“Issue” does not mean “problem” or “concern.” An “issue” involves a dispute or debate between two or more parties.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection is a “problem.” The fact that more than 33 million people are infected with HIV globally is a serious “concern” to many people.
In this country, how we should best report HIV infection – anonymously or confidentially – is an “issue” because there is a debate: Not everyone agrees as to what we should do, and arguments on both sides are supported by evidence-based literature.
How Do We Write a Research Question?
The first step is to formulate your research question. A research question is the basis for all of your research. For this class, it is framed as a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question in order to clarify that there is a debate about it. For example, if you were researching the issue identified in the box on the left, you could word your research question as follows:
Should all HIV testing be confidential?
You would then explore the public health community’s position on this issue. What does the evidence-based literature say about this? How do they support their arguments? It may be that there is a debate within the research community. That is, you may find authors of peer-reviewed journal articles arguing both sides:
YES: Reporting of HIV needs to be confidential, like STI reporting, in order to protect the public’s health and safety. NO: There are still too many problems with privacy, social stigma, and hate crimes to mandate confidential HIV testing.
Do we have to find evidence-based literature on "both sides" of the issue in our papers?
No, because you won’t always find it. In some cases, like the example above, there are scientific arguments on both sides. In other situations, however, the evidence-based argument is heavily one-sided. Your goal is to present the evidence-based perspective(s).
May we include our own opinions in our papers?
Not in the research papers, no. These papers need to be based on evidence from credible sources. You may select the part of the story that you wish to emphasize, however, or that you think is exciting or important. Your own opinion may or may not be the same as the ideas presented in the evidence-based literature. I am not asking you to change your opinion, but I am asking you to learn and be able to write about the evidence-based perspective that is supported by public health professionals. The goal of these writing assignments is for you to fine-tune your skills in professional writing.
To help yourself keep focused as you conduct your research, consider the following:
What is/are the problem/problems? What is the issue related to this problem?
What are the disparities in the outcomes / problem? Are any of these outcomes inequitable?
What are the public health and/or health professionals’ positions concerning the problem and issue?
What are the evidence-based recommendations to protect the public’s health?
What is the health educator’s role in promoting public health in this area?