Scientific nursing journals over 25 years: most studies continue to focus on adults and psychological variables, with a decline in theory-testing-based studies and an increase in qualitative studies
- Correspondence to
: Dr Marilyn H Oermann
School of Nursing, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, School of Nursing 433 Carrington Hall, CB #7460, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7460, USA;
Implications for practice and research
Most studies published in scientific nursing journals explore psychological variables in adult populations.
Over the last 25 years less theoretically oriented research has been published in nursing journals.
Future studies should expand journal selection to include more clinical and international nursing journals.
Professional journals serve as vehicles for disseminating the findings of research and new knowledge to readers who can use that information in their own practice or research. Studies of journals can reveal important trends in the development of knowledge in a field, how works are related to one another, the most influential journals and patterns in authorship.
Brown et al 1 analysed trends in nursing research over three decades (to 1980) based on articles in Nursing Research, Research in Nursing & Health, Western Journal of Nursing Research and International Journal of Nursing Studies. Other studies have examined the dissemination of research findings in clinical nursing journals and described characteristics of nursing literature.2–4
Yarcheski and colleagues have extended the work of Brown et al 1 by conducting a descriptive study to identify trends in nursing research from 1985 to 2010, based on research articles published in the same four journals. The methods, including the coding instrument, inclusion criteria and procedures, were built purposefully on this prior study with the aim of identifying trends in nursing research over time. There were 976 quantitative or qualitative studies published as articles or briefs; 50% were randomly selected from the journals for each year examined, yielding a final sample of 489 studies. The sample thus represented the state of nursing research published in these journals over a 25-year period. Articles were read and analysed; each author played a significant role in coding and reaching an agreement on how studies were coded.
Most studies explored psychological variables in adult populations. Qualitative studies increased significantly from 3% of the articles in 1985 to 21% in 2010. Over the years there has been less emphasis on theory testing, and more methodological studies have been reported. In 2010, multivariate statistical analyses were used in 60% of the studies examined compared with 44% in 1985. Consistent with the biomedical literature, single authorship has decreased, and 91% of the research articles in 2010 were multiauthored. In 1985, 70% of the quantitative studies included implications of the findings for practice, but by 2010 that number decreased to 56%. However, 85% of the qualitative research reports discussed implications for practice.
The methods of the study were appropriate to achieve its aims and are replicable. For the obvious comparative value, the current study used the same four high impact journals as the 1984 study on which it was based. By doing this, Yarcheski and colleagues confirmed many of the same trends reported earlier, such as a focus on studies of adults and psychological variables. Generalisations about trends in nursing research beyond these four journals, however, cannot be made. Although researchers from various countries published papers in all four journals, between 80% and 89.5% of the studies in three of the journals were conducted in the USA. To understand the development of nursing research, more international journals need to be sampled. In addition, studies must include clinical nursing journals because of their role in publishing research. Oermann et al 2 found that a third of the articles in clinical journals were research reports, and 43.2% of the citations were to research studies. In another study, Oermann et al 3 tracked the flow of information from 28 research articles published in scientific nursing journals into clinical literature. All those studies were cited in clinical journals. By expanding the journal selection to include more international journals and other types of nursing journals, the trends will become more generalisable and representative of the current state of nursing research.
Two important findings of Yarcheski and colleagues are the increase in qualitative research in nursing and use of more advanced designs and statistical analyses in quantitative studies. The authors suggested that these trends illustrate nursing's ‘maturity’ in research methods, and that researchers are studying more complex problems in healthcare. Their analysis, however, revealed the need for better research reporting. This may improve with more journals recommending authors prepare their research papers according to guidelines such as CONSORT (Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials) and PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses), among others.