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Producing a successful PhD thesis

Por: Barrett · D. · Rodriguez · A. · Smith · J.

All doctoral students strive for the day—after years of often all-consuming study—that their thesis is ready to submit. For both doctoral students and supervisors there is often trepidation about whether the thesis will meet the criteria to merit the award of a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). As anxieties increase, doctoral students often ask what makes a good PhD, something we explored in a recent ‘Research Made Simple’ article,1 but perhaps the more important question is ‘what makes a PhD student successful?’ In this article we outline the core criteria on which PhD theses are judged and offer suggestions for achieving success.

How are PhDs assessed

Traditionally, a PhD involves 3 to 4 years of full-time study (or a longer part-time programme), which is assessed by the student submitting the work they have undertaken as a thesis or—less commonly—a portfolio of published papers and an associated narrative (sometimes...

What are the foundations of a good PhD?

Por: Rodriguez · A. · Smith · J. · Barrett · D.

A PhD is a globally recognised postgraduate degree and typically the highest degree programme awarded by a University, with students usually required to expand the boundaries of knowledge by undertaking original research. The purpose of PhD programmes of study is to nurture, support and facilitate doctoral students to undertake independent research to expected academic and research standards, culminating in a substantial thesis and examined by viva voce. In this paper—the first of two linked Research Made Simple articles—we explore what the foundations of a high-quality PhD are, and how a Doctoral candidate can develop a study which is successful, original and impactful.

Foundations of a ‘good’ PhD studySupervision and support

Central to the development and completion of a good PhD is the supervisory relationship between the student and supervisor. The supervisor guides the student by directing them to resources and training to ensure continuous learning, provides opportunity...

What are Delphi studies?

Por: Barrett · D. · Heale · R.

Whenever developing training competencies, tools to support clinical practice or a response to a professional issue, seeking the opinion of experts is a common approach. By working to identify a consensus position, researchers can report findings on a specific question (or set of questions) that are based on the knowledge and experience of experts in their field.

However, there are challenges to this approach. For example, what should be done when consensus cannot be reached? How can experts be engaged in a way that allows them to consider objectively the views of others and—where appropriate—change their own opinions in response? One approach that attempts to provide a clear method for gathering expert opinion is the Delphi technique.

The Delphi technique was first developed in the 1950s by Norman Dalkey and Olaf Helmer in an attempt to gain reliable expert consensus. Specifically, they developed an approach—named after the...

Research made simple: developing complex interventions

Por: Rodriguez · A. · Smith · J. · Barrett · D.

In common with many other countries, population ageing, advancements in medical technology, changing disease profiles, the influence of lifestyle choices on health and increased patient expectations are driving health and social care provision in the UK. As the number of people living with one or more long-term conditions rises, interventions to support their health and well-being become increasingly complex. Nurses will not only be expected to deliver complex interventions but are in an ideal position to contribute to priority setting and the development and evaluation of interventions that meet patient needs. It is essential that complex interventions are based on the best available evidence and evaluated if they are to improve health outcomes. In this article we will provide an overview of complex interventions, using dignity therapy as an example, and outline the principles of developing a complex intervention.

What is a complex intervention?

The UK Medical Research...

What are sensitivity and specificity?

Por: Swift · A. · Heale · R. · Twycross · A.

Whenever we create a test to screen for a disease, to detect an abnormality or to measure a physiological parameter such as blood pressure (BP), we must determine how valid that test is—does it measure what it sets out to measure accurately? There are lots of factors that combine to describe how valid a test is: sensitivity and specificity are two such factors. We often think of sensitivity and specificity as being ways to indicate the accuracy of the test or measure.

In the clinical setting, screening is used to decide which patients are more likely to have a condition. There is often a ‘gold-standard’ screening test—one that is considered the best to use because it is the most accurate. The gold standard test, when compared with other options, is most likely to correctly identify people with the disease (it is specific), and correctly identify those who do not...

What are cohort studies?

Por: Barrett · D. · Noble · H.

In 1951, Richard Doll and Austin Bradford-Hill commenced a ground-breaking research project by writing to all registered doctors in the UK to ask about their smoking habits. The British Doctors Study recruited and followed-up over 40 000 participants, monitoring mortality rates and causes of death over the subsequent years and decades. Even by the time of the first set of preliminary results in 1954, there was evidence to link smoking with lung cancer and increased mortality.1 Over the following decades, the study provided further definitive evidence of the health risks from smoking, and was extended to explore other causes of death (eg, heart disease) and other behavioural variables (eg, alcohol intake).

The Doctors Health Survey is one of the largest, most ambitious and best-known cohort studies and demonstrates the value of this approach in supporting our understanding of disease risk. However, as a method, cohort studies can have...

