All posts by Martha "Marty" Highfield PhD RN

It is difficult to be simple! Yet, research can be easily understood if explained well. That's my aim.

Your public persona: Name matters

This applies to you current and future authors. (Don’t think you won’t be one someday!)

Try to find an author name you can stick with. You want people to easily find all your work. What to consider? What does the future hold? Here’s some help from new online article in Nurse Author & Editor:

Is “data” singular or plural?

I’m a stickler for the plural.  (Peer reviewers are, too.) What’s your take?

Grammar Party

Man with laptop. Word bubble says: Hey, girl. Let's check out some data together

Buckle up, folks. People have strong feelings about whether to treat “data” as a singular or plural noun. And we are going to talk all about it today.

Technically, “datum” is the singular version, and “data” is the plural version.

This means—technically—“data” takes a plural version of a verb.

Examples:

The data are correct.
The data show these numbers.
The data illustrate the findings.

But . . . these days, most people treat “data” as if it were singular. So they use a singular verb with it.

Examples:

The data is correct.
The data shows these numbers.
The data illustrates the findings.

This is where you have to make a decision. Are you going to be a stickler and fight for “data” as a plural, or are you going to buckle under peer pressure and treat it as singular?

You are entitled to your own thoughts about this. But guess…

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Predicting the future: Hypotheses

What is the difference between a research question and hypothesis?  A hypothesis is a predicted answer and focuses on testing whether a particular cause(s) actually creates a particular effect(s) (i.e., ASA lowers MI risk).   A hypothesis allows us to test whether we are telling the future correctly.  ( note: It may be written in interrogative form, but should not be confused with a research question.  If the terms cause, effect, or any of their synonyms occur you are dealing with a hypothesis: an educated prediction.)

On the other hand, we use a research question when we don’t know enough to predict possible cause and effect, & merely want to describe something.  A question may also be used to find out whether or not 2 things are related to each other, but we aren’t ready to identify one as causing the other (i.e., which came 1st, the chicken or the egg?—these are related, but which was the cause?)  Research questions allow us to gather information that may lead to hypotheses.

There you have it.  Consider yourself introduced to hypotheses and research questions.

What do you think?

Critical thinking question: One of the following is a hypothesis & one is a research question.  Which is which?

  1.  The purpose of this study was to describe the expectations for pain relief of patients with abdominal pain and how their communication with providers relates to their overall pain relief. (Yee et al 2006)
  2.  We investigated whether a brief pain communication/education strategy would improve patient pain communication skills. (Smith et al, 2010)

Happy research reading!

What’s in a Name?

[this posting back by popular demand]

TITLES!! That’s what you get when you search for research online!

But, whether your search turns up 3 or 32,003 article titles….remember that a title tells you a LOT In fact, if well-written it is a mini-abstract of the study. 

For example take this research article title “What patients with abdominal pain expect about pain relief in the Emergency Department” by Yee et al. in 2006 in JEN.
Variable (key factor that varies)?  Answer = Expectations about pain relief
Population studied? Answer = ED patients with abdominal pain
Setting? Answer = Maybe the ED (because they could’ve been surveyed after they got home or were admitted)
• Design?  Answer = not included, but you might guess that it is a descriptive study because it likely describes the patients’ expectations without any intervention.

There you have it! Now you know about TITLES!!

Now you try. Here’s your title: Gum chewing aids bowel function return and analgesic requirements after bowel surgery: a randomized controlled trial by Byrne CM, Zahid A, Young JM, Solomon MJ, Young CJ in May 2018

  • Variables? (this time there are 3 factors that vary–1 independent variable; & 2 dependent ones connected by “and”) Your answer is……
  • Population? (who is being studied; & if you have trouble identifying variables, identify the population first; then try) Your answer is….
  • Setting? (where; maybe not so clear; might have to go to abstract for this one) Your answer is….
  • Design of study? (it’s right there!) Your answer…..

Congratulate yourself!

Pilot sTUdies: Look before you leap! (a priori vs. posthoc)

Why does it matter if a study is labeled a “pilot”?

SHORT ANSWER: …Because a pilot is about testing research methods,….not about answering research questions.

If a project has “pilot” in the title, then you as a reader should expect a study that examines whether certain research methods work (methodologic research). Methods include things like timing of data collection, sampling strategies, length of questionnaire, and so on. Pilots suggest what methods will effectively to answer researchers’ questions. Advance prep in methods makes for a smooth research landing.

