I had a really interesting Twitter conversation yesterday. It was about research and evidence, stemming from a conversation where I said I would be unlikely to attend a research conference. I suspect that I am now also going to appear very stupid although I am not sure I am – I know I can synthesize information and indeed reach robust conclusions from information presented to me – but I often find understanding research papers challenging.
I find the way many research papers are written impenetrable. They use language where I have to look up the research terminology to enable me to understand. And I just don’t get it – surely passing on the knowledge is the single most important thing that you have to do? Research that adds little value as its meaning is lost in complex and obfuscated language is also adding less value than a well written and clear piece of research? That is, of course, assuming the research is well constructed, undertaken, analysed and presented!
I know I can understand the evidence, after all I scored well at University having done a systematic review and I actually enjoyed my dissertation once I got going but some of the research papers just do not hold my attention if I have to work too hard to find and evaluate the meaning.
There are materials around that can help – I came across this blog by Calvin Moorley, that is clearly written and helpful but understanding these things isn’t necessarily the answer. This assumes research papers are well articulated and clear – but often in my experience they are not!
Almost everything we do in nursing should be based on knowledge – that is the critical space between experience and applied evidence. The speed at which new evidence and materials comes available is also a challenge – how can I possibly keep up to date in all the areas of nursing practice that I am interested in, and synthesise it with my existing knowledge?
When I started writing this blog I went to explore some evidence to see what I could find to illustrate points but I found some good stuff, stuff I didn’t know, and I could understand, but I would never have found had I not been writing this blog! It’s impossible to be on top of the whole evidence base and live and work! It would be a full-time job 😦
So what does it all mean? Well, I think this is now about nursing knowledge management; an area of practice that we discuss little in nursing but I believe is increasing in importance. Benner describes the development of skills through novice to expert but in 2014 the ability to practice at expert level taking account of new emerging evidence is challenging. We need knowledge workers to help us find meaning from new emerging areas of research.
There are some bright spots on the horizon. The recent find of the Evidently Cochrane blog site has encouraged and motivated me to be more engaged with research. The knowledge management part is taken care of, studies assessed and evaluated on my behalf in order that I can assimilate the research evidence quickly and develop knowledge in my practice. For example, I have always been cynical about risk assessment, always feeling that perhaps it wasn’t quite doing what it intended to do, and up pops my friends at Cochrane bringing my attention to this work that was debated on a great @wenurses chat recently – you can see the chat here. Another example of taking evidence and using a twitter chat to increase nursing knowledge. I also value highly the KCL Policy+ that is published regularly, aimed at current areas of policy focus for nursing.
So what does this all mean? It means that researchers need to write research findings in an accessible way that can be quickly turned into knowledge by practitioners and we need more knowledge brokers like the brilliant Cochrane people who work hard to help everyone access new evidence. Writing in simple accessible language is not dumbing down, in fact I think it’s much harder to write clearly in non-technical jargon so perhaps that’s the real reason research papers are often difficult to understand – writing simply and well is much too hard! The Cochrane site aims to translate evidence in to meaningful understanding for everyone and thank goodness I found it!