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“What Difference Does it Make?” Plenty when it comes to Posters!

Congratulations—You and your team have completed a project!   

Now what?   Disseminate your work of course so that others can learn.  A poster is a great way to do this. Dissemination is a key step in research & evidence-based practice.  

But how should you present the information on your poster?  To quote a well-known
politician:  “What difference does it make”
how you hILARYpresent your  project in a poster.   Quite a bit, it turns out!   Some posters are definitely better than others.

For your poster you want to realize that you are dealing with a VISUAL medium, not text.  This means that you need:

  • A CLEAR FOCUS on the key ideas & results
  • CONTENT THAT FLOWS. You want to make sure the reader is guided through the poster–maybe by numbering steps or adding arrows.
  • Enough “WHITE SPACE” that the readers eye has time to “rest” and that draws attention to your focus. (e.g., think “Got Milk?” in bold white letters on a black background.  White space =any color blank space.)
  • USE VISUAL Employ short phrases, bullet points, active voice, and graphics that take advantage of the visual medium.   Some people say 50% should be graphics.



For example, let’s look at 3 different ways that you could present your pretend research study on RN attitudes to electronic health records (EHR).   The NOVICE POSTER-MAKER may put the following on their poster:

“RN attitudes toward the new electronic health record were examined in a pretest, and class was taught on how to use the electronic health record.   After the class a posttest of their attitudes was conducted.”

The above example has several problems!  It is in passive voice.  It has too many extra words.  It is plain text and not the visual. It doesn’t give results. Is someone going to stand there and read your poster like an article?  Nope.  You need to make it different!

To make a difference, TRY THIS SOLUTION to present the same information as bullet point phrases:

  • Key variable: RN attitudes toward electronic health record (EHR)
  • Pretest of RN attitudes to EHR
  • Class on improved use
  • Posttest of RN attitudes toward EHR showed improvement (p<.05)



OR PERHAPS TO MAKE AN EVEN BETTER DIFFERENCE—KEEP IT REALLY VISUAL, WITH FLOW AND FOCUS (using graphics when possible instead of words)Poster graphic

So….“What difference does it make?”   You decide!

For more information:  Check out or do a quick search for other poster making tips.  There is LOTS of good info out there.

Critical Thinking:   QUESTIONCritique this poster or another using the “60 second poster evaluation” at


“So much to read! So little time!” Literature Review How-To.


So much to read!!   So little time!!swirly clock.jpg

Here are some hints on how to get and put together literature on a problem that is “bugging” you!

  1. KEYUse key words to search PubMed or CINAHL especially.
  2. Select article titles or abstracts that have been published in the last 3-5 years and seem most on target with your topic. (Don’t be distracted by interesting, but irrelevant articles. Also, sometimes there are ‘classic’ articles published earlier, and you may need to get some advice on whether something is classic.)TOPIC candybar
  3. Get copies of the articles most relevant to your topic
  4. Divide the articles into two stacks:
    • Research studies – You can often identify these because they will say they are research or you will find sections in the articles with some of these titles: Introduction/Background, Methods/Procedures, Results/Findings, Discussion, Implications, and Conclusion
    • NON-research articles – These may cite a lot of other authors in describing an issue
  5. Read the NON-research articles first. Determine whether the articles are citing experts or the author is just giving you their own opinion.  Of course the ones citing experts are stronger.idea lightbulb
  6. Highlight or underline the key ideas or issues that are raised in those articles. Pay attention to where the authors Agree or Disagree.
  7. Now read the research articles and highlight key ideas & issues.
  8. Place articles in order from stronger to weaker research:
    • Stronger research articles are randomized controlled trials and meta-analyses
    • Next strongest are experiments without randomization or a control group (sometimes called quasi-experimental or sometimes pre/posttest surveys)
    • Next strongest are studies that show association or correlation between two variables.
    • And finally last are those studies that just describe something. The authors didn’t do any intervention and they are not trying to relate one variable to another.   These are called descriptive studies and the description may be a list of themes or it may be in numbers.  Meta-synthesis articles fall into this category.SanDiegoCityCollegeLearningResource_-_bookshelf
  9. You can create a table of evidence that can help you to sort out key ideas and strength of research studies.  (A sample is at
  10. If you are writing a summary of literature, you should now be able to have a paragraph on each of the main ideas raised in the literature and to cite the sources of those ideas. If various authors disagree, be sure to present both sides of the issue.

