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Research Approaches in Health and Social Care

Social research is done for the in-depth investigation of a problem of health care or cultural behavior or society. Empirical social research is either qualitative or quantitative basically (Peters, 2008, p. 157). The choice of method, chronology, design selected, the sample of participants chosen, and the instruments used to evaluate would all be determined by the nature of the investigation planned.

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The differences in the methods will depend on the underlying scientific paradigms.

The positivist paradigm considers research as a deductive process and uses the quantitative method (Peters, 2008, p. 158). Hypotheses and theories are assumed at the beginning of the study. Through subsequent analysis of several cases, the hypotheses are confirmed or discarded as untrue. Social research helps to identify variables and measure relationships. Quantitative methods are adopted to investigate predictors, for the generalization of facts and get causal explanations. Written questionnaires or interviews are used to obtain basic information. Data can be drawn into numbers. Various approaches are available for the operationalization of the data (Peters, 2008, p. 158). They are the economic approach of Cox and Blake (1991), the comprehensive approach of Dass and Parker (1999) and Thomas and Ely (1996), or the forms of appearance of Milliken and Martins (1996). The viewpoint is that of an outsider. The researcher is impartial and detached in the process.

The qualitative method has a naturalist or interpretative paradigm. The hypotheses and theories are seen at the end of the research. The aim is to obtain as much authentic information and experiences as possible in the subject being investigated. There is no intention to disprove earlier established hypotheses (Peters, 2008, p. 158). An insider’s viewpoint is expected and the researcher is partial, personally involved, and empathetic in the process. It is not merely an objective appraisal. The approach is inductive. The social construction of real issues and the discovery of a complex network of variables that are difficult to measure are involved. The instrument is the researcher himself and narrative interviews are the means of accumulating information. Culture-based differences are observed. Comparability and development of universally valid statements are not possible here (Peters, 2008, p. 160).

The integrative paradigm of combining both qualitative and quantitative methods is believed in by Schwarz (1989), Patton (1990), and Scholz and Hofbauer (1990). The methods would complement each other. Lincoln and Guba (1985) believed that this integration was not possible. The integrative paradigm allows diversity to be a relevant function. The shaping of a theory is part of the method. Visible manifestations are measured (Peters, 2008, p. 160). Positivist and interpretive methods are involved. Inquiry methods could be narrative or questionnaires or a mixture of both quantitative and qualitative methods.

Organization research

Three strategies can be adopted: the falsification strategy, the construction strategy, and the exploratory strategy. Karl Popper believed in deductive falsification in the advancement of science where conjectures and refutations would eliminate earlier hypotheses. The constructive strategy allows technological conclusions in place of theoretical ones (Peters, 2008, p. 161). The exploratory strategy uses the discovery of scientific connections. Diversity is analyzed. Exploratory studies deal with exposure, explanation, and uncertain aspects like diversity. Diversity could be the feature respective of the workforce in organizations, stakeholders, or individuals addressed in projects.

Abductive research is one where a few hypotheses and variables hinder the possibility of new connections. The theories at the beginning would find a relationship with the new facts. A priori theory makes us look at certain facts already expected. The abductive research asks us to look at all the phenomena exposed. The abductive research is a “solution arising from a diverse number of problems from diagnosis story understanding, to theory formation and evaluation, to legal reasoning, to possibly perception.” (Peters, 2008, p. 163).

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Forms of inquiry

Muller and Boling (1990) have differentiated forms of inquiry into three. The first group is the experiments, the next action research, and the third case studies and comparative case studies. Experiments are used when an artificial situation needs to be created to exclude potential influences, standardizes others, and allows others to vary so that the causes of the noted change are identified (Peters, 2008, p. 163). Changes and effects are observed and measured. Causal facts are identified and they are controlled. This form of inquiry has a representative nature and promotes the falsification strategy.

Action research practitioners do research to improve their understanding of their own practice and make promotive changes systematically. They utilize a cylindrical process of intervention. Then the impact is evaluated and the interventions are revised. This is a repeated process till the practitioner is satisfied with the outcome. Action research is a demonstration of the construction strategy.

Case studies usually concentrate on one case or a number of small cases which are compared (Peters, 2008, p. 163). A particular phenomenon would be reconstructed by delving deeply into what happened. Depth of study would be more important than the breadth. Revealing significant variables, their inter-relationships, and the experience of using the instruments are the features of the case studies. The low comparability of a single case study can be overcome by having several small case studies. Case study research allows the study of particular real-life situations and has gained importance in nursing and social research (Rosenberg, 2007, p. 447).

It provides an appropriate and flexible approach. The application is done when the phenomenon of interest is complex and contextualized, having many variables with difficulty to control.

The case study research can be qualitative and can focus on one case or many. It can describe, explain or evaluate (Walshe et al, 2004 in Rosenberg, 2007, p. 448). It is an approach rather than a paradigm. Mixed methods and multiple sources may be used.

Using schematic representation in case study research is extremely useful (Rosenberg, 2007, p. 448). A map of the inter-related elements elicits an easy understanding of the audit trail. Deconstruction of the multiple concepts and processes into their elements provides clarity. The representation could vary from a simple flowchart, a conceptual map, intricate matrix, and use of text or symbols. Descriptive or interpretive matrices would be formed when the data is shown in the collection and analytic stages. The identification of underlying themes or theories is an integral part of case study research (Polit and Beck, 2004 in Rosenberg, 2007, p. 448). Identifying the phenomena of interest is a crucial step. If this is not done, the data would be too voluminous for control and further completion of the research. Case study research can be intrinsic, instrumental, or collective. In intrinsic variety, the case is studied for its own sake. In instrumental, the case is studied to understand related issues or phenomena. In the collective many cases are studied and compared. Data collection could be by participant observation, in-depth interviews, focus groups, questionnaires, or documentation reviews (Rosenberg, 2007, p. 449). The analysis would depend on the method used for collection. Documentary, interview, and focus group data would be analyzed thematically (Boyatzis, 1998), and questionnaire data could be analyzed statistically (Polit and Beck, 2004 in Rosenberg, 2007, p. 4490. Matrices may be used to reduce data into manageable quantities and concept groups.