Small sample = Pilot? A PILOT is related to study goals and design–not sample size. Of course pilots typically have small samples, but a small sample does not a pilot study make. Sometimes journals may tempt a researcher to call their study a pilot because of small samples. Don’t go there. Doing so means after-the-fact, posthoc changes that were Not the original, a priori goals and design.

Practical problems? If researchers label a study a “pilot” after it is completed (post hoc), they raise practical & ethical issues. At a practical level, researchers must create feasibility questions & answers. (See NIH.) The authors should drop data analysis that answers their original research questions.

Ethics? This ethically requires researchers 1) to say they planned something that they didn’t or 2) to take additional action. Additional action may be complete transparency about the change and seeking modification to original human subjects’ committee approvals. An example of one human subjects issue is that you informed your subjects that their data would answer a particular research question, and now you want to use their data to answer something else–methods questions!

Options? You can just learn from your small study and go for a bigger one, including improving methods. Some journals will consider publication of innovative studies even when small.

Look first, then leap: Better to look a priori, before leaping. If you think you might have trouble with your methods, design a pilot. If you made the unpleasant discovery that your methods didn’t work as you hoped, you can 1) disseminate your results anyway or 2) rethink ethical and practical issues.

Who’s with me? The National Institutes of Health agree: https://nccih.nih.gov/grants/whatnccihfunds/pilot_studies . NIH notes that common misuses of “pilots” are determining safety, efficacy of intervention, and effect size.

Who disagrees? McGrath argues that clinical pilots MAY test safety and efficacy, as well as feasibility. (See McGrath, J. M. (2013). Not all studies with small samples are pilot studies, Journal of Perinatal & Neonatal Nursing, 27(4): 281-283. doi: 10.1097/01.JPN.0000437186.01731.bc )

The Difference Between “Historic” and “Historical”

Doing history research?

Grammar Party

Photo of Big Ben at night
London’s Big Ben is a historic clock.

This post will teach you the difference between historic and historical. These two words have similar meanings and get confused a lot, so don’t feel bad that you haven’t memorized their definitions.

Historic describes an important and momentous event, person, place, or thing in history.

  • The Revolutionary War was a historic event in the United States.
  • Marie Curie is a historic figure in scientific history.
  • Big Ben is a historic clock.

Historical describes anything that belonged to an earlier time period and relates to history.

  • Grandma found historical dinner plates at the yard sale.
  • The farmhouse from the 1800s is historical.
  • We looked at a historical map of our town to learn its original design.

To remember the difference, think about historic as being something big (meaningful to many) and historical as something small (meaningful to a few).

For instance, the…

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Trial Balloons & Pilot Studies

A pilot study is to research what a trial balloon is to politics

In politics, a trial balloon is communicating a law or policy idea via media to see how the intended audience reacts to it.  A trial balloon does not answer the question, “Would this policy (or law) work?” Instead a trial balloon answers questions like “Which people hate the idea of the policy/law–even if it would work?” or “What problems might enacting it create?” In other words, a trial balloon answers questions that a politician wants to know BEFORE implementing a policy so that the policy or law can be tweaked to be successfully put in place.

meeting2

In research, a pilot study is sort of like a trial balloon. It is “a small-scale test of the methods and procedures” of a planned full-scale study (Porta, Dictionary of Epidemiology, 5th edition, 2008). A pilot study answers questions that we want to know BEFORE doing a larger study, so that we can tweak the study plan and have a successful full-scale research project. A pilot study does NOT answer research questions or hypotheses, such as “Does this intervention work?”  Instead a pilot study answers the question “Are these research procedures workable?”

A pilot study asks & answers:Can I recruit my target population? Can the treatments be delivered per protocol? Are study conditions acceptable to participants?” and so on.   A pilot study should have specific measurable benchmarks for feasibility testing. For example if the pilot is finding out whether subjects will adhere to the study, then adherence might be defined as  “70 percent of participants in each [group] will attend at least 8 of 12 scheduled group sessions.”  Sample size is based on practical criteria such as  budget, participant flow, and the number needed to answer feasibility questions (ie. questions about whether the study is workable).

A pilot study does NOT Test hypotheses (even preliminarily); Use inferential statistics; Assess safety of a treatment; Estimate effect size; Demonstrate safety of an intervention.

A pilot study is not just a small study.

Next blog: Why this matters!!

For more info read the source of all quotes in this blog: Pilot Studies: Common Uses and Misuses @ https://nccih.nih.gov/grants/whatnccihfunds/pilot_studies