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Analysis

Making research count

4 June, 2008

Making research count

Marlene Sinclair, Emma Godfrey and Danny Ratnaike gave a presentation at this year’s RCM annual conference to advise midwives on how to get papers published in Evidence Based Midwifery and other peer-reviewed research journals.

 

Marlene Sinclair, Emma Godfrey and Danny Ratnaike gave a presentation at this year’s RCM annual conference to advise midwives on how to get papers published in Evidence Based Midwifery and other peer-reviewed research journals.

 

Midwives magazine: November 2006

   

As the profession continues to develop, more midwives are involved in conducting research as well as using it to inform their practice. In reflection of this, the number of midwives working towards a doctorate in the UK is increasing, and has been estimated to stand at around 50 (Sinclair, 2006).

 

Despite this, much research remains unpublished, with findings and lessons not shared with or learned by others. By not exposing their work to rigorous peer review, even the researchers involved may not benefit from what their studies have to offer.

 

The RCM’s Evidence Based Midwifery (EBM) has become a quarterly as part of its endeavour to provide a more regular and effective forum for midwifery research. As such, there is a greater opportunity for midwives to get their papers published and accessed by the College’s 37 500 members, and this article aims to encourage and assist them.

 

Planning and preparation

 

The aim of a research paper is to provide a clear account of how and why a study was conducted, and what might be learned from it. It also needs to contribute to the body of knowledge to a meaningful and worthwhile degree. Authors need to be prepared to justify the approach they have taken and – since no study is perfect – to be explicit about its limitations.

 

Familiarity with the literature is crucial, both on the subject area and on the methods used. A structured literature review provides a solid basis to identify questions that remain unanswered, and what weight to give the findings of previous studies based on their strengths and weaknesses.

 

The paper needs to have a well-defined focus and follow a logical sequence, and it is worth returning to basic principles when preparing to write it. Readers need to know where they can find information on data collection tools or on any recommendations, and each section needs to relate directly to the others.

 

For example, conclusions should be drawn from the results in light of the discussion, and the results should be those produced by the work described in the methods.

 

These simple rules may appear obvious, but it is surprisingly easy to break them in an attempt to ‘say’ as much as possible.

 

Getting it down

 

Midwives are busy people and writing a research paper requires stretches of uninterrupted time – this is not a good combination. Getting around this involves careful planning and discipline, but it is vital to remember that published research can help midwives improve practice and further the profession, so it is well worth prioritising.

 

An author cannot write a clear paper without first organising their thoughts. Before beginning to write, it is helpful to map out the key aspects to be included, keeping overall ideas and relationships in mind. These can then be grouped into sections and each should be considered and planned in turn.

 

As McCloskey (1983) states, ‘rotten writing causes more manuscripts to be rejected for publication than rotten t-statistics’. Papers need to communicate simple and clear messages – these are far more effective than complex, unintelligible or wordy statements.

 

They must be sharply focused and effectively summarised, and should fit the page space and audience of the journal. Thomson (2005) advises midwives to carefully assess the journal they want to publish in, and in particular ‘to examine how papers are structured... read papers that report studies using the methods you have used in your research’.

 

Getting the expert opinion of someone who can give an objective and critical appraisal can provide an invaluable perspective, especially if it answers the following questions about the paper:

 

  • Is the reader’s journey through it smooth?

  • Are the signposts on the way clear and appropriately positioned?

  • What are the key messages conveyed?

  • What are its strengths and weaknesses?

 

If English is not an author’s native language, Huckin and Olsen (1991) offer advice and guidance on features of scientific and technical English that are known to be troublesome.

 

Scrutiny and support

 

On its submission to EBM, the editorial team considers whether a paper is potentially suitable for publication, and the most appropriate reviewers are selected.

 

This is typically based on their expertise in the subject area or methodology, and a statistician or policy analyst may also be asked for their comments.

 

All papers undergo double-blind peer review, so none of the authors or reviewers know who each other are, and the editorial team remove any identifying information from all materials that go between them. The paper is sent to at least two reviewers who evaluate it using a structured form, and if they think it is useful they can also provide a marked-up version of the paper.

 

They provide a rigorous evaluation of validity and reliability, quality of communication, relevance and contribution to the knowledge. Reviewers’ comments are compared and used to produce anonymous feedback for the author. If the reviewers conclude that a paper is of the right standard for EBM, the authors are asked to resubmit it after any issues they have raised have been addressed.

 

Once this is received, it is reviewed again. If the reviewers judge the changes to be sufficient, it is edited and laid out for publication, and any last-minute modifications made. Occasionally, the questions raised by reviewers are complex, and papers can go through the process of being resubmitted for review a number of times – sometimes it is even possible for editors and reviewers to provide authors with direct support in making changes.If at any point the reviewers and editorial team decide that a paper is not suitable for EBM, an alternative publication is usually suggested.

 

Responding to reviewers’ feedback can be difficult for any author, since the paper they have written is always the product of a huge amount of hard work and personal commitment. With this in mind, the editorial team endeavour to communicate any negative comments to authors in a constructive and sensitive way. It is important to remember that everyone involved is interested in the same thing – to help authors produce the best paper they possibly can.

 

The end of the beginning

 

The publication of a finished paper marks an endpoint in many ways for all those who have been involved in it, most obviously for the authors. Yet it is also when it only begins to fulfil its purpose, of being shared with the wideracademic and clinical community.

 

This is when all the time and effort of the research process really begins to pay off – when midwives the author has never even met can benefit from its findings, and when midwifery practice can be better informed and improved.For further information on submitting a paper to EBM, please Tel: 020 7312 3474 or email: journal3@daisyconnect.com

 

  


 

    

References

Huckin TN, Olsen LA. (1991) Technical writing and professional communication for non-native speakers of English (second edition). McGraw- Hill: New York. McCloskey DN. (1983) The rhetoric of economics. Journal of Economic Literature 21(2): 481-517.

Sinclair M. (2006) Doctoral midwifery: an investment for the profession. Evidence Based Midwifery 4(1): 3.

Thomson A. (2005) Writing for publication in this refereed journal. Midwifery 21(2): 190-  

 

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