Nursing Research Methodology Guide

Written by Brandon L.
July 18, 202316 min read

Nursing research is an art of scientific investigation that aims to solve healthcare problems or nursing issues. It uses disciplined methods to collect and analyze data to develop meaningful findings that help solve problems.

Research helps provide evidence pertinent to making sound decisions in a clinical setting. To properly conduct research, one must select appropriate research methods that facilitate systematic study planning, data collection, and information inquiry. When designing nursing research, you must understand what research methodologies are.

This article will explore research methodologies, why they are essential in nursing, the different types of research methods, and their characteristics.

Importance of Research Methodologies in Nursing Education

Research methodologies outline all the procedures, methods, and techniques used in a research study. They allow for data collection, analysis, and interpretation.

Research methodologies are instrumental in answering questions that are encountered in clinical practice. It details the researcher's valid and reliable approach to fulfilling their goals and objectives.

A sound research methodology can help in providing the following benefits.

Role of Research in Nursing Practice and Education

In nursing, research is the systematic investigation of developing relevant knowledge about issues that are important to nurses, such as practice, education, and administration. Since nurses are healthcare professionals, they do not only work in hospitals.

The scope of nursing practice is broad, and the (nurses) work in different sectors. Some work in teaching, and others in community health, business, government agencies, etc. Hence, the scope of nursing is getting wider, with many responsibilities. The responsibility of taking care of patients is vested in nurses. They deal with nursing problems and know the treatment options required by each patient, which treatment they should focus on, and which to terminate.

Adequately conducted research can provide evidence that helps healthcare professionals provide quality healthcare to patients and support nursing practices.

High-quality research allows professional growth by giving them the most accurate tools and opportunities to advance their nursing specialty.

Nurses had difficulty caring for patients before clinical hospitals or hospices were more specialized. However, now they rely heavily on research findings to reduce mortality risk and improve patient outcomes.

Nursing research of high quality means the study has answered an important question. It also means that the findings have an actual impact in terms of how care will be carried out to patients and teaching nursing students.

Nurses also have to inform their patients about the recent development in healthcare that can help them make informed decisions about their health or that of their loved ones.

Nursing students pursuing the RN and BSN programs can learn how to retrieve data, review, critique, and apply the results from the research.

Some other reasons why research is vital in nursing practice and education include the following:

Hence, research is an integral part of nursing practice. Nurses should rely on research to improve their knowledge, answer pertinent patient questions and provide high-quality care to those under their care.

How Research Methodologies Help Nurses Develop Evidence-based Practice

Evidence-based practices use the best available facts and evidence to improve patient care and outcomes. Essentially, it is a holistic process that integrates the following key elements: scientific research, the expertise of a healthcare professional, and the patient's perspective and preferences.

Studies show that patient outcomes improve significantly when nurses do their work in an evidence-based manner.

Nurses must understand research methodologies because they help advance nursing practice. Nurses use these methodologies to collect evidence-based information in decision-making, enhancing medical delivery and care for patients.

Research findings will offer nurses evidence-based data to develop new ways to assess, evaluate and deliver nursing care.

Types of Research Methodologies in Nursing

Research in nursing must be of high quality to yield valuable results. Nurses must have extensive knowledge and apply relevant evidence in their practice. This evidence can sometimes be in the form of research findings, filling the gaps in knowledge and expertise.

The methods primarily used in nursing to collect and analyze research may be qualitative or quantitative. Selecting the preferred methods solely relies on the one conducting the research. These methods inform nursing practice. Some research questions are best studied through qualitative methods, while others work well with quantitative methods.

However, researchers have recently adopted the best and most desirable methods. However, this is not to say that other methods do not work.

All three methods contribute immensely to nursing. Data collected in quantitative research provides a deeper understanding of everything in the social world. Qualitative data helps in understanding people's feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. The mixed method uses both data to gain a much deeper understanding of complex matters.

Mixed Methods Nursing Research

Mixed method research, also known as multimethodology, involves using elements of both qualitative and quantitative research to find answers to research questions. This aims to help you develop a complete picture since it integrates all the benefits of both methods.

In this method, researchers collect qualitative and quantitative data to conduct a study. This method has grown so much in nursing because of the increasing complexity of delivering proper healthcare. Researchers draw the strengths of the two methods and use them to draw perspective on intricate research topics. Using this method can deepen the understanding of all nursing phenomena.