QUESTIONCritical thinking: What is something in nursing that has been “bugging” you.  Missed care–e.g., inability to get all the tasks done on time?  Or discharge med teaching?  Or the
difficult colleague?   Go to PubMed and find a research and a non-research article.  Pick out the key ideas in each.  What did you learn?

For more information check out:  Finding the needles in the haystacks: Evidence hunting efficiently & effectively.


Telling the Future: The Research Hypothesis

What is a research hypothesis?   A research hypothesis is a predicted answer; an educated guess.  It is a statement of the outcome that a researcher expects to find in an experimental study.Hypothesis

Why care?  Because it tells you precisely the problem that the research study is about!  Either the researcher’s prediction turns out to be true (supported by data) or not!
A hypothesis includes 3 key elements: 1) the population of interest, 2) the experimental treatment, & 3) the outcome expected.  It is a statement of cause and effect. The experimental treatment that the researcher manipulates is called the independent or cause variable.  The result of the study is an outcome that is called the dependent variable because it depends on the independent/cause variable.

For example, let’s take the hypothesis “Heart failure patients who receive exmeds2perimental drug X will have better cardiac function than will heart failure patients who receive standard drug Y.”  You can see that the researcher is manipulating the drug (independent variable) that patients will receive.  And patient cardiac outcomes are expected to vary—in fact cardiac function is expected to be better—for patients who receive the experimental drug X.

Ideally that researcher will randomly assign subjects to an experimental group that receives drug X and a control group that receives standard therapy drug Y.   Outcome cardiac function data will be collected and analyzed to see if the researcher’s predicted answer (AKA hypothesis) is true.

In a research article, the hypothesis is usually stated right at the end of the introduction or background section.

If you see a hypothesis, how can you tell what is the independent/cause variable and the dependent/effect/outcome variable?question   1st – Identify the population in the hypothesis—the population does not vary (& so, it is not a variable).   2nd – Identify the independent variable–This will be the one that is the cause & it will vary.  3rd – Identify the dependent variable–This will be the one that is the outcome & its variation depends on changes/variation in the independent variable.

PRACTICE:  What are the population, independent variable(s) & dependent variable(s) in these actual research study titles that reflect the research hypotheses:

FOR MORE INFORMATION:  See SlideShare by Domocmat (n.d.) Formulating hypothesis at


“I wonder as I wander…. ” DNP or PhD? What’s the diff?

Ever wonder what the difference is between the new Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) and the Doctorate of Philosophy in nursing (PhD)?      examine baby

In short the focus of PhD education is to prepare the RN to create original research.  In contrast, DNP education is to prepare the RN to apply existing research to nursing practice.

Being a nurse practitioner (NP) is NOT the difference.  Also while some PhDs become skilled in applying research to practice & some DNPs do research,…their doctoral course preparation & final projects are quite different!

For more information:  Here’s a great comparison chart from one doctoral program:

Critical reflection: Based on your own personal career goals….questionIf you were to return for a doctorate, which would you find most useful?

“Is it?” “It is!” Expert opinion as valuable evidence for practice.

“Is it?” “It is!” Expert opinion as valuable evidence for practice..

“I like my coffee (and my evidence) strong!”

Let’s say you are still working to solve the issue of whether gum chewing reduces post-operative ileus. You identified titles of all relevant articles using PubMed database (, and had the librarian pull the full articles for you.

Now you find yourself looking at a formidable stack of articles on the topic. You are sure that some are probably better quality than coffee2others, but how can you tell?

Professionals have agreed on which types of evidence are strongest. Here’s one well-accepted hierarchy form strongest #1 to weakest #6 (Melnyk & Fineout-Overholt, 2005).

