Research, Why Bother?

It’s week 4 of our #ebnjc December blog series and this week we celebrate the importance of research & scholarship in nursing with guest blogs from Clare McVeigh, Professor Roger Watson, Professor Jan Dewing & Professor Elizabeth Robb.

In our #ebnjc blog series we have already celebrated children’s nursing; with blogs from Jayne Pentin, Kirsten Huby & Marcus Wootton, learning disability nursing; with blogs from Professor Ruth Northway, Jonathan Beebee & Amy Wixey and midwifery; with blogs from Louise Silverton CBE , Gina Novick & Lynsey Wilgaus

During our last blog Clare McVeigh outlined the challenges of delivering palliative care for people living with non-malignant respiratory disease.  Today we are delighted to welcome Professor Roger Watson, Professor of Nursing at the University of Hull, on the topic of nursing research.

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Research, why bother?

The usual answer to this question revolves around lofty aims about finding things out, making things, especially patients, better and contributing to a body of knowledge. This type of answer usually comes from someone with a vested interest in research—like me—who is trying to convey the worthiness of research but also its difficulty; it is virtuous, yet you have to be a bit special to participate.

Clearly, research is not for the uninitiated. An understanding of theories, asking researchable questions, research methods, analysis and reporting are the minimum requirements and these are most often gained within a degree and higher degree framework. There are no shortcuts to becoming involved in research and gaining the skills necessary to become an independent researcher can take a decade. Therefore, it does not seem very inclusive.

Nevertheless, to appreciate research and make use of the evidence it provides takes less time than you may think and many of us have the skills and the training to read and evaluate the research in our field and to know if what we are reading is useful or not. True, some research designs and statistical analyses are complex, but journals increasingly require authors to provide clear, plainly written, additional statements with published articles which should be understood by a wide audience.

But why?

So far, this has been a fairly standard defence of research but it does not address ‘why?’, especially: ‘why should I get involved?’ I think research has benefits beyond the obvious one of finding things out, for whatever reason. I think research changes people and if those people are practitioners, then it changes them for the better. Until you become involved in research there are many things you don’t appreciate, amongst them: how difficult it is to ask a research question; how difficult it is to answer a research question; how ‘hard won’ data are in any study; and how you sometimes get unexpected answers. Without making those of us engaged in research appear like martyrs to a cause, I do think that some exposure to research, especially clinical research, makes novice researchers appreciate that our job is quite hard. But this is not an end in itself.

By appreciating the difficulties in research first hand, those in practice will be more critical of their own practice and less likely to accept standard practice without being convinced it is the best that evidence can support. Where they encounter unexpected problems they will know how to find the information that could help them solve that problem and—of more importance—will know how to evaluate that information. Not everything that you can find on the Internet, for example, is trustworthy and having the skills to discriminate between vested interests and impartial data, between publications that are of high quality and those mainly derived from opinion is valuable. Ultimately, if evidence is unavailable and a solution cannot be found, with the right support and in the right environment, the practitioner who knows how to ask a researchable question may answer that question, find out something new and inspire others.


Professor Roger Watson PhD RN FRCP Edin FRCN FAAN
Roger Watson is a graduate of The University of Edinburgh with a PhD in biochemistry from The University of Sheffield who qualified in nursing at St George’s Hospital, London. Working in care of older people, he has a special interest in the feeding and nutritional problems of older people with dementia. He is Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Advanced Nursing and Editor of Nursing Open. A frequent visitor to the Far East, South East Asia and Australia, he has honorary and visiting positions in China, Hong Kong, and Australia. He is Professor of Nursing, University of Hull, UK and was a member of the UK 2014 Research Excellence Framework sub-panel for Allied Health Professions, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy.


Why not check out EBN’s Research Made Simple Series?

Research Made Simple: Reviewing the literature
Research Made Simple: Bias in research

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