Triangulation in research, with examples

Por: Noble · H. · Heale · R.
What is triangulation

Triangulation is a method used to increase the credibility and validity of research findings.1 Credibility refers to trustworthiness and how believable a study is; validity is concerned with the extent to which a study accurately reflects or evaluates the concept or ideas being investigated.2 Triangulation, by combining theories, methods or observers in a research study, can help ensure that fundamental biases arising from the use of a single method or a single observer are overcome. Triangulation is also an effort to help explore and explain complex human behaviour using a variety of methods to offer a more balanced explanation to readers.2 It is a procedure that enables validation of data and can be used in both quantitative and qualitative studies.

Triangulation can enrich research as it offers a variety of datasets to explain differing aspects of a phenomenon of...

How to appraise mixed methods research

Por: Moorley · C. · Cathala · X.

Using a combination of quantitative and qualitative research methods in a study can provide more robust answers to the research question. Nurses should be able to confidently and competently appraise research papers to be able to offer evidence-based care. While nurses may be able to appraise quantitative and qualitative research individually, this paper provides guidance on how to appraise a mixed methods (MM) research paper. To make it easier to understand MM research, we suggest that you read the two first papers (of this series), on how to appraise quantitative research and how to appraise qualitative research.1 2

What is MM research?

MM are often described as the third methodological movement,3 the first two being quantitative and qualitative. As a refresher quantitative methodology aims to address research questions about causality, generalisability or size of effects. On the other hand, qualitative methodologies are...

Integration of a theoretical framework into your research study

Por: Heale · R. · Noble · H.

Often the most difficult part of a research study is preparing the proposal based around a theoretical or philosophical framework. Graduate students ‘ confusion, a lack of knowledge, and frustration with the challenge of choosing a theoretical framework and understanding how to apply it’.1 However, the importance in understanding and applying a theoretical framework in research cannot be overestimated.

The choice of a theoretical framework for a research study is often a reflection of the researcher’s ontological (nature of being) and epistemological (theory of knowledge) perspective. We will not delve into these concepts, or personal philosophy in this article. Rather we will focus on how a theoretical framework can be integrated into research.

The theoretical framework is a blueprint for your research project1 and serves several purposes. It informs the problem you have identified, the purpose and significance of your research demonstrating how your research fits with...

Interpretive phenomenological analysis applied to healthcare research

Por: Peat · G. · Rodriguez · A. · Smith · J.

In the last Research Made Simple Series article, we briefly outlined the main phenomenological research approaches in relation to investigating healthcare phenomena including Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). IPA was originally developed as a method to undertake experiential research in psychology1 and has gained prominence across health and social sciences as a way to understand and interpret topics which are complex and emotionally laden, such as illness experiences.2 In this article, we detail in more depth, the philosophical and methodological nuances of IPA. 

Overview of IPA

The aim of IPA is to uncover what a lived experience means to the individual through a process of in depth reflective inquiry.3 IPA draws on phenomenological thinking, with the purpose to return ‘to the things themselves’ (p 168).4 However, IPA also acknowledges that we are each influenced by the worlds in which we live...

How to appraise qualitative research

Por: Moorley · C. · Cathala · X.

In order to make a decision about implementing evidence into practice, nurses need to be able to critically appraise research. Nurses also have a professional responsibility to maintain up-to-date practice.1 This paper provides a guide on how to critically appraise a qualitative research paper.

What is qualitative research?

Qualitative research concentrates on understanding phenomena and may focus on meanings, perceptions, concepts, thoughts, experiences or feelings.2 Qualitative research examines how or why a phenomenon occurs. It collects data in the form of words, texts and or images via interviews, observations, photographs or document reviews. Qualitative research does not use discrete variables like those used in quantitative approaches. In critically appraising qualitative research, steps need to be taken to ensure its rigour, credibility and trustworthiness (table 1).

Some of the qualitative approaches used in nursing research include grounded theory, phenomenology, ethnography,...

How to appraise quantitative research

Por: Cathala · X. · Moorley · C.

Some nurses feel that they lack the necessary skills to read a research paper and to then decide if they should implement the findings into their practice. This is particularly the case when considering the results of quantitative research, which often contains the results of statistical testing. However, nurses have a professional responsibility to critique research to improve their practice, care and patient safety.1 This article provides a step by step guide on how to critically appraise a quantitative paper.

Title, keywords and the authors

The title of a paper should be clear and give a good idea of the subject area. The title should not normally exceed 15 words2 and should attract the attention of the reader.3 The next step is to review the key words. These should provide information on both the ideas or concepts discussed in the paper and...