviewed to make sure that the question can’t already be answered by existing research. A new study should be built upon prior work in the field rather than rehashing it.
  • Asking questions that don’t align with the priorities of patients and clinicians. Questions that may be of interest to a researcher may not be the same type of interventions or outcomes that are important to a patient. 

Study Design 

  • Conducting a poorly designed and executed study. When starting a new research project, it’s important to choose the most appropriate study design to answer the question. Research the study type and the existing literature on the chosen topic in order to make sure it’s conducted correctly and to avoid common pitfalls.


  • Time–lag between research and publishing. The findings from research studies should be published or made available as promptly as possible so that the public has access to the full results. Studies with disappointing findings are often not published in a timely manner or  at all but these results are still important to combat the positive “publication bias” that exists in biomedical research and to make sure that other colleagues are not wasting their time repeating the same studies.


  • Poor or biased reporting of data.  Within studies there can be significant reporting biases such as: underestimating adverse effects of treatment, changing primary outcomes based on the results, presenting findings in a way that can't be compared with similar studies etc. which can skew the results.(1,2)


1. Chalmers I, Glasziou P. Avoidable waste in the production and reporting of research evidence. Lancet (London, England). 2009;374(9683):86-9.

2. Clarke M. Doing new research? Don't forget the old. PLoS medicine. 2004;1(2):e35.

3. Glasziou P, Chalmers I. Research waste is still a scandal-an essay by Paul Glasziou and Iain Chalmers. BMJ (Online). 2018;363:k4645.

Further Reading

Lancet Series on Reducing Research Waste

The Lancet has a series of articles from 2014 on research waste which discusses the most pressing issues along with recommendations : Research: Increasing Value, Reducing Waste.


Cochrane - Reducing Research Waste

To stimulate and promote research in this area, Cochrane has also instituted a REWARDS prize for researchers starting initiatives to reduce research waste . Find out more about the Cochrane REWARD prize.


Find More

Search UHN OneSearch for more articles, reports, books and book chapters about research waste.