Demystifying Research Demystifying the Research Process: Understanding a Descriptive Comparative Research Design Mary Ann Cantrell D emystifying the…

Theory, Research, and Evidence-Based Practice

As they explore the world around them, young children often want to know the “why” and “how” of the things they observe. This is similar to what researchers do when they approach a new problem. Researchers develop new theories or build on old ones to explain the “why” of the world around them. They use models and conceptual frameworks to help explain “how” the processes and events they observe occur. Together, theories and models provide an understanding of the world and allow researchers to explore it in meaningful ways.

Virtually all research questions can benefit from the use of an existing theory or model. Researchers should consider their research questions and select the most suitable theory or model, which then serves as a foundation for the research design. The selection of a theory or model is an important part of the research process.

Focus on the role of theory and models in research and evidence-based practice.

  • Review the information in Chapter 6 of the course text. Focus on the various conceptual theories and models that are currently used in nursing research.
  • Select one of the theories or models described that is of interest to you.
  • Using the Walden Library, search for and identify a research article that uses the theory or model you selected.
  • Reflect on how the theory or model provides structure to the research study described in the article.
  • Now, think about an issue in your practice area that you would be interested in exploring through research.
  • Review this week’s media presentation and consider strategies for locating and identifying a relevant theory or model for a research study.

Writea summary of the article that you located and explain how the theory or model that you selected was used in the research study. Assess the value of basing research on an established theory or model.


Polit, D. F., & Beck, C. T. (2017). Nursing research: Generating and assessing evidence for nursing practice (10th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Wolters Kluwer.

