All posts by Martha "Marty" Highfield PhD RN

I enjoy helping RNs learn to read and use research in daily practice. (My day job is teacher & consultant in evidence-based practice (EBP)/research and Professor Emerita,Cal State University Northridge)

DIY your own Intro/Background: Structure & Argument

Want to know how to write an introduction/background section of a paper?  Pay attention to STRUCTURE & evidence-based ARGUMENT in order to DIY (do-it-yourself) your own intro/background for a school paper or research report!

Let’s use this 2015 free full-text article by Marie Flem Sørbø et al. as a model!  Past and recent abuse is associated with early cessation of breast feeding: results from a large prospective cohort in Norway .   (Hint: Clicking on the article’s pdf tab may make it easier to read.)

Focus only on the INTRO/BACKGROUND section for now.  Check out the STRUCTURE then the EVIDENCE-BASED ARGUMENT of the Intro/Background.  This is how you should write your own.

STRUCTURE of INTRO/BACKGROUND in Sørbø et al. (2015):STructure

  1. Where is the Intro/Background section located in the article?
  2. What heading is used for the section?
  3. Where are the research questions located in the Intro/Background?  (HINT: this is the standard place in all papers & in this case the authors call them “aims.)

ARGUMENTS in INTRO/BACKGROUND in Sørbø et al. (2015):Why2

  1. Look at the first (topic) sentence of each paragraph in INTRO/BACKGROUND & listen to the systematic argument the researchers are making for WHY their study is important.
    • “Breast feeding has long been acknowledged as the optimal infant nutrition conferring beneficial short-term and long-term health effects for both infants and mothers.1–5      …
    • Abuse of women is common worldwide, as one in three women during lifetime suffer partner or non-partner abuse.10   …Adverse  effects [of abuse]… are barriers to breast feeding.*…
    • Given the overwhelming evidence of the positive effects of breast feeding, knowledge about factors influencing breastfeeding behaviour is essential….
    • We explored the impact of abuse of women on breastfeeding behaviour in a large prospective population in Norway where the expectations to breast feed are high, and breast feeding is facilitated in the work regulations….” (pp. 1-2)evidence2
  2. Now look at the research & other evidence written down AFTER each of above key sentences that SUPPORT each idea.
  3. Notice that the INTRO/BACKGROUND is NOT a series of abstracts of different studies!!  Instead evidence is grouped into key arguments for the study: Breast feeding is best, Abuse is common, Abuse creates barriers to breastfeeding, & Therefore, knowing about factors affecting breastfeeding is therefore important). [Note: Of course, if your particular professor or editor asks you to do a series of abstracts, then you must, but do group them in arguments like the topic sentences.]

All this leads naturally, logically to …(drum roll please!)…the research questions/hypotheses, which are the gaps in our knowledge that the research will fill.  This sets up the rest of the research article!

Image result for starCritical Thinking:  Your turn! Write your own Intro/Background usingSTructure

  • Structure: Placement in article, heading, placement of research question/hypothesisWhy2
  • Argument: Key idea topic sentences (make a list 1st) with supporting research & other evidence (your literature review).

For more info on Intro/Background:  Review my blogpost Intro to Intro’s

*ok, yeh. I cheated and included one additional sentence to capture the authors’ flow of argument.

Introduction to Introductions!

In a couple of recent blog entries I noted what you can and cannot learn from research 1) titles & 2) abstracts. Now, let me introduce you to the next part of research article:  Introduction (or sometimes called Background or no title at all!).   Introduction immediately follows the abstract.Start

The introduction/background  “[a] outlines the background of the problem or issue being examined, [b] summarizes the existing literature on the subject, and [c] states the research questions, objectives, and possibly hypothesis” (p. 6, Davies & Logan, 2012)

This section follows the abstract. It may or may not have a heading(s) of “Introduction” or “Background” or both.  Like the abstract, the Introduction describes the problem in which the researcher is interested & sometimes the specific research question or hypothesis that will be measured.

In the Intro/Background you will get a more full description of why the problem is a priority for research and what is already known about the problem (i.e., literature writing-handreview).

Key point #1: Articles & research that are reviewed in theIntro/Background should be mostly within the past 5-7 years.  Sometimes included are classic works that may be much older OR sometimes no recent research exists.   If recent articles aren’t used, this should raise some questions in your mind.   You know well that healthcare changes all the time!!  If old studies are used the author should explain.

Key point #2:  The last sentence or two in theIntro/Background is usually the research question or hypothesis (unless the author awards it its own section).  If you need to know the research question/hypothesis right away, you can skip straight to the end of the Intro/background—and there it is!

Critical Thinking: 1) Read the abstract then 2) Read the 1st section of this 2015 free full-text article by Marie Flem Sørbø et al.:  Past and recent abuse is associated with early cessation of breast feeding: results from a large prospective cohort in Norway

  • Is it called Introduction/Background or both?
  • What literature is already available on the problem or issue being examined?
  • What are the research questions/hypotheses?  (After reading above you should know exactly where to look for these now.)

For More Info:  Check out especially Steps #1, #2, & #3 of How to read a research article.

?Trustworthy? Protect Your Reputation!

If you are writing something for publication, watch this 2 minute video before selecting a journal!   You’ll thank yourself for doing it.

  1. Thinkthinker
  2. Check
  3. Submit

< 2 minute video that tells you how to think, check, submit:  

  http://thinkchecksubmit.org/

Don’t be fooled.   It’s a lot of work to prepare something to publish, and you want your work to appear in a credible source and be accessible.   It’s YOUR reputation!

