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Principles of research: a checklist

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VOL: 79, ISSUE: 23, PAGE NO: 41-43

Pamela J Hawthorne

Hawthorne, P (1983) Principles of Research: a checklist Nursing Times 79:23 41-43

Hawthorne, P (1983) Principles of Research: a checklist Nursing Times 79:23 41-43

This is a check list containing basic information about the research process. It is intended as an aide-memoire for those wishing to pursue a logical sequence of thought when preparing to examine a particular problem or to evaluate a research report.

The checklist of questions which follows overleaf was drawn up in the first place to use as a handout for those completing introductory courses of research appreciation. The lectures were not originally designed to teach the recipients how to ‘do’ research, but rather how ‘to understand and use the growing number of research reports’.

However it has become apparent that the majority of students registering to complete these extramural courses were doing so in order to either examine a problem that they had been made aware of by their own interest, for example, ‘What would the visitors like to do to help their relatives in my unit?’, or as part of their job, for example, ‘How are nursing officers in the hospital deployed?’ The courses were often the only local resource where guidance about how to prepare and carry out work was available.

One can have an academic argument about what research is and whether answering the questions posed is research. It is not intended to discuss definitions of research in this paper. What is clear is that if the questions are to be answered properly, it is important that the inquiries follow a logical chain of thought. The checklist is presented to fulfil this purpose

The Joint Board of Clinical Nursing Studies normally requires that those participating in their courses have a knowledge of research. The formal sessions on research methods may be limited to as little as one hour. There are still some nurses who cannot understand the importance of research (even those completing JBCNS courses), and all too often much of the research session is of necessity spent in convincing the nurses of the value of inquiry, that is, promoting the ‘research-mindedness’ which is a prerequisite of appreciating, evaluating and valuing research. It is extremely useful, therefore, for these groups of nurses to have something such as this aide-memoire available when they are starting their project.

The bibliography lists books which cover the research steps in depth. Many of these have indices which enable the reader to look up key words used in the checklist, for example, ‘null hypothesis’.

The following are important:

1. An attempt should be made to complete as thorough a search of the relevant literature as time permits. A trained librarian is usually very pleased to advise those not familiar with how to start their search.

2. It is useful to find someone who can advise and possibly supervise the research. If necessary, guidance should be sought from the district health authority or the regional health authority. The Research society (Rcn) can usually suggest a local person to help.

The Nursing Studies Unit at the University of Nottingham Medical School is funded from Trent Regional Health Authority. Two of the aims of establishing research activities were:

1. To co-ordinate and stimulate research activities among nursing staff in Nottingham and surrounding areas.

2. To help nurses initiate their own research programmes.


Abdellah, F.G., Levine, E. Better Patient Care Through Nursing Research. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1965.

Castle, W.M. 1965 Statistics In Small Doses. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 1977.

Clark J.M., Hockey, L. Research for Nursing. Aylesbury: H.M. + M. Publishers, 1979.

Diers, D. J. Research in Nursing Practice. New York: Lippincott Co., 1970.

Fox, D.J. Fundamentals of Research in Nursing. New York: Appleton Centaury Crofts, 1970

Krampitz, S., Pavovich, N. (eds). Readingsfor Nursing Research. St Louis: The C.V. Mosby Company, 1981.

Lancaster, A. et al. Guidelines to Research in Nursing. London: King’s Fund Centre, 1975.

Notter, L. E. Essentials of Nursing Research: Principles And Methods. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1978.

RoyalCollege of Nursing, Ethics Related to Research In Nursing. London: Royal College of Nursing, 1977.

Sweeny, M. A., Olivieri, P. An Introduction to Nursing Research. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1981.

Treece, E. W., Treece, M. S. Elements of Research in Nursing. St Louis: C. V. Mosby Company, 1977.








(a) If undertaking a research project



(b) To evaluate a research report



Formulating the problem



Is examination of the problem worthwhile? Why? To whom?



Is the problem of the study clearly stated?






How much will the project cost?



Who will pay?



How long will it take?



Is the study within my capacity?



How is the project financed?



(Are the results biased because of the interest of the financial body?)



Who undertook the work?



Does it seem appropriate?



Steering committee



It is possible to form such a group even if not required by the funding body?