  • Chapter 6, “Theoretical Frameworks”
  • Attachment 1
  • Attachment 2

Demystifying Research Demystifying the Research Process:Understanding a Descriptive ComparativeResearch DesignMary Ann Cantrell D emystifying the research process often involvesunderstanding research terminology, the rationalefor the selection of a research design, and theknown benefits and consequences in the selectionof a design. This commentary discusses the major aspects ofa well-known and used quantitative research design innursing research used by Tourigny, Clendinneng,Chartrand, and Gaboury (2011) to evaluate the utility of avirtual education tool for pediatric patients undergoingsame-day surgery. The rationale for why this design waschosen by these nurse researchers and its advantages anddisadvantages are discussed.A research design is the overall plan for answeringresearch questions and hypotheses. The design spells outstrategies the researcher adopts to gather accurate, objective, and interpretable information (Polit & Beck, 2007).Tourigny et al. (2011) used a non-experimental, quantitative research design known as a descriptive, comparativedesign. It is also known as casual comparative research andpre-experimental research. The basic purpose of thesedesigns is to determine the relationship among variables.The most important distinctions between these designs andexperimental designs are no control (manipulation) of theindependent variable (IV) and no random assignment ofstudy subjects to the intervention or control group. Thesedesigns are frequently used in nursing research studiesbecause nurse researchers are often faced with these specific limitations.In summary, the known properties of descriptive, comparative research studies are 1) no manipulation of an independent variable, 2) no random assignment to groups, and3) often inclusion of a control or comparison group. Theparadigm for these studies is diagrammed in Figure 1.In this diagram (see Figure 1), the researcher hypothesizes that “X” is related to and a determinant (cause) of “Y,”but the presumed causes are not manipulated, and subjectsare not randomly assigned to groups (LoBiondo-Wood &Haber, 2010). Rather, a group of subjects who has experienced “X” in a natural situation is located, and a control Mary Ann Cantrell, PhD, RN, is an Associate Professor, College ofNursing, Villanova University, Villanova, PA. Tourigny, J., Clendinneng, D., Chartrand,C., & Gaboury, I.(2011). Evaluation of a virtual tool for children undergoing same-day surgery and their parents. PediatricNursing, 37(4), of subjects who has not experienced “X” is chosen.The behavior performance or condition of the two groupsis compared to determine whether the exposure to “X” hadan effect predicted by the hypothesis (LoBiondo-Wood &Haber, 2010). Tourigny et al. (2011) hypothesized a determinant of study participants’ level of knowledge about hospital equipment and procedures, and their emotional statewould differ based upon whether or not they viewed theSurgery Virtual Tour presentation. In this study, theexposed group resulted from participants choosing to viewthe Surgery Virtual Tour. These researchers then comparedthis group with a group at the same institution who did notview the Surgery Virtual Tour presentation.Tourigny et al. (2011) noted that the Surgery VirtualTour was posted on the hospital’s Web site and available toall children, adolescents, and parents being cared for at thisinstitution. Thus, these researchers had no control overwhich study participants viewed or did not view the educational program. Prohibiting access of this educational program to some participants for the purposes of conductingthis research study would have violated these children’s,adolescents’, and parents’ ethical right to fair treatment.The right to fair treatment is based on the ethical principleof justice that each person should be treated fairly andshould receive what he or she is due or owed (Burns &Grove, 2005).An important criterion in determining a researchdesign’s rigor is its potential to generate findings that areinterpretable. The term interpretable relates to the credibility and dependability of data generated by a study, and isbased on the study’s design to sufficiently test “cause andeffect” relationships. The term “causality” implies that asystematic relationship exists between the independentvariable (IV), which is the “cause” or intervention of thestudy design, and the dependent variable(s) (DV) or theoutcome(s) of the study. In other words, confidence thatthe outcome of a research study is a consequence of theeffects of the intervention must exist. With Demystifying Research, nursing research leaders comment on some aspect of a research article featured in the issue, withthe aim of helping the reader better understand research. Look for Demystifying Research in each issue of Pediatric Nursing.188 PEDIATRIC NURSING/July-August 2011/Vol. 37/No. 4 Demystifying the Research Process: Understanding a Descriptive Comparative Research Design Figure 1.The Paradigm for Descriptive,Comparitive Research StudiesGroups X (The “Cause)Y (The Effect)(The “Intervention”) (Outcome Variable) Exposed group Exposure to “X” Measurement of “Y” Control group Measurement of “Y” No exposure to “X” There are three criteria for causality: 1) the cause (the IV)must precede the effect (the DV) in time, such that the IVhad to occur before the DV); 2) an empirical relationshipexists between the IV and DV, meaning that a relationshipthat is measurable must exist between the presumed causeand effect; and 3) the relationship between the IV and DVcannot be explained by a third variable. Of these three criteria, researchers are most concerned about ensuring resultsof their study are due to the experimental treatment andnot due to the characteristics of the subjects or other competing explanations for the results. Characteristics of thesubjects or other competing explanations are known asinternal validity threats.There are several limitations in the design used byTourigny et al. (2011) that threaten the confidence in theirstudy’s findings, specifically having no control over theinternal validity and characteristics of the subjects influencing the outcome of the study. The internal validity threatdue to characteristics of the subjects is known as selectionbias and is always a threat if random assignment to groupsdoes not occur. Researchers are cautioned to be aware thatwhen intact groups are compared, differences existingbetween the two groups before the start of the experimentcould have affected the outcome of the study. People “selfselect” to a group based on personal characteristics andpreferences, and these personal characteristics and preferences can influence the outcome of a study. Tourigny et al.(2011) addressed this potential threat operating in theirstudy’s findings by measuring selected differences in sociodemographic variables that could have accounted for dissimilarities between the groups. There were no significantdifferences in socio-demographic variables between participants who viewed or did not view the Virtual Tour, with theexception that families who took the Tour were more likely to have access to the Internet at home (Tourigny et al.,2011). These findings provide some evidence that thesesocio-demographic variables can be ruled out as internalvalidity threats operating in this study; however, it remainsunknown if characteristics not measured by Tourigny andcolleagues could be operating as threats to the study’s interal validity. It is not feasible to measure an exhaustive list ofsocio-demographic characteristics that could pose everypossible internal validity threat related to study participants’ characteristics, but researchers carefully select knownfactors from previous studies and their clinical experiencesas was done by Tourigny et al.Another strategy used by Tourigny et al. (2011) toincrease the internal validity of their study was to establishinclusion and exclusion criteria to determine the study’ssample. Inclusion and exclusion criteria are guidelines orthe standards determining who can or cannot be in thestudy. Population descriptors, also known as importantcharacteristics of a population, are criteria that set the standards. These characteristics can also operate as internalvalidity threats in a study. In their study, Tourigny et al.identified the inclusion criteria for their study as onlyallowing children and adolescents 6 to 18 years of age, ableto understand or read and write in English, be at a schoolPEDIATRIC NURSING/July-August 2011/Vol. 37/No. 4 age cognitive level, and who gave an assent or written consent to be in the study. They also excluded children withany developmental or physical state that could preventthem from completing the questionnaires. These criteriaplaced more control over potential internal validity threatsoperating in the study, but as a consequence of doing so,the external validity of the study’s findings was decreased.External validity addresses the ability to generalize the findings of the study to other groups. The findings generated byTourigny et al. are not generalizable to children youngerthan 6 years, who are unable to understand or read andwrite in English, are not at a school-age cognitive level, orhave a developmental or physical impairment. Internal andexternal validity have an inverse relationship; the moreinternal validity control a study design employs, the morelikely its external validity will be limited.In summary, Tourigny and colleagues (2011) selected afeasible research design; its implementation protectedresearch participants’ ethical rights, tested the identifiedintervention, and generated interpretable findings. Aresearcher’s choice in selecting a research design is dependent on many factors, and researchers usually make conscious decisions in their selection to augment some aspectsof rigor in their study while foregoing others. Selection of aresearch design requires creativity to maximize interpretable findings within known limitations in conductingthe investigation.ReferencesBurns, S., & Groves, S.K. (2004). Understanding nursing research (3rded.). Philadelphia: Saunders.LoBiondo-Wood, G., & Haber, J. (2010). Nursing research: Methodsand critical appraisal for evidence-based practice (7th ed.). St.Louis, MO: Elsevier.Polit, D.F., & Beck, C.T. (2007). Nursing research: Generating andassessing evidence for nursing practice (8th ed.). Philadelphia:Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.Tourigny, J., Clendinneng, D., Chartrand, C., & Gaboury, I. (2011).Evaluation of a virtual tool for children undergoing same-daysurgery and their parents. Pediatric Nursing, 37(4), 177-183. Pediatric NursingCall for Evidence-Based, ClinicalManuscripts for These and Other Topics••••••• AllergiesAlternative andcomplementary treatmentsBurns assessmentCalcium and school aged girlsCare of the child with acongenital heart defectCare of children withneurological problemsCare of the child with diabetesmellitus •••••• Celiac disease identificationand long-term ramificationsChronic illness/nursingmanagementClinic aspects of care inambulatory settingDealing with difficult familyDischarge of the complexpatientDiseases/disorders associatedwith pain, such asosteogenesis imperfecta Questions regarding these or other topics can be directed to Judy A. Rollins,PhD, RN, Editor of Pediatric Nursing (). A copy of the authorguidelines can be obtained from the journal Web site (, or will be forwarded at your request by contacting the journaloffice at Pediatric Nursing, Jannetti Publications, Inc., East Holly Avenue/Box56, Pitman, NJ 08071-0056. Phone: 856-256-2300. E-mail: .Pediatric Nursing is a refereed, bi-monthly publication. 189 Copyright of Pediatric Nursing is the property of Jannetti Publications, Inc. and its content may not be copied oremailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder’s express written permission.However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.

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