If you are a student search for literature, it is important to know this also!!  You want to use the highest quality evidence you can find for your projects.

33,000 foot view isn’t enough! Get down on the Ground To See What’s Really Happening!

My last blog post listed the usual sections of a research report (title, abstract, introduction, methods, results, & discussion/conclusion); and I illustrated the amazing things you can learn from only an article title!Its not enough

This week? Abstracts.   Abstracts are great; abstracts are not enough!

An abstract gives us only enough info to INaccurately apply the study findings to practice.

An abstract typically summarizes all the other sections of the article, such as  the question the researcher wanted to answer, how the researcher collected data to answer it, and what that data showed.  This is great when you are trying to get the general picture, but you should Never assume that the abstract tells you what you need to know.

Wrong WayAbstracts can mislead you IF you do not read the rest of the article.  They are only a short 100-200 words and so they leave out key information.   You may misunderstand study results if you read only the abstract.   An abstract’s 33,000 foot level description of a study, cannot reveal the same things that can be revealed in the up-close & personal description of the full article.

So…what is the takeaway?  Definitely read the abstract to get the general idea.  Then read the full article beginning to end to get the full & beautiful picture of the study.  Davies & Logan (2012) Butterflyencourage us,  Don’t give up reading the full article just because some parts of the study may be hard to understand.  Just read and get what you can, then re-read the difficult-to-understand parts.  Get some help with those PRN.

 

Critical thinking:   What info is missing from the below abstract that you might want to know?

J Nurses Prof Dev. 2016 May-Jun;32(3):130-6. doi: 10.1097/NND.0000000000000227.    Partnering to Promote Evidence-Based Practice in a Community Hospital: Implications for Nursing Professional Development Specialists. Highfield ME1, Collier A, Collins M, Crowley M.

ABSTRACT: Nursing professional development specialists working in community hospitals face significant barriers to evidence-based practice that academic medical centers do not. This article describes 7 years of a multifaceted, service academic partnership in a large, urban, community hospital. The partnership has strengthened the nursing professional development role in promoting evidence-based practice across the scope of practice and serves as a model for others.

More info on abstracts & other components of research articles?  Check out Davies & Logan (2012) Reading Research published by Elsevier.

“It’s All in The Name!” Titles of Research Articles

Research articles have relatively standardized sections:

• Title 
• Abstract (overview of project that is somewhat incomplete)
• Introduction (purpose, problem, & background)
• Methods (sample, setting, measurements collected)
• Results (data analysis from measurements), &
• Discussion/conclusions (what the data analysis tells us about the original purpose & problem)
These may vary a little from article to article.

Let’s look at the TITLE for a minute. A good title is a mini-abstract. A good title will include:
• Key variables (remember a variable is something that varies, such as fatigue or satisfaction)
• Population studied
• Setting of study
• Design of 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.
• Key thing that varies? Expectations about pain relief
• Population studied? ED patients with abdominal pain
• Setting? May be the ED
• Design? (not included, but those with experience in reading research would guess that it is probably a descriptive study—in other words it just describes the patients’ expectations without any intervention.)

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

“Please answer!” – How to increase the odds in your favor when it comes to questionnaires

Self-report by participants is one of the most common ways that researchers collect data, yet it is fraught with problems.   Some worries for researchers are: “Will participants be honest or will they say what they think I want to hear?”   “Will they understand the DifferentGroupsquestions correctly?”  “Will those who respond (as opposed to those who don’t respond) have unique ways of thinking so that my respondents do not represent everyone well?” and a BIG worry “Will they even fill out and return the questionnaire?”

One way to solve at least the latter 2 problems is to increase the response rate, and Edwards et al (2009 July 8) reviewed randomized trials  to learn how to do just that!!Questionnaire faces

If you want to improve your questionnaire response rates, check it out!  Here is Edwards et al.’s plain language summary as published in Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, where you can read the entire report.

Methods to increase response to postal and electronic questionnaires

MailPostal and electronic questionnaires are a relatively inexpensive way to collect information from people for research purposes. If people do not reply (so called ‘non-responders’), the research results will tend to be less accurate. This systematic review found several ways to increase response. People can be contacted before they are sent a postal questionnaire. Postal questionnaires can be sent by first class post or recorded delivery, and a stamped-return envelope can be provided. Questionnaires, letters and e-mails can be made more personal, and preferably kept short. Incentives can be offered, for example, a small amount of money with Remember jpga postal questionnaire. One or more reminders can be sent with a copy of the questionnaire to people who do not reply.

 

Critical/reflective thinking:  Imagine that you were asked to participate in a survey.  Which of these strategies do you think would motivate or remind you to respond and why?

For more info read the full report: Methods to increase response to postal and electronic questionnaires

 

Words vs. Numbers: What does it all mean?

There are several ways to classify types of research.   One way is qualitative versus quantitative–in other words, WORD  vs. NUMBER data, methods, & analysis.

  1. Qualitative research focuses on words (or sometimes images) and their meanings.
  2. Quantitative research focuses on numbers or counting things and statistical analysis that yields probable meaning.

If you watch this short, easy-to-understand youtube clip, you’ll have all the basics that you need to understand these!   Enjoy!

Critical thinking:  Go to PubMed for this QUANTitative study on spiritual issues in care (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28403299) and compare it to this PubMed QUALitative study (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27853263) in terms of data, methods, & analysis)

For more information: See earlier posts

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