Category Archives: research methodology

Book Review: “Using Research in Practice”

Some time ago I was fortunate enough to benefit from the largesse of the British Journal of Nursing in a twitter giveaway (you can follow the BJN on twitter @BJNursing). The book I received was “Using Research in Practice: It Sounds Good, But Will It Work?” by Jaqui Hewitt-Taylor. I loved the premise of the book – it is aimed not at researchers per se, but at practitioners who need to appraise research in order to think about its relevance and application to their clinical practice. This is, I think, a very useful aim: I remember as a student nurse doing my research module, and struggling to find sources which explained in simple language what research was actually all about. Later, after I qualified, I picked up a bit more about appraising the suitability (or otherwise) of research claims, particularly thanks to a group of district nurses I worked with who (I later discovered, from a friend who managed medical reps) had a bit of a reputation for grilling medical reps and giving them a hard time when they visited and plied us with sandwiches and free samples and tried to get us to buy their wound dressings. However, I must admit before starting my PhD to being really quite vague about the ‘nuts and bolts’ of clinical research, and it is here that I think this book has much to offer.

The book is in three sections, “What is research, and why should it be used?” which outlines the benefits of research and the basic definitions, paradigms, ethical issues and methods/methodologies, followed by part 2, “Is the research any good?” This largest section discusses finding and appraising research generally, before more specific chapters on different types of research (quantitative, qualitative, mixed methods, and summaries of evidence). The final section looks at “Putting research into practice”, including making decisions about incorporating research findings into practice, and the practicalities of managing change.

The substantive chapters on appraising research were all easy to read, and set out in a way which I found very helpful for the non-researching practitioner. Each chapter starts with a brief scenario, which outlines a practice-based dilemma requiring some appraisal of research evidence. The bulk of the chapter then outlines the principles of the particular type of research under discussion, and includes consideration of methods, methodology, sampling and analysis. Crucially this includes discussion of the relevance of the particular type of research to the research question in the scenario, and this is in my view a particular strength of the book, which I think is accessible and easy to follow. The chapters end with worked examples, with another scenario and discussions of two papers which may or may not be relevant and appropriate to the requirements of the practice dilemma. As a student and relatively newly-qualified nurse I am certain that I would have really appreciated a source like this to help me make sense of all the clinical research that we were expected to understand and assimilate with minimal research training.

My area of interest/expertise is in qualitative research, so that is the section I turned to first, and I was pleased to find no howlers but material with which I was in general agreement, which boosted my confidence in the credibility and authority of the author. After this I turned to the chapter on quantitative research (where I am on much shakier ground!) and there I found simple and easy to understand explanations which I greatly appreciated (although I do wonder if I found them thus because I have read more research over the years and have a greater understanding of general principles of research so was not approaching it from a zero-knowledge base). I am sure though that as a qualitative researcher currently working in an area where there is a lot of quantitative research of which I need at least a basic working grasp, I will be returning to this chapter more than once!

There were a few minor irritants about the book; a few spelling/punctuation errors which should have been spotted by the editor, particularly in the opening chapter, and most annoying for me, a number of passages where the author explains her point using chatty anecdotes about things such as a holiday in South America, niggles the editor might have with the author, and something to do with ice cream (if any of my OU students read this they will no doubt recognise this criticism; I do not expect an informal chatty style from students so I certainly don’t want to see it in published academic authors! Although I do realise this probably says more about me than about the author!). The substantive chapters, where points were explained using clinical examples and scenarios, were so well done, relevant and easy to follow that the excessively chatty and anecdotal style in those more personal examples seemed out of place and unnecessary.

I did feel that the latter chapters, whilst of interest to student practitioners, would be of most use to those already qualified and in post, in more of a position to effect change in the practice setting. However the book as a whole is to be welcomed as a useful addition not only for practitioners but also students to help ‘demystify’ research and hopefully encourage them that research is a vital part of practice rather than yet another additional burden.

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Using blogs as sources

I’ve been musing about writing a post about following up tangents encountered during research which aren’t strictly relevant to the research project but are interesting and worthy of further attention; I might come back to that at some point. However, whilst musing about this my mind went off on a tangent (did you see what I did there?!) and I was reminded of an issue which came up during my PhD, namely the use of blogs as sources.

As part of my PhD I did a pretty extensive media review, concentrating on online newspapers and other mainline media (such as TV/radio station websites and local news agencies). I also came across a number of blogs which were relevant to my topic, but although I collected quite a lot of relevant blog posts I chose on that occasion not to include them in my final analysis – they were useful to give me a feel for the various views of people on the street, but I felt that the writers of a personal blog would not necessarily have any expectation that their blog would be used and quoted beyond the scope of the blog audience. On the other hand, I had no problem using the personal comments made under articles from online newspapers – it seemed to me that in a national more public forum like that people would feel differently about the use of their comments (they strike me as being in a similar vein to ‘letters to the Editor’) than they would a blog post or comment. In fact I even remember one comment on a TV station website discussion under the article which directly said “someone should collect these comments and write an article about it”!

However, I am now collecting data for a journal article I have wanted to write since I came back from my PhD fieldwork, which I used a bit in my PhD but nothing like to the extent that the amount of data could have merited (I think this is my link to my original musings about following up tangents), and as well as the extensive online newspaper, TV stations etc articles I am coming across a significant number of relevant blog posts which if I were to include them would, I think, make a significant contribution. I did read one article (a chapter by Shannon Woodcock in this book) which used a lot of blog posts as part of the analysis, and it seemed to make a lot of sense using them (I highly recommend the book, by the way, for anyone interested in issues around sexuality in central and eastern Europe).

So my questions are, how do you feel about using the personal blog posts of strangers as part of your data? Am I being over-cautious in limiting myself to online public newspapers etc? Have you come across any good sources arguing convincingly one way or the other? What would *you* do?