A Nurses’ Guide to the Critical Reading of Research : Nursing Research Paper, SIT, Singapore

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University Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT)
Subject Nursing

A nurses’ guide to the critical reading of research

There is an increased emphasis on evidence-based practice (EBP) to substantiate clinical decision-making (Joanna Briggs Institute 2014). EBP is defined as the conscientious integration of best research evidence with
clinical expertise, patient values, and needs in the delivery of high-quality, cost-effective health care (WrightSt Clair et al 2014; Burns and Grove 2009, p.17). This substantiation, or evidence, can arise from tradition, authority, experience, trial, and error, logic or reason, or importantly by nursing research (Urden et al 2014, p.3; Moxham 2012).

A fundamental goal of nursing research is to improve nursing care and outcomes by basing care on sound scientific evidence (Elliott et al 2012, p.11). Knowledge gained from adverse events should be used to further improve patient outcomes (Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care 2014; The Cochrane Collaboration, 2014; Australian Nursing Federation 2009).

The Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia (2012) requires a registered nurse or registered midwife to maintain their professional knowledge and competence by delivering care based on current evidence, best practice and, where applicable and available, validated research. Such an objective can be achieved if nurses and midwives understand the research process and demonstrate an ability to retrieve and critically evaluate research findings (Wright-St Clair et al 2014; Moxham 2012).

This is strongly reinforced by the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia (2012) who state nurses have a responsibility to whom they provide care, society and each other to provide safe, quality and competent nursing care. The importance of understanding, critically evaluating and applying research becomes vital when so much rests on professional ability and accountability (Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia, 2012). Evidence and research are threaded through practice, professional work and study in the health sciences (Bradshaw 2012, p.15; Burns and Grove 2009, p.17). This paper provides a simple structured process to assist the nurse in evaluating research papers.


Critiquing is defined as reading and examining the strengths and limitations of a published study (Jirojwong et al 2011, p.396). Similarly, critical appraisal is a term used to assess outcomes for evidence of a research study’s effectiveness (Burns and Grove, 2011; Jirojwong et al 2011, p.396). Nurses need to look for the merits and demerits of the methods used as well as the applicability to the health care setting (Wright-St Clair et al 2014).

Research Methodology:

A research report should contain a carefully and concisely worded problem statement identifying key variables (Polit and Hungler 2013). Research is often categorized as qualitative or quantitative, the former concentrating
on words expressed by people in order to determine the reality of practice, whereas the latter tends to emphasize the use of numbers. Quantitative approaches to data collection and analysis are precise and systematic (Burns
and Grove 2009, p.45)

whereas qualitative research means any kind of research that produces findings not arrived at by means of statistical procedures or other methods of quantification (Burns and Grove 2009). A quantitative approach may be chosen because the researcher wishes to collect information in a numerical form as the results will be based on rigour, objectivity and control (Polit and Hungler 2013; Burns and Grove  2011).

Qualitative research allows the researcher to study things in their natural surroundings and attempt to interpret, or make sense of, phenomena (Burns and Grove 2009) which is subjective in nature (McNaughton 2014) and includes the analysis of themes (Jirojwong et al 2014).

Mixed method research is a combination of quantitative and qualitative approaches (Borbasi and Jackson 2012, p.148; Jirojwong et al 2011, p.166). Complex concepts of interest in nursing may require both approaches to sufficiently study the phenomena. Examples of different data collection methods might include.

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