Research Skills that Adult Students/Scholar-Practitioners Need

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Research and practice are the focus for December on SAGE MethodSpace, with featured posts from our Mentors in Residence, the co-editors of Research Design and Methods: An Applied Guide for the Scholar-Practitioner. Find the unfolding series of posts through this link. Enter the code SAGE2019 for a discount on your book purchase. 

Scholar-practitioners usually conduct research while in the throes of active practice in their professions; in other words, while “on the job.”  Their research often stems from some condition that arises in the workplace, and they hope that the results will have some meaningful application to their situation as well as to the profession as a whole.  For these circumstances, the scholar-practitioner can benefit from research skills focused on:

  • Perceiving a condition amenable to research
  • Framing a research question
  • Answering a research question
    • Reviewing prior research
    • Conducting new research
  • Sharing research answers
    • Sharing locally
    • Disseminating research

Each of these skills can be honed technically; here we will address them from a very practical viewpoint.

Perceiving a condition amenable to research

Many conditions can vex us in the day to day of our professional work, such as many patients calling back after hospital release not understanding their discharge notes, or low student compliance with homework completion.  For the scholar-practitioner, observing such conditions as a pattern, rather than isolated incidents, culminates in a perception of a researchable problem. The problem can be succinctly stated as a research question.

Framing a research question

Let’s take one of the scenarios presented in the prior paragraph.  The scholar-practitioner experiencing the hospital discharge scenario begins to wonder about it and generates a question:

  • Why do so many patients call back for further explanation of their discharge directions after leaving the hospital?

The scholar-practitioner may want to refine the question and dig deeper: 

  • What is the actual proportion of patients who call back for further explanation of their discharge directions after leaving the hospital?
  • Is there any relationship between patient’s age and frequency of call back?
  • Is there any relationship between hospital department and frequency of call back?
  • Is there any relationship between number of prior admissions and frequency of call back?
  • Has there been any change in frequency of call back over time?

The exact questions the scholar-practitioner finalizes will depend on many factors, but once framed, the next step is to answer them.

Answering a research question

There are two ways for a scholar-practitioner to answer a research question:

  1. Find the answer in research that has already been done, and
  2. Conduct new research.

If the scholar-practitioner is asking a question, it is likely that others in the profession have done so as well.  To find out how others have answered it, the scholar-practitioner reviews the literature in the field.  For example, others may have done research on the relationship between patient age and ability to comprehend discharge instructions.  Or, others may have found that the fewer the number of acronyms used in hospital discharge instructions, the more understandable they are to patients.  If the answer is already known or the information is relevant to the research question, the scholar-practitioner can apply that research to answering the current question.

After reviewing the literature, the scholar-practitioner may see that further research still needs to be done.  At that point, the scholar-researcher designs and conducts a study to collect and analyze data to answer the research question or questions.  Of course, sharing the results of that study is important both locally and throughout the profession.

Sharing research answers

The scholar-practitioner often is looking for an answer to a research question that is applicable to the immediate situation.  Scholar-practitioners frequently share research results locally through board reports, newsletters, committee work, regional presentations, and work applications.  However, there is also an opportunity for scholar-practitioners to add to the broader professional discourse by publication in journals and books, as well as presentations at national and international conferences. 

These are the basic research skills scholar-practitioners need. The best scholar-practitioner programs prepare students to apply evidence in workplace settings to make changes that can impact students, employees, and organizational effectiveness and profitability.

Research Design and Methods

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