Style and Types Of Research Reports

Afza.Malik GDA

Research Report in Nursing

Style and Types of Research Reports
    Style and Types Of Research Reports Includes Theses and Dissertations Journals and E-Journals Electronic Publication  Oral Reports Poster presentations

The Style Of Research Reports

    Research reports especially for quantitative studies are usually written in a distinctive style.A research report is not an essay. It is an account of how and why a problem was studied, and what was discovered as a result. The report should in general not include overtly subjective statements, emotionally charged statements, or exaggerations. This is not to say that the researchers' story should be told in a dreamy manner. 

    Indeed, in qualitative reports there are ample opportunities to enliven the narration with rich description, direct quotes, and insightful interpretation. Authors of quantitative reports, although somewhat constrained by structure and the need to include numeric information, should strive to keep the presentation lively. In quantitative reports, personal pronouns such as "I," "my," and "we" are often avoided because the passive voice and impersonal pronouns suggest greater impartiality

    Qualitative reports, by contrast, are often written in the first person and in an active voice. Some qualitative researchers (eg, Webb, 1992) have argued that the use of the neutral, anonymous third person in quantitative research is actually deceptive because it suggests greater objectivity than may be warranted. It is likely that the report-writing styles of researchers working within different paradigms will continue to diverge. 

    Even among quantitative researchers, however, there is a trend toward striking a greater balance between active and passive voice and first-person and third-person narration. If a direct presentation can be made without suggesting bias, a more readable and lively product usually results. It is not easy to write simply and clearly, but these are important goals of scientific writing. The use of pretentious words or technical jargon does little to enhance the communicative value of the report. 

    Avoiding jargon and highly technical terms is especially important in communicating research findings to practicing nurses. Also, complex sentence constructions are not necessarily the best way to convey ideas. The style should be concise and straightforward. If writers can add elegance to their reports without interfering with clarity and accuracy, so much the better, but the product is not expected to be a literary achievement. Needless to say, this does not imply that grammatical and spelling accuracy should be sacrificed. 

    The research report should reflect scholarship, not pedantry. With regard to references and specific technical aspects of the manuscript, various styles have been developed. The writer may be able to select a style, but often the style is imposed by journal editors and university regulations. Specialized manuals such as those of the University of Chicago Press (1993), the American Psychological Association (2001), and the American Medical Association (1997) are widely used for reference styles. 

    A common flaw in reports of beginning researchers is inadequate organization. The overall structure is fairly standard, but the organization within sections and subsections needs careful attention. Sequences should be in an orderly progression with appropriate transitions. Themes or ideas should not be introduced abruptly or abandoned suddenly. Continuity and logical thematic development are critical to good communication. 

    It may seem a trivial point, but methods and results should be described in the past tense. For example, it is inappropriate to say, “Nurses who receive special training perform triage functions significantly better than those without training.” In this sentence, “receive” and “perform” should be changed to “received” and “performed.” The present tense implies that the results apply to all nurses, when in fact the statement pertains only to a particular sample whose behavior was observed in the past.

Types of Research Reports

    Although the general form and structure of research reports are fairly consistent across different types of reports, certain requirements vary. This section describes features of four major kinds of research reports: theses and dissertations, traditional journal articles, on-line reports, and presentations at professional meetings. 

    Reports for class projects are excluded—not because they are unimportant but rather because they so closely resemble theses on a smaller scale. Final reports to agencies that have sponsored research also are not described. Most funding agencies issue reporting guidelines that can be secured from project officers.

Theses and Dissertations

    Most doctoral degrees are granted on the successful completion of an empirical research project. Empirical theses are sometimes required of master's degree candidates as well. Most universities have a preferred format for their dissertations. Until recently, most schools used a traditional IMRAD format. The following organization for a traditional dissertation is typical:

Preliminary Pages

Title Page Acknowledgment Page Table of Contents List of Tables List of Figures

Main Body

Chapter I. Introduction Chapter II. Review of the Literature Chapter III. Method Chapter IV. Results Chapter V. Discussion and Summary

Supplementary Pages

Bibliography Appendix 

    The preliminary pages or front matter for dissertations are much the same as those for a scholarly book. The title page indicates the title of the study, the author's name, the degree requirement being fulfilled, the name of the university awarding the degree, the date of submission of the report, and the signatures of the dissertation committee members. 

    The acknowledgment page gives writers the opportunity to express appreciation to those who contributed to the project. The table of contents outlines the major sections and subsections of the report, indicating on which page the reader will find those sections of interest. The lists of tables and figures identify by number, title, and page the tables and figures that appear in the text. The main body of a traditionally formatted dissertation incorporates the IMRAD sections described earlier. 

