There is a lot more that goes into social science research than just sticking data in a program and writing a few paragraphs about what pops out.  Before commencing with data collection, researchers have to perform a thorough review on previous literature to make sure that their study strikes the balance between being grounded in prior empirical studies and being an original contribution.  Much of my time researching so far has been reviewing previous literature.  It is not called “re”-search for no reason; I frequently find myself rereading studies, and it seems that after each few steps forward I have to take a step back and reconsider what I had read previously.  Economics literature is not easy reading, and it needs to be considered carefully because the smallest details often turn out to be the most important.

The primary topic of my research is physician-hospital integration, which has a relatively fluid definition and is not always measured in the same way.  The first thing I do when I read an article is look for the tools used by the researcher to assess the level of affiliation between physician and hospital.  In many studies, hospitals are labeled dichotomously as either integrated or not integrated.  Economists will then use dummy variables in their analysis, which has its positives and negatives and is a topic for another day.  When I read a new article, my goal is to finish it knowing the question that the researchers attempted to answer, the data that they used, how they used it, and their findings.  Although often all that is remembered is the findings, there is a lot more to a published paper than just a paragraph of outcomes.  All of it is important.