Status: Refereed paper
EARLY AUSTRALIAN NURSING SCHOLARSHIP: THE FIRST DECADE OF THE AJAN
PART 2: SCHOLARSHIP
This study investigates scholarship in the first decade of the Australian Journal of Advanced Nursing (AJAN), the primary vehicle for disseminating Australian nursing scholarship. It describes the major characteristics of the articles, comparing the first and second halves of the decade, and explores relationships between the characteristics of articles. It also compares scholarship patterns in Australia and the United States of America. The author used a content analysis method to classify the articles. Frequency descriptions were done to describe data and crosstabulations were used to determine relationships. Over half of the articles were research reports: one third were theoretical scholarship articles while few were clinical scholarship articles. Most of these concerned clinical practice with medical-surgical clients and most research designs were quantitative with no theoretical framework. There were very few changes throughout the decade. Australian nursing scholarship is consistent with that of the United States of America.
EARLY AUSTRALIAN NURSING SCHOLARSHIP: THE FIRST DECADE OF THE AJAN
PART 2: SCHOLARSHIP
This study is the second in a three-part series on early Australian scholars, scholarship and the relationships between them. The work investigates the authors and articles in the first decade of the Australian Journal of Advanced Nursing (AJAN) and the relationships between them. Part one investigates the scholars (Roberts 1995b), this part investigates the scholarship, and part three investigates the relationships between scholars and scholarship (Roberts 1995d).
It is important for the profession to be aware of patterns of scholarship so that it can shape its future development. The AJAN dominated Australian nursing scholarship during the period of the transfer of nursing education into the tertiary education sector and any investigation of early Australian nursing scholarship must take it into account. The present study therefore aimed to provide both an historical record and a measurement of the development of scholarship at a critical time in the development of nursing knowledge in Australia.
The purposes of this part of the study were to describe the characteristics of the articles; compare the scholarship in the first and second halves of the decade; and compare the characteristics of Australian scholarship with the scholarship from the United States of America (USA) at a similar period in its development.
Scholarship is the "creative intellectual activity that involves generation, evaluation, synthesis and integration of knowledge based on theory, research, and practice" (Roberts 1995). There are three major fields of scholarship in nursing: theoretical scholarship, clinical scholarship and research scholarship (Roberts 1995). Theoretical scholarship deals with the conceptual aspects of knowledge in the discipline rather than the application of theory. It develops new knowledge through the integration and synthesis of existing knowledge, thereby advancing knowledge in the discipline of nursing. It addresses nursing theory, administration, professional issues, research methodology, law, ethics, philosophy, health care system, and politics, as well as concepts from other disciplines. Research scholarship reports the results of empirical research in nursing. Clinical scholarship is scholarship that describes nursing practice. All three types of scholarship are important because they advance the development of knowledge in the discipline of nursing.
The pertinent literature comprised one Australian study and several studies from the USA during a similar period in their development. The development of scholarship in nursing education in both countries took place mainly within the tertiary education system where nurse-academics publish because they are motivated by desires for tenure, promotion and to advance the discipline of nursing. One study reports scholarship trends in Australia (McConnell and Paech 1993). The findings were consistent with the findings in the American literature. Their focus was primarily on the authors and only briefly looked at the focus of the articles. The present study extended their work by analysing the focus of articles in more depth, exploring other interactions among the variables and comparing Australian trends with overseas findings.
Nursing research articles were predominantly at least 50% single-authored (Moustafa 1985; Moody, Wilson et al. 1988; Kilby, Rupp et al. 1991; McConnell and Paech 1993), with a trend over time towards collaborative authorship (Brown, Tanner et al. 1984; McConnell and Paech 1993). Clinical research was a major focus of American research studies (Brown, Tanner et al. 1984; Moustafa 1985; Kilby, Rupp et al. 1991). The Australian literature concentrated on nursing education and professional nursing issues, followed by clinical nursing practice (McConnell and Paech 1993). Adult health or medical-surgical nursing was the clinical focus for the largest percentage of research articles (O'Connell and Duffey 1978; Brown, Tanner et al. 1984; Moody, Wilson et al. 1988).