    The literature review often is so extensive that a separate chapter may be devoted to it. When a short review is sufficient, the first two chapters may be combined. In some cases, a separate chapter may also be required to elaborate the study's conceptual framework. The supplementary pages include a bibliography or list of references used to prepare the report and one or more appendixes. An appendix contains information and materials relevant to the study that are either too lengthy or too tangential to be incorporated into the body of the report. 

    Data collection instruments, scoring instructions, code books, cover letters, permission letters, category schemes, and peripheral statistical tables are examples of the kinds of materials included in the appendix. Some universities also require the inclusion of a brief curriculum vitae of the author. A new approach to formatting dissertations or theses is the paper format thesis. 

    The front matter and material at the end are similar to those in a traditionally formatted thesis, but the main sections differ. In a typical paper format thesis, there is an introduction, one or two publishable papers, and then a conclusion (Morris & Tipples, 1998). Such a format obviously permits students to move directly from thesis to journal submission, but is somewhat more demanding than the traditional format. 

    Morris and Tipples offered three possible scenarios for the papers to be included in the paper format thesis: (1) one paper focusing on a literature review followed by a second paper discussing the research results; (2) two or more papers focusing on different research findings for the single research project; and (3) one methodologic paper (eg, describing the development of an instrument) and the second presenting research findings. If an academic institution does not use the paper format thesis, a student will need to adapt the thesis or dissertation before submitting it for publication. 

    This revision of the thesis/dissertation takes skill. Johnson (1996) interviewed 15 journal editors for advice on converting a thesis style to an acceptable manuscript format. Figure 24-2 summarizes suggested changes to facilitate acceptance of a manuscript for publication in a nursing journal. Boyle (1997) also provided pointers to new recipients of doctoral degrees on how to publish their qualitative dissertations. This advice focuses on how to divide up or dissect the dissertation to generate two or more publications.

Journal Articles

    Progress in nursing research depends on researchers' efforts to share their work. Dissertations and final reports on funds, which are too lengthy and inaccessible for widespread use, are read only by a handful of people. Publication in a professional journal ensures broad circulation of research findings. From a personal point of view, it is exciting and professionally advantageous to have journal publications. This section discusses issues relating to research reports in journals.

Selecting a Journal

    Before writing begins, there should be a clear idea of the journal to which a manuscript will be submitted. Journals differ in their goals, types of manuscript sought, and readership; these factors need to be matched against personal interests and preferences. All journals issue goal statements, as well as guidelines for preparing and submitting a manuscript. 

    This information is published in journals themselves and on their websites. Journals also differ in prestige, acceptance rates, and circulation, and these may also need to be taken into account in selecting a journal. Northam, Trubenbach , and Bentov (2000), in their article on publishing opportunities for nurses, information offered on editorial style, number of issues annually, time for acceptance, time for publication, reasons for rejection, and acceptance rate for 83 US journals in nursing and related health fields. 

    Results of their survey show that some journals are far more competitive than others. For example, Nursing Research accepts only 20% of submitted manuscripts, whereas the acceptance rates for many specialty journals that accept research reports is greater than 50%. A supplementary resource for identifying potential journals is the Key Nursing Journals Chart (Allen, 2000), which can be accessed at the following website: pts.htm. 

    The chart indicates journal circulation, number of articles published each year, percentage of research articles published, and other valuable information for numerous nursing journals. Also, McConnell (2000) has compiled information about 82 non-US nursing journals from 13 countries. It is sometimes useful to send a query letter to a journal to ask the editor whether there is any interest in a proposed manuscript. 

    The query letter should briefly describe the topic of the paper, the methods used, the researchers' qualifications, a preliminary title, and a tentative submission date. Query letters are not essential if researchers have done a lot of homework about the journal's goals and the type of articles it publishes. 

    Query letters do, however, avoid problems that can arise if editors have recently accepted several papers on a similar topic and do not wish to consider another. Indeed, the top three reasons cited by the survey of 83 journal editors for rejecting manuscripts were the topic was not suitable for the journal's focus, the topic was not current, and similar articles recently had been published (Northam et al., 2000). 

    Query letters can be submitted by traditional mail or, usually, by e-mail using contact information provided at the journal's website. Query letters can be sent to multiple journals simultaneously, but ultimately the manuscript can be submitted only to one or rather, only to one at a time. 

