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Research Insights
Barbara Brillhart, PhD RN CRRN

From the Editor: Rehabilitation Nursing is introducing a new intermittent feature, Research Insights. The purpose is to participate in the education process of readers who are less acquainted with essential elements of the research process. Every day nurses are reminded of the importance of using evidence-based practice that results in better patient outcomes. However, an integral aspect of evaluating the quality of the literature is understanding the research process and being able to critically appraise the scientific evidence and its validity, relevance, and applicability. Part of this appraisal process includes a rating system for the hierarchy of evidence and the quality of the research. The Research Insights feature will help to expand your capability in performing this essential step, the critical appraisal of the research pertaining to your practice area.

Part 1

Problems and Significance for Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Research

This is the first of a four part series focusing on the sections of an experimental or quasi-experimental quantitative research study. Part I focuses on identification of the problem, its significance for a quantitative study, its purpose and hypothesis or research question. Part II contains information regarding the theoretical basis or conceptual framework of a study, plus the literature review. Part III continues the research process and describes the methodology section that comprises design, subject selection and assignment to groups, setting, instruments of measurement and procedures. Part IV comprises the statistical analysis, results, and discussion sections of a research study. In summary, the series has two purposes: (1) to present the sections of a research study and (2) to offer guidelines to critique and to evaluate a study for use in clinical practice.

Problem of the Study

Researchers may use many sources to identify the problem of the study. The study can be based on clinical experiences, identification of gaps in the literature, input from other health professionals, a theory or conceptual framework, prior research studies, or a call for proposals from a funding source such as the Rehabilitation Nursing Foundation. The researcher must also carefully consider the time and effort required to collect data related to the research problem. In some situations, this data-collection period may extend to several years. Factors to consider when selecting the research problem include expertise of the researcher, consultants who might be available for the study, availability of participants, feasibility of the intervention, availability of resources, timeliness of the topic, commitment of the administration, plus potential for funding the study (Burns & Grove, 2005).

Significance of the Problem

The significance portion of an article presents the importance of the problem to the profession. Several factors can convey the significance. The problem could be supported by indicating how many persons are affected, for example, the number of persons with cerebrovascular accidents (CVA) in the United States. The expenses involved with the problem often are cited, such as the financial costs involved in inpatient acute care, rehabilitation, and home care for clients post-CVA. Factors relating to quality of life may also be included to establish the significance of the problem. Examples of quality of life may include loss of roles, impact on family life, decrease in functional ability, and communication difficulties common with clients post-CVA. The significance portion of the study is developed by reviewing current government statistics, prior quantitative studies, and qualitative studies. The significance of the problem states the argument for why this problem is an important one to investigate and how it will improve practice, outcomes, or policies.

Purpose Statement

The purpose statement is one sentence that concisely focuses the direction of the study. The researcher will concisely present the population, interventions, and outcome for the research investigation (Burns & Grove, 2005; Polit & Beck, 2004). The purpose statement ideally is presented early in the article to direct the reader to the focus of the study.

Hypothesis or Research Question

The research hypothesis may be directional, indicating which intervention the researcher predicted as most effective. The hypothesis could also be stated that there is no relationship between the variables being studied (null hypothesis). The hypothesis identifies the study variables, the population, indicates the type of research, and gives direction for conducting the study. Some studies use the study question to replace the hypothesis. Research or study questions can be stated to determine differences between or among groups or interventions. Research or study questions have a focused format for the identified problem in quantitative research (Burns & Grove, 2005).

Critique of the Problem and Significance

The nurse critically reviews and evaluates a research study prior to application to his or her practice. In examining the problem, significance, purpose statement, and hypothesis or research question, the nurse can use the following questions:

  • Is the problem for the study presented clearly and concisely?
  • Is this problem important to my practice of nursing?
  • Does the significance for the problem establish the need for the study?
  • Is the problem researchable?
  • Does the purpose statement clearly focus the investigation?
  • Does the hypothesis or research/study question identify the variables and population, plus give direction for the study?


The first portion of the research article clearly presents the problem for the investigation, the importance or significance of the problem for the nursing profession, and the purpose of the study. The hypothesis or research/study question clearly gives direction for the study. This section should be carefully written, because the nurse reads it to establish whether the study is within his or her area of practice.

About the Author

Barbara Brillhart, PhD RN CRRN is an associate professor at Arizona State University at the College of Nursing. Address correspondence to her at PO Box 872602, Tempe, AZ 85287-2602 or Barbara.Brillhart@asu.edu


Burns, N., & Grove, S. K. (2005). The practice of nursing research (5th ed.) Philadelphia: Saunders.

Polit, D. F., & Beck, C. T. (2004). Nursing research: Principles and methods (7th ed.). Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.