Mixed methods involve purposefully combining methods in data collection, analysis, and interpretation of findings. The key word here is mixing. Remember that mixed research does not just mean collecting qualitative and quantitative data. You must consider how you will integrate them to come up with coherent conclusions.

Characteristics of Mixed-methods Research

As mentioned, mixed methods are all about collecting and analyzing both qualitative and quantitative data. This mixing of data is a unique aspect of mixed-method research. Mixing data allows a researcher to understand more about a problem than using either data alone.

The following are characteristics of mixed research.

The following are examples of studies in healthcare that used mixed-method research.

Qualitative Research in Nursing

Qualitative research is collecting, analyzing, and interpreting information about non-numerical data. This data is observed but cannot be measured. It includes opinions, thoughts, feelings, words, and behaviors. This research helps in understanding concepts and thoughts.

Qualitative research is mainly used to understand concepts that are not familiar. In nursing, qualitative research helps in generating evidence and determining patient preferences. It helps provide a deeper understanding of others and interpret their meanings and behaviors.

Generally, one will use qualitative research if one wants to know more about:

Characteristics of Qualitative Research Method

Any good research must start from a reasonable starting position or a theoretical perspective. Quantitative research involves a positivist perspective whereby a researcher objectively and systematically obtains evidence to prove a hypothesis.

The following are characteristics of qualitative research.

The following are examples of nursing research that has used qualitative methods are:

Quantitative Research in Nursing

Quantitative research, also known as empirical research, collects numerical data that helps understand an existing hypothesis. In other words, this research is based on what can be measured accurately and precisely. This method is important because it helps collect and analyze more information. A complex problem can be reduced and restructured to several variables, resulting in factual, reliable, and generalizable data. One must therefore have background knowledge in mathematics and statistical skills.

Generally, researchers should use quantitative research if they aim to understand more about the following:

Characteristics of Quantitative Research

Quantitative research uses statistics to make sense of something. It also involves making generalizations from data used to test theories about attitudes and behaviors. Quantitative data aims at clarifying any fuzziness that exists in qualitative data. The numerical insights provided will help you formulate a conclusion.

Here are the characteristics of quantitative research.

The following are examples of nursing studies that used quantitative research.

Steps in Conducting Nursing Research

Research findings help provide a deeper understanding of how to care for patients.

The following are steps that help in conducting high-quality nursing research.

Step 1: Identify the problem / develop a Hypothesis

When conducting research, researchers try to find answers to a problem. Therefore, it is logical that the first step should be to identify the problem and then come up with the research question. For instance, if the goal is to find out whether there is a link between taking milk chocolate and type II diabetes in adults, one can pose the following hypothesis: Adults who take 20mg of chocolate milk every day have a higher chance of getting type 2 diabetes than those who consume only 10mg a day.

Identifying the keywords in your question is important. In this case, Type II diabetes, 20mg more, adults.

One must consider stating the problem clearly and unambiguously. Remember that research problems show unmet healthcare needs and opportunities l to do better.

When identifying a problem, researchers will use the SMART mnemonic.

S – Specific

M – Measurable

A – Achievable

R – Relevant

T – Time Bound

These problems can be sparked by the following:

The problems double up as the topic of your nursing research. You must analyze each problem individually and settle for one that you can manage. The research problem can be any issue that requires a solution and, in this context, it should relate to the nursing profession. You must provide a rationale for the problem and how your study addresses the issues.  

Step 2: Formulating Research Objectives, Hypothesis, and Questions

The second step in the nursing research process entails developing the scope of your research. This can be achieved by formulating research objectives and developing a research question or hypothesis. In the case of nursing research, coming up with a PICOT question or a clinical question is imperative.

A research objective is the clear, concise, and declarative statement a researcher expresses to guide the study. It helps identify and describe the variables and their relationships. It helps bridge the gap between research purpose and design. It also helps guide the data collection and analysis plans. An objective summarizes the intent and scope of the research. It also keeps the researcher focused and helps build a link with the problem statement. It should be SMART.

The research question you select for your research study should be clear and well-defined. You can derive a good research question from a literature search, theoretical frameworks on nursing, and your working experience. Ensure that your clinical research question is feasible, interesting, novel, ethical, and relevant to your field of study, area of specialization, or personal/career interests.

Nursing research might or might not include a hypothesis. A hypothesis is the formulation of the expected relationship between two or more variables in a population. For example, a reasonable hypothesis is:  

Healthcare providers with knowledge of standard screening methods for postpartum depression will help identify symptoms early.