    If several editors express interest in reviewing a manuscript, journals can be prioritized according to criteria previously described. The priority list should not be discarded because the manuscript can be resubmitted to the next journal on the list if the journal of first choice rejects it.

Preparing the Manuscript

    Once a journal has been selected, the information included in the journal's Instructions to Authors should be carefully reviewed. These instructions typically tell prospective authors such information as maximum page length; what size paper, font, and margins are permissible; what type of abstract is desired; what reference style should be used; how many copies should be submitted; and whether an electronic file is required (and what software package is preferred). 

    It is important to adhere to the journal's guidelines to avoid rejection for a non substantive reason. Typically, a manuscript for journals must be no more than 15 to 20 double-spaced, typed pages (with 1-inch margins) in its entirety, including tables, references, the abstract, and so on.  In general, only published work can be included in the reference list (eg, not papers at a conference or manuscripts submitted but not accepted for publication). 

Submission of a manuscript

    When the manuscript is ready for journal submission, the required number of copies should be sent to the editor with a cover letter. 

    The cover letter should include the following information: title of the paper, name and contact information of the corresponding author (the author with whom the journal communicates—usually, but not always, the lead author), and assurances that (1) the paper is original and has not been published or submitted elsewhere; (2) all authors have read and approved the manuscript; and (3) (in certain situations) there are no conflicts of interest. 

    The cover letter should be signed by all authors. Some journals also require a signed copyright transfer form, which transfers all copyright ownership of the manuscript to the journal and warrants that all authors signing the form participated sufficiently in the research to justify authorship.

Manuscript Review

    Most nursing journals that include research reports including all thave a policy of independent, anonymous (sometimes referred to as blind) peer reviews by two or more experts in the field. By “anonymous,” we mean that reviewers do not know the identity of the authors, and authors do not learn the identity of reviewers. Journals that have such a policy are refereed journals, and are in general more prestigious than non-refereed journals. 

    Peer reviewers make recommendations to the editors about whether to accept the manuscript for publication, accept it contingent on revisions, or reject it. Relatively few papers are accepted outright both substantive and editorial revisions are the norm. Authors are sent information about the editors' decision, together with reviewers' comments. 

   When resubmitting a revised manuscript to the same journal, each reviewer recommendation should be addressed, either by making the requested change, or by explaining in the cover letter accompanying the resubmission the rationale for not revising. Defending some aspect of a paper against a reviewer's recommendation sometimes requires a citation or other supporting information. 

    If the manuscript is rejected, the reviewers' comments should be taken into consideration before submitting it to another journal. Typically, many months go by between submission of the original manuscript and the publication of a journal article, especially if there are revisions as there usually are. For example, according to information provided in the Northam et al. (2000) survey, an average of 7 months elapses between submission and acceptance in Western Journal of Nursing Research, and an additional 18 months elapses before publication.

Electronic Publication

    Computers and the Internet have changed forever how information of all types is retrieved and disseminated. Many nurse researchers are exploring opportunities to share their research findings through electronic publication. Most journals that publish in hard copy format (eg, Nursing Research) now also have online capabilities. Such mechanisms, which serve as a document delivery system, expand a journal's circulation and make research findings accessible worldwide. There are few implications for authors, however.

    Such electronic publication is just a method of distributing reports already available in hard copy and that are subject to the journal's standard page limitation , peer review process, and so on. There are, however, many other ways to present research findings on the Internet. For example, some researchers or research teams develop their own web page with information about their studies. 

    When there are hyperlinks embedded in the websites, consumers can navigate between files and websites to retrieve relevant information on a topic of interest. At the other extreme are peer-reviewed electronic journals (ejournals) that are exclusively in on-line format. Examples include the Online Journal of Knowledge Synthesis in Nursing and the Online Journal of Issues in Nursing. 

    In between are a variety of outlets of research communication, such as websites of nursing and health organizations and electronic magazines (ezines) in health fields. Electronic publication offers numerous advantages day . Dissemination can occur much more rapidly, cutting down dramatically on publication lag time. Electronic research reports are accessible to a broad, worldwide audience of potential consumers. 

    Typically, there are no page limitations, enabling researchers to describe and discuss complex studies more fully. Qualitative researchers are able to use more extensive quotes from their raw data, for example. Research reports on the Internet can incorporate a wide variety of graphic material, including audio and video supplements not possible in hard copy journals. Raw data can also be appended to reports on the Internet for secondary analysis by other researchers. 

    Still, there are some potential drawbacks, in cluding technological requirements. One issue with cerns peer review. Although many on-line journals perform peer reviews, there are many opportunities to “publish” results on the Internet without a peer review process. Sparks (1999) points out that there are also non-peer-reviewed traditional journals, and so concludes that concern about peer review in electronic publishing is a red herring. 

