Nursing Research Study Designs and Methods

The choice of the research design and method to be used depends on the nature of research questions stated and also the development of the research theory. There exist several research designs and methods. The fact that nursing is holistic calls for a diversified research approach hence the need for different research designs (Popper, 2000).

A research design may be defined as a framework or arrangement of any nursing work. This framework aids in guiding a person as well as ensuring that the research is in a systematic way. According to Holman, choice of design impacts on the final research results hence the need for a good preliminary review of the existing designs (2003). The type of research design to be adopted depends on the nature of data available, the aim of the study, the reliability of the information, ethical grounds, and the cost of the design as well as the feasibility of the study. A phenomenon will be clearly understood if the observations so obtained are reliable. Although a research may be either quantitative or qualitative, the use of various designs is adopted for convenience and ease (Holman, 2003).The theoretical classification of nursing into the description, explanation, prediction and prescription components forms the basis for these research methods. The research methods available in the nursing profession are: descriptive designs, correlational studies, experimental designs, review of other research, and pilot studies.

Descriptive designs aim at making an observation followed by a description. Persons in the nursing profession are able to observe a patient and from that give a description of his/her state (Polit & Beck, 2006).Several methods such as descriptive research, case studies, observation and use of questionnaires are involved. The design is cheap to use and saves time. However, the method can be deceptive especially when a person doing the research is not objective enough. Some case studies may not really give information that pertains to a certain study. For instance, the cause of skin cancer in America may be quite different from that in Europe (Holman, 2003).

Correlational studies are aimed at predicting the results of the research. They include cross-sectional study, case control study, observational study, Cohort study and longitudinal study. The use of statistical models is applied in this method. This forms the core part of the research (Polit & Beck, 2006). For instance, a nursing researcher can apply both quantitative and qualitative research approaches to check how a change of eating habits may impact the recovery process of a HIV positive patient. Correlational studies are time-consuming and require specialized statistical knowledge. However, most of these studies have played a crucial role in the acquisition of nursing knowledge especially for worldwide concerns like HIV.

Experimental designs aim at establishing the cause of different nursing concerns such as diseases, care, medication, and symptoms. Several methods include field experiment, twin studies and quasi-experimental design. Experimental designs are based on results and not opinions. Some experiments take much time to yield considerable conclusions. The fact that nursing is a science means that experimental designs are reliable and objective (Popper, 2000).

Review of other research is also widely employed in the nursing research fields. The aim of this technique is to obtain a detailed explanation on several nursing elements (Babbie, 2002). The methods under this design are literature review, meta-analysis and systematic reviews. Various advantages include comprehensive information and a clear explanation of issues affecting the nursing profession as a whole. The disadvantage associated with the design is the difficulty involved with data gathering. Some information may be hard to come by.

A pilot study aims at laying plans for the actual design work. It involves doing some preliminary study prior to the actual research. According to (Babbie, 2002) pre-visits are usually made. Pilot studies help to prepare a researcher financially and mentally on the nature of study to be analyzed. Some pilot studies do not yield subsequent research findings especially if the actual research is declared expensive and unattainable.

It can be concluded that nursing as a profession derives its identity through the application of different research designs and methods for a comprehensive build up of knowledge. However, the choice of the most appropriate method helps to cut on cost and improve reliability.


Holman, H. R. (2003). Qualitative inquiry in medical research. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 13, 125-147

Babbie, E. (2002). The practice of social research (8th ed). Belmont (CA): Wadsworth Publishing Company.

Polit DF, Beck, C.T. (2006). Essential in Nursing Research: Methods, appraisal, and utilization (6th ed). Philadelphia: JB Lippincott Company

Popper, K. R. (2000). The logic of scientific discovery. New York (NY): Routledge.