PARADIGMS AND METHODS FOR NURSING RESEARCH

PARADIGMS AND METHODS FOR NURSING RESEARCH

paradigm  is a worldview, a general perspective on the complexities of the world. Paradigms for human inquiry are often characterized in terms of the ways in which they respond to basic philosophical questions, such as, What is the nature of reality? (ontologic) and What is the relationship between the inquirer and those being studied? (epistemologic). PARADIGMS AND METHODS FOR NURSING RESEARCH

Disciplined inquiry in nursing has been conducted mainly within two broad paradigms, positivism and constructivism. This section describes these two paradigms and outlines the research methods associated with them. In later chapters, we describe the transformative paradigm that involves critical theory research ( Chapter 21 ), and a pragmatism paradigm that involves mixed methods research ( Chapter 26 ).

The Positivist Paradigm

The paradigm that dominated nursing research for decades is known as positivism (also called  logical positivism ). Positivism is rooted in 19th century thought, guided by such philosophers as Mill, Newton, and Locke. Positivism reflects a broader cultural phenomenon that, in the humanities, is referred to as modernism, which emphasizes the rational and the scientific. PARADIGMS AND METHODS FOR NURSING RESEARCH

As shown in  Table 1.2 , a fundamental assumption of positivists is that there is a reality out there that can be studied and known (an  assumption  is a basic principle that is believed to be true without proof or verification). Adherents of positivism assume that nature is basically ordered and regular and that reality exists independent of human observation. In other words, the world is assumed not to be merely a creation of the human mind. The related assumption of  determinism  refers to the positivists’ belief that phenomena are not haphazard but rather have antecedent causes. If a person has a cerebrovascular accident, the researcher in a positivist tradition assumes that there must be one or more reasons that can be potentially identified. Within the positivist paradigm, much research activity is directed at understanding the underlying causes of phenomena. PARADIGMS AND METHODS FOR NURSING RESEARCH

TABLE 1.2: Major Assumptions of the Positivist and Constructivist Paradigms

TYPE OF QUESTION POSITIVIST PARADIGM ASSUMPTION CONSTRUCTIVIST PARADIGM ASSUMPTION
Ontologic: What is the nature of reality? Reality exists; there is a real world driven by real natural causes and subsequent effects Reality is multiple and subjective, mentally constructed by individuals; simultaneous shaping, not cause and effect
Epistemologic: How is the inquirer related to those being researched? The inquirer is independent from those being researched; findings are not influenced by the researcher The inquirer interacts with those being researched; findings are the creation of the interactive process
Axiologic: What is the role of values in the inquiry? Values and biases are to be held in check; objectivity is sought Subjectivity and values are inevitable and desirable
Methodologic: How is evidence best obtained? Deductive processes → hypothesis testing Inductive processes → hypothesis generation
Emphasis on discrete, specific concepts Emphasis on entirety of some phenomenon, holistic
Focus on the objective and quantifiable Focus on the subjective and nonquantifiable
Corroboration of researchers’ predictions Emerging insight grounded in participants’ experiences
Outsider knowledge—researcher is external, separate Insider knowledge—researcher is internal, part of process
Fixed, prespecified design Flexible, emergent design
Controls over context Context-bound, contextualized
Large, representative samples Small, information-rich samples
Measured (quantitative) information Narrative (unstructured) information
Statistical analysis Qualitative analysis
Seeks generalizations Seeks in-depth understanding

Positivists value objectivity and attempt to hold personal beliefs and biases in check to avoid contaminating the phenomena under study. The positivists’ scientific approach involves using orderly, disciplined procedures with tight controls of the research situation to test hunches about the phenomena being studied. PARADIGMS AND METHODS FOR NURSING RESEARCH

Strict positivist thinking has been challenged, and few researchers adhere to the tenets of pure positivism. In the  postpositivist paradigm , there is still a belief in reality and a desire to understand it, but postpositivists recognize the impossibility of total objectivity. They do, however, see objectivity as a goal and strive to be as neutral as possible. Postpositivists also appreciate the impediments to knowing reality with certainty and therefore seek probabilistic evidence—that is, learning what the true state of a phenomenon probably is, with a high degree of likelihood. This modified positivist position remains a dominant force in nursing research. For the sake of simplicity, we refer to it as positivism. PARADIGMS AND METHODS FOR NURSING RESEARCH

The Constructivist Paradigm

The  constructivist paradigm  (often called the  naturalistic paradigm ) began as a countermovement to positivism with writers such as Weber and Kant. Just as positivism reflects the cultural phenomenon of modernism that burgeoned after the industrial revolution, naturalism is an outgrowth of the cultural transformation called postmodernism. Postmodern thinking emphasizes the value of deconstruction—taking apart old ideas and structures—and reconstruction—putting ideas and structures together in new ways. The constructivist paradigm represents a major alternative system for conducting disciplined research in nursing.  Table 1.2  compares the major assumptions of the positivist and constructivist paradigms. PARADIGMS AND METHODS FOR NURSING RESEARCH

For the naturalistic inquirer, reality is not a fixed entity but rather is a construction of the individuals participating in the research; reality exists within a context, and many constructions are possible. Naturalists thus take the position of relativism: If there are multiple interpretations of reality that exist in people’s minds, then there is no process by which the ultimate truth or falsity of the constructions can be determined.

