This glossary provides simple definitions for words and acronyms commonly used in health research, as well as a few of terms that are specific to the MSSU and the Maritimes.

Many of these definitions were adapted from glossaries created by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)INVOLVE UK, Research Data Canada, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (Definitions of termsBest Practices in Equity, Inclusion and Diversity), New Brunswick Institute for Research Data and Training (NB-IRDT), University of British Columbia, and Building Research for Integrated Primary Health Care Nova Scotia (BRIC NS).

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Glossary Alpha


A brief summary of a research study and its results—why the study was done, what the study tried to show, how the researchers went about it, and what they found.

Acute Care

Care provided in a hospital or a psychiatric facility.

Administrative Data

Information collected primarily for administrative (not research) purposes. This type of data is collected by government departments and other organizations for the purposes of registration, transaction and record keeping, usually during the delivery of a service.

Advisory Group

Many research studies have an advisory group that helps to develop, support, and monitor the study. In patient-oriented research (POR), the group often includes patients, caregivers, researchers and other health and social care professionals, who can provide relevant advice. There may also be other types of advisory groups or committees that come together to share ideas and feedback on a wide range of topics.


A structured review of the data collected by a research study. It involves using specific methods to examine and process information to identify patterns and draw out the main themes. The analysis should be designed to answer the research question(s) that the study is trying to address. It is often done with specialist computer software for example SPSS Statistical Software or NVivo Qualitative Data Analysis.

Associate and Affiliate Scientist (MSSU)

A member of the MSSU Associate and Affiliate Scientists program. Members are engaged in patient-oriented research and committed to the research goals of the MSSU.

Basic Research

Research that aims to improve knowledge and understanding, rather than finding a solution to a practical problem. It usually involves work in a laboratory, for example to find a gene linked to a disease or to understand how cancer cells grow. This kind of research can sometimes provide clues as to which avenues to explore to develop new treatments and/or solutions. (Sometimes called Lab or Bench Research)


Bias is a type of error that may cause a person to interpret the results of a study in a particular way. Biases can occur when the researcher doesn’t adhere to standards in designing and conducting the study, analysing and interpreting the evidence, or reporting the study results. Biases can also result from circumstances beyond a researcher’s control, for example when there is an uneven number of some characteristics between groups (for example number of females versus number of male participants).

Big Data

A term used to describe large datasets. Big data are distinguished by “the three Vs”: volume (the amount of data), velocity (the speed at which data is collected and analyzed), and variety (the format, structured or unstructured, and type of data).

Biomedical Research

Study of human function from the level of cells and molecules all the way up to the whole body. Basic biomedical researchers do their work in a laboratory using test tubes, cell samples, microscopes, chemical analysis, and other applicable tools or methods.