There is a predicted relationship between knowledge of using standard PPD screening methods and early detection of symptoms.

Hypotheses apply to quantitative studies such as quasi-experimental or experimental nursing research studies. Once you test the hypothesis, you can accept or reject it, which you will include in the report write-up.

There are various types of hypotheses:

Variables are qualities, properties, attributes, or characteristics that change or vary, such as age, sex, satisfaction, success, pain, stress, etc.

The independent (treatment or experimental variables) influence other variables. They enable or contribute to an inevitable outcome. It refers to the intervention of treatment the researcher performs to see some change in the dependent variables. It is the input.

The dependent variables are the outcome variables that reflect the independent variable's results, response, outcome, or effect. Majorly, dependent variables receive the action and can disappear, diminish, increase, and appear. When determining the effects of sugar consumption on obesity, obesity is the dependent variable, while sugar consumption is the independent variable.

We also have uncontrolled extraneous variables that influence the research study's findings. They affect the independent and dependent variables. They are referred to as threats of internal and external validity since they might lead to a bias in the selection, time, and instrument used.

Finally, we also have the demographic variables, which are the attributes of a population such as age, sex, religious beliefs, or educational levels that a researcher cannot manipulate.

Step 3: Reviewing the Literature

This is an essential step in the nursing research process. A literature review accounts for what has already been published about a particular research topic.

Conducting a literature review can help provide precise, relevant, and timely information on the topic of interest. It allows one to explore the background of their topic's scientific findings.

Your literature review should show that you are familiar with previous studies for a better interpretation of your results. It should also help you determine if there are new approaches or stimulate you to develop new ideas. The literature review can also help you to review the research topic and determine the knowledge gaps to justify your problem statement.

You should also identify the theoretical frameworks, tools, models, and instruments useful for a research problem.

When writing the literature review, you should consider primary sources. You should also use secondary sources such as scholarly journals, books, conference and seminar papers, theses and dissertations, and government or institutional (organizational) documents.

Some sources for literature review for nursing topics include conference papers, theses, journals, electronic databases, and books.

Related Reading: Literature Review vs. Systematic Reviews

Step 4: Develop a Research Plan

Once the research question has been identified, it is time to develop a study plan. When selecting the most appropriate research method, consider the following:

A research plan will minimize the time, effort, and money spent acquiring meaningful evidence. A proper plan will help in the following categories:

Step 5: Describe the Sample Population

Population, in this case, refers to the group one intends to study. The research topic will determine the study group selected. Therefore, one must select a topic they are familiar with, one that aligns with their specialization or professional interests, and one they can manage.

When investigating a select group of people in a community, one could target a specific age group, an ethnic group, and a particular geographical location.

Step 6: Collecting Data

Collecting data is vital in getting the information required to provide answers to the raised question. The data is organized into structures to make it easy to execute.

Data must be collected from different sources: primary and secondary.

Primary sources include:

Secondary sources are:

Step 7: Data Analysis

After gathering data, the researcher begins to analyze or interpret the information collected. Data analysis summarizes the collected data to develop patterns or relationships between them. This process involves cleaning, transforming, and modeling data for helpful information.

The steps for analyzing data are as follows.

Take note that the goal of the analysis is not to come up with information supporting a hypothesis but to review all data objectively to determine the most accurate. One must ensure this information is easy to understand.

Step 8: Create a Report

A report is a well-written text that shows details about the research conducted. This report is written after the researcher has collected and analyzed all the data about the topic. It is a reliable source for recounting research. One must only include significant findings and avoid irrelevant information when writing it.

Researchers report their findings in either of the following formats:

Take note that this part is crucial. One must effectively explain their research findings clearly and succinctly.

Tips and Resources for Conducting Research

Having the right research skills can be the difference between succeeding or failing in nursing school and every part of a nursing career. Learning how to conduct research is essential since nursing keeps evolving rapidly.

Being successful in nursing means one needs to learn how to use literature, search engines and analyze the collected data. The following tips will help in conducting high-quality research.

1. Choose the Right Research Topic

This is the first step and perhaps the most crucial part of conducting research. One must select a topic that is within the parameters of the assignment. Nursing instructions give students guidelines on what to do and things to avoid. Therefore, students follow these guidelines so that the instructor can accept the final report.