The constructivist paradigm assumes that knowledge is maximized when the distance between the inquirer and those under study is minimized. The voices and interpretations of study participants are crucial to understanding the phenomenon of interest, and subjective interactions are the primary way to access them. Findings from a constructivist inquiry are the product of the interaction between the inquirer and the participants. PARADIGMS AND METHODS FOR NURSING RESEARCH

Paradigms and Methods: Quantitative and Qualitative Research

Research methods  are the techniques researchers use to structure a study and to gather and analyze information relevant to the research question. The two alternative paradigms correspond to different methods for developing evidence. A key methodologic distinction is between  quantitative research , which is most closely allied with positivism, and  qualitative research , which is associated with constructivist inquiry—although positivists sometimes undertake qualitative studies, and constructivist researchers sometimes collect quantitative information. This section provides an overview of the methods associated with the two paradigms. PARADIGMS AND METHODS FOR NURSING RESEARCH

The Scientific Method and Quantitative Research

The traditional, positivist  scientific method  refers to a set of orderly, disciplined procedures used to acquire information. Quantitative researchers use deductive reasoning to generate predictions that are tested in the real world. They typically move in a systematic fashion from the definition of a problem and the selection of concepts on which to focus to the solution of the problem. By systematic, we mean that the investigator progresses logically through a series of steps, according to a specified plan of action. PARADIGMS AND METHODS FOR NURSING RESEARCH

Quantitative researchers use various control strategies. Control involves imposing conditions on the research situation so that biases are minimized and precision and validity are maximized. Control mechanisms are discussed at length in this book.

Quantitative researchers gather  empirical evidence —evidence that is rooted in objective reality and gathered through the senses. Empirical evidence, then, consists of observations gathered through sight, hearing, taste, touch, or smell. Observations of the presence or absence of skin inflammation, patients’ anxiety level, or infant birth weight are all examples of empirical observations. The requirement to use empirical evidence means that findings are grounded in reality rather than in researchers’ personal beliefs. PARADIGMS AND METHODS FOR NURSING RESEARCH

Evidence for a study in the positivist paradigm is gathered according to an established plan, using structured methods to collect needed information. Usually (but not always) the information gathered is  quantitative —that is, numeric information that is obtained from a formal measurement and is analyzed statistically. PARADIGMS AND METHODS FOR NURSING RESEARCH

A traditional scientific study strives to go beyond the specifics of a research situation. For example, quantitative researchers are typically not as interested in understanding why a particular person has a stroke as in understanding what factors influence its occurrence in people generally. The degree to which research findings can be generalized to individuals other than those who participated in the study is called the study’s  generalizability .

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The scientific method has enjoyed considerable stature as a method of inquiry and has been used productively by nurse researchers studying a range of nursing problems. This is not to say, however, that this approach can solve all nursing problems. One important limitation—common to both quantitative and qualitative research—is that research cannot be used to answer moral or ethical questions. Many persistent, intriguing questions about human beings fall into this area—questions such as whether euthanasia should be practiced or abortion should be legal. PARADIGMS AND METHODS FOR NURSING RESEARCH

The traditional research approach also must contend with problems of measurement. To study a phenomenon, quantitative researchers attempt to  measure it by attaching numeric values that express quantity. For example, if the phenomenon of interest is patient stress, researchers would want to assess if patients’ stress is high or low, or higher under certain conditions or for some people. Physiologic phenomena such as blood pressure and temperature can be measured with great accuracy and precision, but the same cannot be said of most psychological phenomena, such as stress or resilience.

Another issue is that nursing research focuses on humans, who are inherently complex and diverse. Traditional quantitative methods typically concentrate on a relatively small portion of the human experience (e.g., weight gain, depression) in a single study. Complexities tend to be controlled and, if possible, eliminated, rather than studied directly, and this narrowness of focus can sometimes obscure insights. Finally, quantitative research within the positivist paradigm has been accused of an inflexibility of vision that does not capture the full breadth of human experience. PARADIGMS AND METHODS FOR NURSING RESEARCH

Constructivist Methods and Qualitative Research

Researchers in constructivist traditions emphasize the inherent complexity of humans, their ability to shape and create their own experiences, and the idea that truth is a composite of realities. Consequently, constructivist studies are heavily focused on understanding the human experience as it is lived, usually through the careful collection and analysis of qualitative materials that are narrative and subjective. PARADIGMS AND METHODS FOR NURSING RESEARCH

Researchers who reject the traditional scientific method believe that it is overly reductionist—that is, it reduces human experience to the few concepts under investigation, and those concepts are defined in advance by the researcher rather than emerging from the experiences of those under study. Constructivist researchers tend to emphasize the dynamic, holistic, and individual aspects of human life and attempt to capture those aspects in their entirety, within the context of those who are experiencing them.

Flexible, evolving procedures are used to capitalize on findings that emerge in the course of the study. Constructivist inquiry usually takes place in the field (i.e., in naturalistic settings), often over an extended time period. In constructivist research, the collection of information and its analysis typically progress concurrently; as researchers sift through information, insights are gained, new questions emerge, and further evidence is sought to amplify or confirm the insights. Through an inductive process, researchers integrate information to develop a theory or description that helps illuminate the phenomenon under observation. PARADIGMS AND METHODS FOR NURSING RESEARCH

Constructivist studies yield rich, in-depth information that can elucidate varied dimensions of a complicated phenomenon. Findings from in-depth qualitative research are typically grounded in the real-life experiences of people with first-hand knowledge of a phenomenon. Nevertheless, the approach has several limitations. Human beings are used directly as the instrument through which information is gathered, and humans are extremely intelligent and sensitive—but fallible—tools. The subjectivity that enriches the analytic insights of skillful researchers can yield trivial and obvious “findings” among less competent ones PARADIGMS AND METHODS FOR NURSING RESEARCH.

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