Seeking answers

Undertaking research may be a daunting prospect, but tackled logically with
the aid of varied sources, it can reap rewards. In our special learning issue,
we offer some guidance on embarking on study and a resource section with useful
contacts.  By Greta Thornbory

Have you got a health problem at your workplace or do you just think you
have? You want to know, and decide to do some research. You grab a pen and
start to make notes: you could send around a questionnaire, you could visit the
department and ask questions, but wait a minute, what is known already? Who has
done work on this in the past – preferably the recent past. And how do you find

Communications via a new discussion-based web site1 show OH professionals
are asking the questions but aren’t always sure where to find the answers. What
"research" have they done to start with?

The term "research" is not always a popular word, as it is
associated with academic work that is far-removed from everyday practice2. Yet
healthcare practitioners want to do the right thing in preventing ill-health
and promoting good health. "Clinical effectiveness is about doing the
right thing in the right way and at the right time for the right
person."3, 4.

You may have already grabbed a pen to start making some notes about what you
want to know. Talking this over with colleagues may help. It is important to be
clear about what it is you want to find out (see case study).

Case study

An OH nurse wanted to know about the uptake of hepatitis B vaccine. It was
not clear if there were any parameters to this. Presumably, as this was a
question asked by an OH nurse it was regarding adults of working age only, but
was that only because there was an OH need for the vaccination? Was it a
recommendation or a mandatory requirement for the type of work undertaken?

The question needed to be narrowed down – for example: "What is the
uptake of recommended hepatitis B vaccine in healthcare workers?"

What is already known?

Before rushing off to do lengthy research, questionnaires etc, it is
important to find out what has been researched about the subject already –
commonly called a "literature search". Again, many practitioners are
put off by the terminology and think this is only for academics. This is not
so. A literature search is a systematic search of published material to find
information that refers to the condition or question you are investigating3. It
is the basis for evidence-based practice and clinical effectiveness. Others are
unsure of how to go about this, but there are several books and articles on the
subject and librarians, even in a local library, would be happy to help.

Now you have the information

Is it relevant, up-to-date, research-based evidence or just someone’s
opinion? Just some of the questions you need to bear in mind before taking your
findings as gospel. Questioning what someone else has said or written –
"critical appraisal" – is good practice.

All the texts referenced at the end of this article will give you more
information on this process, but it may be a good place to start your own
literature search. Reflect on what you have learnt from this experience and all
subsequent experiences and how it applies to your practice, it is then part of
your own "continuing professional development" and, for nurses, may
be included in your profile for Prep purposes.



2 Ogier, M (1989) Reading Research London: Scutari Press

3 Royal College of Nursing (1996) Clinical Effectiveness. A Royal College of
Nursing Guide, London, RCN

4 Royal College of Nursing (1999) Doing the right thing: Clinical

5 Effectiveness for Nurses London: RCN

Sources of information

Professional organisations

If you belong to a professional body, such as the Royal College of Nursing,
there are people who will help you (see box ).

Workplace and local libraries

These may not be specifically dedicated to nursing, or even healthcare, but
some topics are "transferable" to any area of work such as
interpersonal, communication and management knowledge and skills. Often
libraries offer access to the Internet, either free or for a small charge. It
is worth investigating what you have available locally, or at work.

Other libraries

There are many organisations that provide OH professionals with access to
information, such as The Kings Fund and The Wellcome Institute, as well as the
British Library. Further information can be found in the Guide to Libraries and
Information Services in Medicine and Health Care. British Library, 2000 and
Directory of Medical and Health Care Libraries in the United Kingdom and
Republic of Ireland 1997-8 (10th edition). Library Association Publishing,

Specialist organisations last month when preparing to write the
multiple-choice questions for the CPD article on diabetes I contacted, by
e-mail, Diabetes UK (previously the British Diabetic Society) who undertook a
literature search on "diabetes and work" for me, plus sent me
leaflets and research articles on the topic. Other specialist charities,
equipment manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies will often do the same.

The Internet

The amount of information available on 
the Internet is endless. There are a number of healthcare-related sites
that are useful and it is worth making a note of those given in the News Links,
Resource Guide articles and advertisements. Bookmark or store these for future
handy reference. There is no "quality control", however, over the
Internet so treat the information with caution unless it is a reputable site.
If you do not have access to, or know how to use, the Internet then make enquiries
at work and/or at your local library for guidance.

Royal College of Nursing services

RCN Direct a 24-hour information and helpline for members: 0345

RCN Library lending service for members in London; Northern Ireland,
Scotland and Wales. Books may be borrowed from the London library by mail for
which there is a charge for postage and a small administration fee

RCN Library catalogue available on the Internet at

Literature searching (for full members only) Photocopies of journal
articles by post; local resource centres

Full details of the library services are available on the RCN web site or e-mail  or phone 020-7647 3610 or RCN Direct

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