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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What counts as evidence?

The term evidence usually refers to ‘research evidence’, learning from the publication of research findings.

However, in commissioning we use a wide range of evidence to help decision making (eg activity data, research findings, best practice guidelines, population data, patient feedback). Evidence is always gathered in a particular context, which means that evidence in itself can never be treated as a ‘universal truth’. The evidence doesn’t tell you what to decide, but it does help you make a better decision.


Can I use Google?

Yes, but proceed with caution! Google/Google Scholar are useful for carrying out an initial scoping search, to help focus down your area of interest, to define the question you want the evidence to answer. Be mindful that Google will throw up all sorts of pieces of information, some much less reliable than others. To focus your search, a tip is to use the following in the search box, at the end of your search terms: and – these will pull up results from organisations such as The Health Foundation, Kings Fund or NHS organisations (CCGs, hospital trusts etc).  Don’t forget there are experts to help you – see Contacts.


What if there is no clear evidence available for my area of interest - what do I do?

The absence of enough evidence to support a decision or direction of travel doesn’t mean you should not go ahead.

Assess the risk around proceding and build in evalaution, so that the learning can be shared and will contribute to the evidence base. The lack of evidence indicates a knowledge gap and the need for research to be undertaken to address it. If you identify a gap please contact   so it can be shared with organisations who can address it. For example:

  • West of England Academic Health Science Networks (WEAHSN)
  • NIHR ARC West
  • National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)


How do I find out about any training that might help me refresh my skills or learn new ones?

See training section under Resources. There will be opportunities to participate in different types of training, from 2 hour introduction/refresher, to a more detailed bespoke course or take online tutorials. This will cover topics such as how to identify, search for and appraise the research and evidence literature.

You can also contact About us – ARC West ( who provide a directory of training opportunities available across the West of England.

What support is available to help me understand research methodologies, so reading a research paper is made a bit easier?

This article outlines the different types of studies and research you’ll find:

Critical appraisal of a journal article, University College London (UCL)

What if I still have questions?

Please refer to local library or Public Health colleagues here or and we will try and answer your question or put you in touch with someone who can.

What is a systematic review?

A systematic review sums up the best available research on a specific question. This is done by synthesizing the results of several studies. This guide provides more information.


What is critical appraisal?

Critical appraisal is a systematic process used to identify the strengths and weaknesses of a research article in order to assess the usefulness and validity of research findings. More details are provided in this  guide.


How much notice is needed for an evidence review to be carried out?

It is difficult to put a set amount of time on this as there are a number of factors that will influence the time needed to carry out the review. The key piece of advice is to start thinking about your evidence needs early on, so you can be as clear as possible about the question or issue you are trying to answer with the evidence. This will make the search and review process much easier and ultimately quicker.