Additionally, one must choose a topic that interests them and one that they are familiar with. Doing this will make the research process enjoyable.

2. Locate the Research Materials

Conducting adequate research means locating all the materials and utilizing all the provided resources. Some resources are available online, while others are available in print. Nursing schools also have access to journals not published on the Internet.

A student should take advantage of what the school offers regarding resources, as it will significantly help in research.

3. Refine the Search Results

When conducting research online, one must filter out any unnecessary resources. Researchers should consider only locating search results relevant to their area of study. They should use Google searches and other nursing literature searchers to narrow down their search results. To locate newspaper articles and magazines, Students should use electronic periodical databases. Additionally, they should only use the database best suited for the chosen topic.

4. Evaluate All the Sources

There is a lot of information on the Internet, and some are not accurate or relevant. Unlike books or print resources, no one has approved some of the information before being made public. Therefore, students must evaluate all their resources to ensure it is of the right quality. The CARS Checklist for Information Quality provides tips on assessing the sources' worth. Remember that the instructor expects highly credible and reliable research findings.

5. Be Prepared for Surprising Answers

High-quality research involves finding answers but not verifying what is already known. So one must keep an open mind when collecting data to learn more.

6. Make Notes

One should note all the relevant information pertinent to your study during research. When collecting information from a specific group of people, researchers must pay attention to what they are saying. In addition, they should use all the data collection methods provided to ensure relevant and reliable data.

7. Cite All Sources

When writing a report, one must cite all the sources used when conducting research. Using in-text citations acknowledges all the sources of information used in your paper. Then at the end of the paper, one must write down the list of all cited sources.

Citing sources is also an excellent way to prevent plagiarism in the work. Therefore, it is crucial to learn how to cite sources in either APA or Harvard format, which are the main formatting styles that nursing schools prefer.

Ethical Considerations When Conducting Research

Ethical considerations are principles guiding the research process and practice. This part is among the most critical parts of research. Researchers must always adhere to a specific code of conduct when collecting data from the population. The research will be doomed if one fails to follow these considerations.

Research ethics matter for integrity, dignity, and human rights. They ensure that aver research is conducted voluntarily and safely for all the participants.

Following all ethical considerations is an essential part of research because of the following reasons.

Significant Ethical Challenges in Nursing Research

When conducting your research, there are specific challenges one will come across. These can make it harder to complete the research. Three value systems involving research are connected to each other: society, science, and nursing. Therefore, significant ethical issues during research are linked to these three.

The challenges one will likely encounter when carrying out nursing research are:

1. Informed Consent

This means that an individual has knowingly and voluntarily decided to consent. It is a means by which a person's autonomy is protected. Individuals have to make informed decisions before participating in any research in which there are risks involved.

2. Beneficence- Do Not Harm

Also known as "be of benefit, do no harm," this ethical principle means a researcher must do effective and high-quality research to promote the welfare of others better. This can something be challenging, especially when using qualitative research. If proven not beneficial according to the expectations, it can raise significant ethical considerations for nurses.

3. Anonymity and Confidentiality

Anonymity and confidentiality are closely linked to beneficence. A person's anonymity is guaranteed when their identity is not linked to personal responses if you cannot guarantee anonymity to the subjects.

Confidentiality means that participants are free to withhold their information as they please. It becomes a dilemma when one has to break confidentiality to share important information.

4. Research Integrity

Working in a research environment means facing a highly competitive and performance-based environment. While this is good, it can lead to researchers engaging in unethical issues, reflecting a lack of integrity.

5. Conflict of Interest

Nurses and the institutions involved in research have varied interests, which can sometimes lead to conflicts. The conflicts can arise from different sources, such as interpersonal conflicts, holding multiple roles, financial issues, third-party pressures, etc.

Final Remarks on Nursing Research Methodology

Research in nursing is essential in finding and improving the different ways of treating and caring for patients. Nurses are the ones who know patients best. They understand what is working for them and what is not.  Research findings inform decision-making and advance nursing practice. Research methodology provides a detailed plan, keeping nurses on track and ensuring the process is smooth and effective.

In designing a research methodology, one must consider the research objectives. Knowing what information is expected at the end of the study will make it much easier to select the suitable methodology. Additionally, one must consider the nature of the research. If the goal is exploratory, qualitative research methods should be chosen. On the other hand, choosing the quantitative method is a good idea if the goal is to measure something. However, to understand a problem much better, one must combine both methods in mixed-method research.

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