Home > RNJ > 2006 > September/October > Writing with a Collaborative Team

Writing with a Collaborative Team
Tamilyn Bakas, DNS RN FAHA • Carol J. Farran, DNSc RN FAAN • Linda S. Williams, MD FAHA

As the science of rehabilitation moves forward, the need to actively participate on a collaborative research team increases. Rehabilitation involves many different disciplines—for example, nursing, medicine, psychology, physical therapy, social work, and epidemiology—that affect the care of persons of all ages with a variety of different clinical needs. Each discipline adds a particular perspective to research questions, clinical situations, and eventually to professional publications. As such, the need for multidisciplinary collaborative research and publication is paramount. Nurses uniquely contribute their theoretical perspectives, use of varied research designs, and their close relationship to clinical practice to collaborative teams. Nurses bring invaluable expertise to the clinical research arena, especially in the areas of health services and implementation research, for which their on-the-ground perspective is invaluable to the overall goal of understanding and improving the system of care to enhance patient outcomes. Nurses benefit greatly by serving as active members on research teams because they come to know more and to be more well known.

Joining or constructing a collaborative scholarly team is perhaps one of the most critical professional decisions a rehabilitation nurse will make. A number of steps are necessary to position oneself on a collaborative team. Nurses must evaluate what others are doing within their clinical area of interest locally, regionally, and nationally. Are there local faculty members conducting research using the same patient population? Are there ongoing research symposia or presentations that will introduce research in a relevant clinical area and also introduce you to collaborators in your own setting? What expertise do others have that could enhance or build on your work? How do your research interests align with their research? Nurses new to research should try to find a more established researcher who can mentor and introduce key researchers in their area of study.

Collaborative teams are often formed during grant writing or pilot-data collection. The team begins to form when one person identifies an issue and takes responsibility for pulling ideas and resources together. The principal investigator (PI) will usually prepare an initial draft of a study’s aims and distribute it to others for feedback and to determine their interest in being involved in the study. The first meeting generally involves a group discussion of specific goals, as well as a discussion of what role each person will play in the study. Sometimes these meetings will lead to a decision about specific pilot data that need to be collected; working on a small pilot project is an excellent way to develop team rapport and your own research skills.

Each team takes different approaches to developing proposals. On some teams the PI continues to assume major responsibility for writing the grant, but seeks regular input from team members. In other groups, sections of the grant application may be assigned to specific members, along with a proposed timeline for completion. Regular meetings are scheduled to share drafts and discuss progress toward completing the application. This phase requires input and buy-in from each team member. As the grant deadline approaches, it is essential for the PI to conclude the work, even if issues are not completely resolved, and to make sure that ideas begin to flow and are presented as clearly as possible. Content experts are included, as are persons with methodological and clinical expertise. Also essential are persons who have access to the clinical population of interest.

Rehabilitation nurses can play a vital role on the research team by providing input on the clinical feasibility of the research and assisting with study recruitment. These issues are critical to a grant application and can help translate the research into practice. Rehabilitation nurses play an active role on the research team by serving as data collectors or performing case studies. Some rehabilitation nurses might be graduate students who can own a part of the process for their own coursework in addition to being part of the research team. Staff nurses who do not have extensive experience and expertise may need clear direction on how they can play an active role. By reaching out to others who are doing research, rehabilitation nurses may become more involved in collaborative research teams.

Building and maintaining a collaborative team does not end with a grant submission. Developmental aspects of a project need to be addressed, and funding may not occur with the first submission. Once a study is funded, the research team continues to meet regularly to ensure that the study is conducted as proposed. As data are being collected, researchers should initiate a plan for disseminating the findings. Usually a number of manuscripts can be written using data from one study; some can be written even before data collection is completed. It is important to identify which manuscripts will address the primary study question and which will address secondary study aims. Another consideration is which manuscripts need to be written before submission of a continuation study.