What expert advice is needed, e.g. statistician.



Was there a steering committee?



Which experts were consulted?






What background knowledge is required?



What previous attempts have been made to examine this particular problem or similar ones?



Does the researcher appear to know his subject?



Is there discussion of related research and are both positive negative arguments presented?



Theoretical concepts



What framework is needed to place the research into context



Is it made clear whether a theoretical framework has been used?






Have any assumptions been made?



What explanation is needed?



Are assumptions made?



Is their use explained?



Are they justifiable?



Type of study



What type of study is being attempted? (descriptive or experimental).



Is the study described adequately?






Hypothesis is necessary if the study is of experimental design - would null hypothesis be better?



Do the hypotheses follow logically from the original problem?






Have aims/questions been clearly stated?



Are variables identified?



Have findings from the literature been used in order to formulate these aims and questions?



Do the aims and questions which are posed follow logically from the original problem?



Can the major variables be identified?






Who or what forms the population for investigation? (see Ethical considerations)



Is the chosen population appropriate?






Is the sample representative of the population?



Is the size of the sample sufficient to give the results some reliability?



What is the method of selection?



What is the ‘response rate’?



Will the validity of the findings be established? `



Is the method of selecting the sample clearly stated?



Are the reasons for this method of selection given?



Of whom and how many is the sample composed?



Does it seem appropriate?



Is the ‘response rate’ stated?



Methodology of tools



What method of data collection is to be used?





Have the reasons for the choice been explained?



Has the choice been limited because of the cost or time available?



Possible methods:



Interviews - unstructured, semi-structured, structured.



Questionnaires - using open and/or closed questions, may incorporate Likert-type scales or multiple-choice questions.



Observations - can be categorised as participant/non-participant, continuous or interrupted.



Work study and activity sampling techniques can be used.



Critical incidents may be noted. Quantitative and/or qualitative data may be sought. ‘Diary keeping’, ‘Q sorting’. The use of tape recording, audio videotape are further possibilities.



Are the reasons for choice of method used given?



Are the methods -advantages and disadvantages -discussed?



Are these copies of interview schedules and questionnaires provided with the report?



Ethical considerations



Is the proposed method ethically acceptable?



Who needs to be consulted, e.g. the local ethical committee?



Has permission to carry out the study been obtained from the necessary people?



Will the participants involved be given an explanation of what is to be happen and the option to be involved or not?



Has the researcher considered the ethics of the research proposal?



Was the necessary permission to undertake the project obtained?



Did the participants have the opportunity to refuse to participate?



Pilot study



It is necessary to check of methodology.



Is the information received relevant to the questions to be answered?



Does the method of analysis appear to be satisfactory?



What modifications are necessary?



Has a pilot study been completed?



Are reasons for choice of statistical tests given?





Is the statistical probability of results by chance included?






How are the facts or opinions which have been collected to be utilised?



Can they be categorised by hand or are more sophisticated methods required?



Cope-chat cards, automatic sorters or computer analysis may be considered.



What statistical tests are appropriate?



Is the method of analysis to the reader?



Are reasons for choice of statistical tests given?



Is the statistical probability of results by chance included?






These must be kept separate from the conclusions.



An exact account of information obtained should be given.



Present the results in an appropriate way for the readers of the report.



Consider the use of tables, histograms and graphs.



Are these intelligible to the reader and relevant to the problem?



Are ‘raw’ figures always given if results are expressed in percentages?



Are graphs scales explained?



Are statistical results and the probability of significance included?



Are the tables helpful?






Important part of the report.



Must be based on obtained results, even if the findings contradict expectations.



Relate the findings to questions posed originally and to the existing body of knowledge and relevant theory.



Do the conclusions relate logically to the results?



Are the aims and questions posed earlier answered?



Has the hypothesis been proved or rejected?



What omissions have been made?



Has the researcher referred to these?






What changes might arise as a result of these inquiries?



Which questions remain unanswered?



Which need to be reconsidered in the light of the results?



Is further research suggested?



Are the recommendations
self-evident after reading the rest of the report?



Should you, as the reader, be attempting to implement them?






Allow approximately one-third of the time for reading, one-third for field work and one-third for writing up.



Writing up: check style requirements for the report. Probably three or four drafts will be necessary.




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