  1. Systematic reviews, Meta-analyses, or Evidence-based clinical practice guidelines based on systematic review of RCTs
  2. Randomized controlled trial
  3. Controlled trials without randomization
  4. Case controlled or cohort studies
  5. Systematic review of descriptive studies
  6. Single descriptive or qualitative study
  7. Expert opinion of individuals or committees

Number 1= Strongest.   Number 6=Weakest

When you are trying to solve a problem, FIRST look for the three (3) types of evidence that are the very strongest (#1). These are:

  1. Systematic reviews that are summaries of research findings from many studies;
  2. Meta-analyses that are summaries of research findings in which the data from those other studies are combined into one big study;
  3. Evidence-based clinical practice guidelines that are clinical recommendations based on a summary of research and other evidence. An expert panel has often agreed on the summary and recommendations.

Your next strongest option, #2, is at least one randomized controlled trial (RCT). In an RCT a group of subjects is randomly separated into at least two groups. One group gets the experimental treatment—whether it is a drug or teaching plan or something else—and the other group usually gets standard treatment or a placebo. Then the group outcomes are compared statistically to see which did better.

Usually the title or first few lines of the article will tell you that the article is a systematic review, a meta-analysis, an evidence-based clinical practice guideline, or an RCT. Rarely is this left a mystery! (Never assume that a research study article is strong just because you LIKE the findings, or that it is weak because you DON’T like the findings.)

I’ll comment on other levels of evidence soon, but let’s focus on the strongest types first. Try the critical thinking for practicing the ideas above.

Critical Thinking:  Using the article titles below, rank these three (3) research studies in order from Strongest evidence to Weakest evidence:

Want to read more?  A good summary of one hierarchy is and why it’s important is at this 5 minute youtube video: . While that hierarchy does not precisely match the one above, the video still has lots of good information.



If The (EBP Practice Guideline) Shoe Fits, Wear It! Definitely!

If you want to solve a priority clinical problem using the best research evidence out there, you & your team have at least a couple of options:

1) You can DIY (do it yourself), which means finding, critiquing, synthesizing, and translating the research into clinical practice recommendations: OR

2) You can take advantage of experts’ work by finding evidence-based clinical practice guidelines that you can simply adopt or adapt to your setting.

Either option is good, but in this post I want to focus on option #2: Evidence-based practice guidelines.

What are practice guidelines?  Clinical practice guidelines are “systematically developed statements” that help RNs, other providers, and patients to decide on the best course of care. When the guideline authors use research to write them, then we call them evidence-based practice guidelines (

What’s the advantage?  In evidence-based practice guidelines, experts have already done the hard work of finding, critiquing, synthesizing, and translating the research into practice recommendations for you.   You need only to adopt or adapt them to fit your setting, and establish a regular review time to make sure they are supporting excellent care and still in date.

Where can you find EBP practice guidelines to adopt or adapt?  A few places are:

Consider “bookmarking” these sites or adding them to your “favorites” in your internet browser.

You may even find multiple guidelines on your subject.  Then you and your team get to choose the one that BEST fits your setting & solves the clinical problem!  How cool is that?  (Note: The gold standard for critiquing guideline quality is the AGREE II tool, but ….more on that another day.)

Critical thinking exercise

  1. Go to National Guidelines Clearinghouse.
  2. Search for “family presence during resuscitation”
  3. Look at the ENA clinical practice recommendations on that page and see how strong the evidence is to support each one. (You can also take a look at the process of guideline development & the research used to support it.)
  4. Then decide how might you adopt or adapt one of those recommendations in your own setting?
  5. Have an informal conversation with a colleague about your thoughts on this.

If you can use one or more of the recommendations, you have now brought more research evidence into your practice.  Congratulations!!

“Take 5!” (minutes to learn about 4 search strategies)

“TAKE 5” minutes to learn about 4 best strategies to find nursing research articles. Watch the video at this link:

(Well it’s technically 5:23 minutes, but as with calories, who’s counting?)

A great place to use these 4 strategies is the highly comprehensive and reliable PubMed database. You already pay for that publicly available healthcare research database with your tax dollars, so go to and get your money’s worth!   PubMed even has a link to show you how to use those 4 strategies specifically on PubMed. (Check that out at

One of your search terms can be nurs* if you want a better chance of finding only nursing articles. You’ll know what that little asterisk means after you “TAKE 5!” with the first video link.

Some PubMed articles are free for you to print or save. Many are not. That means you will need to take the list of articles that you found in your search to your hospital librarian for help. OR if you have access to library databases through a school you can find full text of most articles there or order them through interlibrary loan.