    However, non-referred journal articles are not as accessible to a worldwide market as non-reviewed information on the Internet. There is a much greater risk of there being a glut of low-quality research available for consumption as a result of the Internet than there was previously. Responsible researchers who want their evidence to have an impact on nursing practice should seek publication in outlets that subject manuscripts to a review process.

Presentations at Professionals

    Conferences Numerous professional organizations sponsor an annual meetings at which nursing studies are presented , either through the reading of a research report or through visual display in a poster session. The American Nurses' Association is an example of an organization that holds meetings at which nurses have an opportunity to share their knowledge with others interested in their topic. 

    Many local chapters of Sigma Theta Tau devote one or more of their annual activities to research reports. Examples of regional organizations that sponsor research conferences are the Western Society for Research in Nursing, the Southern Council on Collegiate Education for Nursing, the Eastern Nursing Research Society, and the Midwest Nursing Research Society. Presentation of research results at a conference has two distinct advantages over journal publication . 

    First, there is usually less time elapsed between the completion of a study and its communication to others when a presentation is made at a meeting. Second, there is an opportunity for dialogue between researchers and the audience at a conference. Listeners can request clarification on certain points or can make useful suggestions. For this reason, professional conferences are particularly good forums for presenting results to clinical audiences. 

    Researchers also can take advantage of meeting and talking with others attending the conference who are working on similar problems in different parts of the country. The mechanism for submitting a presentation to a conference is somewhat simpler than in the case of journal submission. The association sponsoring the conference ordinarily publishes an announcement or call for abstracts in its newsletter, journal, or website about 6 to 9 months before the meeting date. 

    The notice indicates topics of interest, submission requirements, and deadlines for submitting a proposed paper or poster. Most universities and major health care agencies receive and post call for abstracts notices. The Western Journal of Nursing Research also publishes a calendar of national and international conferences at the beginning of each issue, and the Sigma Theta Tau International website ( maintains a listing of research conferences.

Oral Reports

    Most conferences require prospective presenters to submit an abstract of 500 to 1000 words rather than a complete paper. Abstracts can usually be (and in some cases must be) submitted online. Each conference has its own guidelines for abstract content and form. In some cases, abstracts are submitted to the organizer of a particular session on a given topic; in other cases, conference sessions are organized after the -fact , with related papers grouped together. 

    Abstracts are evaluated on the basis of the quality and originality of the research, and the appropriateness of the paper for the conference audience. If abstracts are accepted, researchers are committed to appear at the conference to make a presentation. Research reports presented at professional meetings usually follow a traditional IMRAD format. The time allotted for presentation is usually about 10 to 15 minutes, with up to 5 minutes for questions from the audience. 

    Therefore, only the most important aspects of the study with special emphasis on the results can be included. It is especially challenging to condense a qualitative report to a brief oral summary without losing the rich, in-depth character of the data. A handy rule of thumb is that a page of double spaced text requires 21 /2 to 3 minutes to read aloud. Although most conference presenters do prepare a written paper or a script, presentations are most effective if they are delivered informally or conversationally, rather than if they are read verbatim. 

    The presentation should be rehearsed to gain familiarity and comfort with the script, and to ensure that time limits are not exceeded. The question-and-answer period can be a fruitful opportunity to expand on various aspects of the research and to get early feedback about the study. It is useful to make note of audience comments because these can be helpful in turning the conference presentation into a manuscript for journal submission.

Poster Presentations

    Researchers sometimes elect to present their findings in poster sessions. (Abstracts, often similar to those required for oral presentations, must be submitted to conference organizers according to specific guidelines.) In poster sessions, several researchers simultaneously present visual displays summarizing the highlights of the study, and conference attendees circulate around the exhibit area perusing displays. 

    In this fashion, those interested in a particular topic can devote time to discussing the study with the researcher and bypass posters dealing with topics of less interest. Poster sessions are thus efficient and encourage one-on-one discussions. Poster sessions are typically 1 to 2 hours in length; researchers should stand near their posters throughout the session to ensure effective communication. It is challenging to design an effective poster. 

    The poster must convey essential information about the background, design, and results of a study, in a format that can be perused in minutes. Bullet points, graphs, and photos are especially useful devices on a poster for communicating a lot of information quickly. Large, bold fonts are essential, because posters are often read from a distance of several feet. 

