Exploratory Studies In Health Care and Nursing

Afza.Malik GDA

Nursing Research and Exploratory Studies

Exploratory Studies In Health Care and Nursing

Exploratory Studies,Level I Research,Exploratory Research in Nursing ,Characteristics and Benefits of Exploratory Study Design,Exploratory Research As Quantitative Study Design,Critical Overview.

Exploratory Studies

    Exploratory studies are those that investigate little known phenomena for which a library search fails to reveal any significant examples of prior research. These kinds of studies have been very useful in nursing research in finding out more about nursing related problems that occur in all areas of clinical practice, administration, and academe. 

    Typically, an exploratory study will use a small sample and will focus on one particular area of interest or on one or two variables. The following are the kinds of research questions that might indicate an exploratory study in nursing: What is it like being a pregnant teenager? What kinds of patients need home care? 

    What health promoting behaviors do cafeteria workers engage in? What is the lived experience of military widows?

Level I Research

    Since the intent of exploratory research is to find out and explore unknown phenomena, it is considered Level I research (designed to elicit descriptions of a single topic or population) and is reflected in many of the early research studies in nursing.

     An examination of the kind of research designs that were used in nursing just 25 to 30 years ago reveals a predominance of exploratory studies and includes such examples as:

(a) staff nurse behaviors and patient care improvement (Gorham, 1962)

(b ) the self concept of children with hemophilia and family stress ( Garlinghouse & Sharp, 1968)

(e) women's beliefs about breast cancer and breast self-examination (Stillman, 1977)

Exploratory Research in Nursing 

    Exploratory studies are still very useful. They can be found in nursing journals and are often thought of as an initial step in the description of a researchable problem. There are many reasons for an exploratory study. 

    Such studies are particularly useful when the investigator seeks to gather baseline information on a particular variable, like loneliness, widowhood, anxiety, or culture. Other researchers may wish to investigate a process about which little is known, such as the types and meanings of caring behaviors among elderly nursing home residents or the meaning of loss of a nursing role. 

    Exploratory research may focus on one concept that has not been described in any great detail in the literature, such as isolation or comfort, or researchers may initiate an exploratory study to determine the feasibility of or need for a more extensive study or to establish baseline information that could lay the groundwork for a future study.

Characteristics and Benefits of Exploratory Study Design

    Regardless of the intent of exploratory research, a flexible design that enables the researcher to investigate and examine all aspects of a phenomenon is encouraged. Flexibility in the design allows the researcher to explore all kinds of emerging ideas and to change direction, if needed, as data are collected and analysed. 

    Thus, exploratory research is not limited to one particular paradigm but may have either a quantitative or qualitative design. Studies that propose a hypothesis and seek to provide a measure of a phenomenon as a description employ a quantitative design. 

    One example of an exploratory study that used a quantitative design is described by Schaefer, Swavely , Rothen Berger , Hess, and Williston (1996). In this study the researchers described the nature and frequency of sleep pattern disturbances in patients who were recovering from coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery.

Exploratory Research As Quantitative Study Design

    Qualitative or naturalistic designs generally explore phenomena in the natural setting in which they occur and are commonly carried out by using semi structured or open ended interviewing techniques and by observation. There are multiple approaches associated with qualitative research, but they all focus on those aspects of human behavior that are difficult to measure in numerical terms. 

    One example of an exploratory qualitative study that used a grounded theory approach is that by Fleury, Kimbrell, and Kruszewski (1995). In this study the investigators sought to describe the healing experiences of 13 women who recovered from an acute cardiac event. Verbal transcripts were analyzed to find out more about the important issues and concerns of women during the recovery process.

Critical Overview

    Any critique of exploratory research would include the facts that these studies are limited in scope and focus, are not generalizable to a larger population, and cannot be used as a basis for prediction. 

    In spite of these limitations, however, exploratory studies are useful to uncover or discover information about little known phenomena or single concepts, to explore the existence of relationships between and among variables, to find out more about human behavior in a naturalistic setting, to lay the groundwork for more systematic testing of hypotheses, and to determine the feasibility for a more in depth study.

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