If you don’t have access to library databases yourself, here’s a good way to work with a hospital librarian.

  1. Use the 4 search strategies to find relevant articles on PubMed.
  2. Give that list of articles to your librarian who is likely to have a budget and time to pull the full articles for you.
  3. If you find only one article that fits the problem you are trying to solve, you can take that article to the librarian and ask the person to find you more like that one.

Another public database is Google Scholar, but it is not as accurate or thorough. For its strengths and weaknesses and how to use it well, you might find this handout useful (

Happy evidence hunting!

“It Takes 2 to Tango” (Or to Answer Research Questions)

It takes 2 people to dance the tango, and 2 types of data to answer research questions.

Researchers answer hypotheses and research questions by collecting and analyzing data.   The collected data often are numbers (AKA quantitative data) that are analyzed with statistical tests.  

In contrast, some researchers may collect word data to answer the research question. The word data are usually subjects’ descriptive answers to open-ended interview questions.   Researchers analyze the word data (AKA qualitative data) by looking for patterns in subjects’ descriptions.

A researcher may also choose to collect and analyze both numbers (quantitative) data AND word (qualitative) data to answer a research question more completely. This is similar to what an RN might do when the RN asks the patient to rate pain from 0 to 10 (number data) and also to describe the character, location, & severity of the pain (word data). You can see that having both types of data can give a more complete picture clinically. The same is true in research.  (Using both quantitative & qualitative data is called mixed methods.)

Many nurses associate research only with numbers data and statistical analysis. Here is an excerpt of how analysis of numbers/quantitative data may look. “The majority of patients were female (58.5%), the mean age was 59.5 years, 53.1% of the patients had cancer, and 55.5% had undergone surgery….The majority of patients (56.6%) reported pain in the abdominal region. The mean duration of pain in patients with chronic pain was 4.8 years (SD =10.8), and for patients with acute pain 5.9 days (SD =5.9).” (de Rond et al, 2000, p.429) Notice the statistical calculation of percents, means (averages), and standard deviations (SD).*

In contrast, sometimes word data and analysis is the only way to answer a research question!   Here is an example of how such qualitative data analysis was used to answer the question of what social processes were blocking the comforting of hospice patients: “Open coding initially generated five [barriers to appropriate opioid use to manage pain among hospice patients]…: within the patient, within the physician, within the family, within the nurse, and within the healthcare system….Two basic psychosocial processes became apparent as the foundation of these barriers: fear and avoidance behaviors.” (Zerwekh et al, 2002, p.85)  Notice that the researchers identified 5 barriers and 2 processes by analyzing nurses’ descriptions.

At other times researchers may collect and analyze BOTH numbers (quantitative) data and word (qualitative) data, as in this excerpt: “[In response to the question of] ‘Who asked me about my pain and how did they do this?’ Seven of the eight children interviewed indicated they had been asked about their pain. …Some children did provide evidence of areas where they felt improvements could be made. One child indicated she would like nurses: to check on me more often (Case 1). However, another child (Case 3) indicated that nurses asked her about her pain too often and that this was particularly annoying if it meant they woke her up.” (Twycross & Finley, 2013, p.3100)   Notice in this mixed methods case that 70% (7 of 10) said they had been asked about pain, and that several gave descriptions suggesting improvements.


CRITICAL THINKING: Read this excerpt and identify whether the researcher collected and analyzed quantitative or quantitative data or used mixed methods:“Approximately 82% of all patients received pain medications in the hospital, doctor’s office, outpatient clinic, or surgery center. The most commonly administered medications were morphine (33%) and meperidine (27%) for inpatients and acetaminophen with codeine (23%) and ibuprofen (15%) for outpatients.   Overall, one third of patients requested their first one to two doses of pain medication while in the surgical setting. Of these, 37% were inpatients and 25% were outpatients. After discharge, 76% of all patients received pain medications.” (Source: Apfelbaum, Chen, Mehta, & Gan, 2003, DOI: 10.1213/01.ANE.0000068822.10113.9E)


*Standard deviations (SD) are how the data spread out while means (averages) are how the data clump together.