Sophistication of techniques

Quantitative techniques have seen sophistication in recent years along with software to analyze data. Methodological and analytical aspects of social research are evolving constantly, making older techniques useless or inappropriate (Jenson, 2008, p. 67). Design measurement and analysis strategies have become innovative and advanced. Imputation strategies for handling missing data have become a usual procedure. These are especially employed in prevention programs or social interventions (Graham, Olchowski, & Gilreath, 2007). Propensity analysis is a new technique for selection effects. Advances have also occurred in estimating the power. Specialized software programs have made this possible (Raudenbush & Bryk, 2002). Experienced researchers who have adopted older techniques may have difficulty adjusting to newer ones. Statistical methods named multilevel, hierarchial, or mixed were previously not much used. Complicated research questions are now answered using these difficult methods (Jenson, 2008, p. 67). The increase of group randomized trials has also increased the number of analytical advances. Statistical software advances are a major change that has occurred in social research. The SPSS or the statistical package for social sciences is the most widely used software for analysis. Faculty members have used SAS or Statistical Analysis Software. Online lessons help newcomers to handle the analysis. Opportunities and challenges are thereby increased for new social researchers (Jenson, 2008, p. 68). Rapid methodological, statistical or analytical, or technological changes help investigators or researchers stay abreast of new developments critical to them in their research career. Mental illness and health, poverty, and child welfare are current issues.

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Computer applications in nursing research

Nursing research contributes to interdisciplinary health research which identifies and implements improved healthcare practice (Casebeer, 2006, p. 155). Computerized databases of literature allow one to retrieve and read through literature in a speedy manner. Nursing articles and research material are available in the CINAHL and MEDLINE sites. Searching for an unpublished matter which is of special interest is difficult. The quality of articles is immediately evident through abstracts. Another new concept in the development of online full-text information services (Casebeer, 2006, p. 157). The services of a professional librarian are useful for search. The paperwork involved in doing a study involves grant proposals, correspondence with funding agencies, consent forms, data-gathering forms and instruments, ethics applications, consent forms, progress reports, grant renewals, manuscripts for publication,(Casebeer, 2006, p. 158). All these require similarly worded copies. The electronic text editing and word processing facilities really help the researcher prepare research documents. The computer assists in the preparation, revision, and formatting of the documents are facilitated by the computer. Precious time for correction and making copies is saved. These advantages are in for all the types of researches, whether social or not. Microsoft and Word Perfect have attained sophisticated levels of perfection. Journal manuscripts are prepared directly. Web-based publishing is also in vogue. Issues of ownership and production costs of online publishing are also involved (Graczynski and Moses, 2004). The advantages of computer usage include reduced costs, lesser typing errors and therefore lesser typing, increased control of the documents, faster-finished work, and comfortable revision. The researcher just needs to hone his skills on the keyboard and using the software needed. He also needs to acquire a system for use. However, all these are one-time costs that do not repeat (Casebeer, 2006, p. 158). Nurse researchers are using digital photography, biometric probes, bar code generators, readers, handheld computers, and personal digital assistants for data capture. Web-based research can be done. Participants can be reached. Computer-assisted interviewing methods may be used. Data entry is eliminated but the quality is better. Computer-assisted self-interviewing, computer-assisted telephonic interviews, and computer-assisted personal interviewing are the methods used (Casebeer, 2006, p.160). The computer allows a large amount of data to be saved and used. Superfluous data could be eliminated. Interfacing among computers in an institution is possible. Random sampling, large samples, and control groups could be easier to delineate. Collaborations with colleagues at distant places are possible. One great disadvantage of computer systems is the viruses which could harm the system (Casebeer, 2006, p. 162).

Ethics of Research

Social research processes involve human participants. The researcher needs to ensure the safety of his participants in overt and covert research (van Deventer, 2009, p. 45). Research ethics are the guidelines used to ensure effective communication with all the participants and recipients of the research processes and results (Philips, 1985 in van Deventer, 2009, p. 46). All the participants must be free from harm and the researchers are to actively do good to society or societal groups. Arbitrary research or research for superfluous results must be avoided. Research must terminate in the betterment of social good. Research processes that do not achieve these aims are better not done as they would be viewed as wastage of resources (van deventer, 2009, p. 46).


  1. Casebeer, A. (2006). “Research Applications” Chapter 11 in “Introduction to Nursing Informatics”. 3rd Ed., (Eds). Kathryn J. Hannah and Marion J. Ball, Springer Science and Business Media Inc. 2006
  2. Graham J.W., Olchowski,A. E., & Gilreath.T D. (2007). “How many imputations are really needed? Some practical clarifications of multiple imputation theory”. Prevention Science, 8, 206-213
  3. Jenson, J.M. (2008). “Keeping Pace with Methodological and Analytical Advances in Social Research”. Social work research volume 32, number i  2008, National Association of Social Workers
  4. Peters B.A., (2008). “Research process and Empirical proceedings” Chapter 5 in “Managing Diversity in Intergovernmental Organisations”. Springer Science and Business Media, Germany
  5. Raudenbush, S., & Bryk,A. S. (2002). Hierarchical linear models:Applications and data analysis (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
  6. Rosenberg, J.P. and Yates, P.M. (2007). “Schematic representation of case study research designs”. Journal of Advanced Nursing 60(4), 447–452 doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2007.04385.x, Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

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