Manuscripts address literature reviews, design and methodological issues, and clinical issues, such as disseminating best practices to specific patient-care arenas. Choosing the most appropriate journal for submission is important. For example, a research brief may be most appropriate for a small pilot study or case study. A research journal may be most appropriate for more complex research findings, but a clinical journal may be appropriate for manuscripts written for practicing clinicians. Abstracts can be written for presentations at disciplinary meetings.

Because of their clinical expertise, rehabilitation nurses can take the lead on manuscripts and abstracts that address case studies or practice-related issues. They may also be asked to serve as coauthors on abstracts and manuscripts detailing primary study findings. The team approach to disseminating findings through presentations and publications yields the best outcomes. Shared authorship strengthens the quality of presentations and publications by incorporating multiple perspectives.

The process of disseminating study results varies by team and across projects. One person may continue to take the lead on manuscripts and presentations while others assume secondary roles, depending on priorities, workloads, and experience. Newer investigators may find it difficult to balance writing with competing teaching and service responsibilities. Some team members may have difficulty keeping up with writing their particular sections or assigned manuscripts. In some situations, another team member may be reassigned to assume the role of first author. If the PI needs to make this decision, team members should receive honest feedback and understand why the decision was made. A collaborative team must work together to overcome these types of issues.

It is the PI’s responsibility to track presentations and publications that are being written and to know who is responsible for each one. One way is to develop an organized plan for disseminating findings (see Table 1). This information may be updated and distributed to team members each meeting so that everyone knows what is being done, along with projected deadlines. This helps clarify everyone’s responsibilities and allows prioritization of discussion of manuscripts and abstracts. Without due dates or deadlines, writing often takes a secondary position in everyone’s workload.

Scientific Integrity

Questions or conflicts may arise within the team regarding authorship, mentorship, ownership of data, data integrity, protection of animal and human subjects, or other ethical issues surrounding the conduct of research. These types of issues are referred to as scientific integrity. The Midwest Nursing Research Society (2002) and Macrina (2005) provide detailed guidelines and principles governing the scientific integrity of research. All members of the research team should be aware of these guidelines and principles to ensure the scientific integrity of their work and the work of the team.

Writing with a collaborative team can be productive and fulfilling and can contribute greatly to the development of rehabilitation science. Pierce (2005) details two case studies of collaborative teams involving staff nurses that resulted in fall-prevention protocols and the development of a Web site for family caregivers of stroke survivors. The team approach brings together experts from a variety of disciplines to design, conduct, and implement the best research that is most relevant to patient-care issues. Effective collaborative teams make long-term commitments not only to the science but also to the personal and professional development of each team member.

Rehabilitation nurses play a number of different roles on research teams and gain expertise and valuable collaborative relationships that can continue throughout their careers. An organized approach that clearly specifies the roles and responsibilities of each team member can facilitate the work of the team and provide a mutually beneficial experience for everyone involved.


Funding for this manuscript was provided by the National Institute for Nursing Research, NIH # K01 NR008712-01 (PI: Tamilyn Bakas).

About the Authors

Tamilyn Bakas, DNS RN FAHA, is associate professor at Indiana University School of Nursing, Indianapolis, IN. Direct correspondence to her at Indiana University School of Nursing, 1111 Middle Drive, NU 417, Indianapolis, IN 46202-5107.

Carol J. Farran, DNSc RN FAAN, is professor at Rush University College of Nursing, Chicago, IL.

Linda S. Williams, MD FAHA, is chief of neurology at Roudebush Veterans Administration Medical Center and an associate professor at Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, IN.


Macrina, F. L. (2005). Scientific integrity (3rd ed.). Washington, DC: ASM.

Midwest Nursing Research Society. (2002). Guidelines for scientific integrity (2nd ed.). Wheatridge, CO: Author.

Pierce, L. L. (2005). Rehabilitation nurses working as collaborative research teams. Rehabilitation Nursing, 30(4), 132–139.