    Another issue is that posters must be sturdily constructed for transport to the conference site. It is important to follow the conference guidelines in determining such matters as poster size (often 4 ft high 6 or 8 ft wide), format, allowable display materials, and so on. Wilson and Hutchinson (1997) recommend a three phase process for presenting effective posters. In the presentation phase, researchers target the audience, obtain official guidelines, write an abstract/title, and design a poster based on principles of visual literacy. 

    In the presentation phase, Wilson and Hutchinson suggest items to bring to the actual poster session, such as data collection instruments, bibliographic information, business cards, and pages of stick-on mailing labels so that those interested in additional information can write their names and addresses on the labels.     

    In the post-presentation phase, presenters should evaluate the effectiveness of their poster. One approach is to ask viewers to complete a simple evaluation form regarding the poster. Bushy (1991) designed a 30-item Research Poster Appraisal Tool (R-PAT) that researchers can use. Several authors have offered further advice on preparing for poster sessions (eg, Lippman & Ponton, 1989; McDaniel, Bach, & Poole, 1993; and Moore, Augspurger , King, & Proffitt, 2001). 

    Russell, Gregory, and Gates (1996) alert qualitative researchers to the special challenges that await them in regard to designing a poster. Findings from quantitative research can be condensed and presented in numeric tables. The rich data from qualitative research, including participants' quotes, themes, and so forth, present more of a challenge in trying to summarize them concisely.

Main Points 

  1. In developing a dissemination plan, researchers need to select a communication outlet (eg, journal article versus conference presentation), identify the audience whom they wish to reach, and decide on the content that can be effectively communicated in a single outlet.
  2. In the planning stage, researchers need to decide authorship credits (if there are multiple authors), who the lead author and corresponding author will be, and in what order authors' names will be listed.
  3. Quantitative reports (and many qualitative reports) typically follow the IMRAD format, with the following sections: introduction, method, results, and discussion.
  4. The introduction acquaints readers with the research problem. It includes the problem statement, the phenomenon under study, research hypotheses or questions, importance of the research, a summary of relevant related literature, identification of a theoretical framework, and definitions of the concepts being studied. In qualitative reports, the introduction also indicates the research tradition and, if relevant, the researchers' connection to the problem.
  5. The method section describes what researchers did to solve the research problem. It normally includes a description of the study design (or an elaboration of the research tradition); the study participants and how they were selected; instruments and procedures used to collect and evaluate the data; and techniques used to analyze the data.
  6. In the results section, findings from the analyzes are summarized. Quantitative reports summarize analyzes in order of importance, or in the sequence in which hypotheses were presented. Qualitative reports summarize findings sequentially (if a process is being described) or in the order of salience of themes.
  7. Results sections in qualitative reports necessarily intertwine description and interpretation. Quotes from transcripts are essential for giving voice to study participants.
  8. Both qualitative and quantitative researchers include figures and tables that dramatize or succinctly summarize major findings or conceptual schema.
  9. The discussion section presents the interpretation of results, how the findings relate to earlier research, study limitations, and implications of the findings for nursing practice and future research.
  10. Additional items to be included with research reports include a title, abstract, key words, acknowledgments, and references.
  11. Research reports should be written simply and clearly, with a minimum of jargon or emotionally charged statements.
  12. The major types of research reports are theses and dissertations, journal articles, on-line publications, and presentations at professional meetings.
  13. Theses and dissertations normally follow a standard IMRAD format, but some schools are now accepting paper format theses, which include an introduction, one or more papers ready to submit for publication, and a conclusion.
  14. In selecting a journal for publication, the following factors should be kept in mind: the journal's goals and audience, its prestige and acceptance rates, how often it publishes, and its circulation.
  15. Before beginning to prepare a manuscript for submission to a journal, researchers need carefully to review the journal's Instructions to Authors. Most journals limit manuscripts to 15 to 20 typed, double-spaced pages, for example.
  16. • Most nursing journals that publish research reports are refereed journals with a policy of basing publication decisions on peer reviews that are usually blind reviews (identities of authors and reviewers are not divulged).
  17. There are many new opportunities for electronic publishing that nurse researchers can explore, including publications in ejournals and ezines. Electronic publishing offers the advantage of speedy dissemination to a worldwide audience. Peer-reviewed electronic publications are preferred for building a strong evidence base for nursing practice.
  18. Nurse researchers can also present their research at professional conferences, either through a 10- to 15-minute oral report to a seated audience, or in a poster session in which the “ audience” moves around a room perusing research summaries attached to posters. Sponsoring organizations usually issue a call for abstracts for the conference 6 to 9 months before it is held.

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