Most research studies were quantitative (O'Connell and Duffey 1978; Brown, Tanner et al. 1984; Moody, Wilson et al. 1988). Different studies found cross-sectional, experimental or quasi-experimental and observational or co-relational designs most common (O'Connell and Duffey 1978; Brown, Tanner et al. 1984; Jacobsen and Meininger 1985; Moody, Wilson et al. 1988). Research papers most frequently used a convenience sample (Moody, Wilson et al. 1988). Half used nursing theory frameworks (Brown, Tanner et al. 1984; Moody, Wilson et al. 1988). Those that did, used the theory as an organising framework rather than testing the theory (Brown, Tanner et al. 1984; Moody, Wilson et al. 1988). Behavioural science, Orem's Roberts Care Deficit Nursing Theory, Rogers's Unitary Human Beings Theory and Roy's Adaptation Theory were the frameworks most often used (Brown, Tanner et al. 1984; Moody, Wilson et al. 1988). It was therefore expected that this study would also find an equal number of single and multiple-authored articles, a preponderance of articles on research, education and professional issues, and a focus on medical-surgical nursing. It was also expected that the research articles would be primarily quantitative, using non-experimental designs with convenience samples, and lacking a theoretical framework. It was expected that there would be no difference in the two halves of the decade on most variables.
This study was quantitative in approach and used a descriptive, correlational design. A descriptive process was used to portray the articles.
All of the 242 scholarly full articles in the first 10 volumes of the AJAN comprised the population of this part of the study, with the individual article being the unit of analysis. Data about the articles were obtained by content analysis. The researcher developed categories for each variable that were based primarily on those in Moody et al (1988). The author read and categorised each article according to: volume, year of publication, number of authors, type of scholarship, nursing focus, research design, theoretical framework, and half of decade in which it appeared. The categories in each of these classifications will be shown in the results section.
Articles were also classified into theoretical scholarship, clinical scholarship and research scholarship. All data were analysed using the program StatView on an Apple Macintosh computer. Frequency distributions were used to generate descriptive data and contingency tables were used to cross-tabulate variables. However inferential statistical analysis was not used because the total population of articles was used for analysis of their characteristics.
There were 20-25 articles published per volume and almost equal numbers in each half of the decade. A majority of articles was single-authored (61%). However, there was a distinct shift toward multiple authorship over the decade, with only one-quarter (23%) being multiple-authored in the first half and more than half (55%) being multiple-authored in the second half. In addition, more research articles (56%) were multiple-authored than clinical scholarship articles (22%) or theoretical scholarship articles (18%).
Research reports were the major type of article (54%), as expected, while theoretical scholarship articles (33%) and clinical scholarship articles (13%) were less common. Contrary to expectations, the proportion of research articles rose by 13% over the decade, while the proportion of theoretical scholarship articles fell by 16%.
The major focus of the theoretical articles was education, with almost half (41%) of these articles dealing with that topic. Some articles (17%) focussed on professional issues, with the rest being a mixture of small numbers of articles on nursing theory, research methodology, the health care system, philosophy, ethics, administration, law and history.
The major focus of the theoretical education articles was curriculum development and implementation (48%). Of these, the majority (60%) focussed on curriculum evaluation. Over a third (39%) focussed on teaching praxis and/or curriculum implementation. A few (13%) focussed on the system.
The major focus of the clinical scholarship articles was intervention, with half (51%) dealing with that, one-quarter (24%) dealing with assessment and the remainder dealing with both. A majority (64%) of clinical scholarship articles dealt with the practice of nursing, while few (12%) dealt with the client and one-quarter (24%) dealt with both. A majority of articles dealt with general nursing (37%) or medical-surgical nursing (14%).
The largest group of research articles dealt with clinical practice research (38%). Research reporting role and characteristics of the practitioner (24%) and education (15%) also comprised a significant proportion of research articles.
The majority (56%) of clinical practice research articles focussed on the client, one-third (34%) focussed on the practice and a few (10%) focussed on both. These findings do not agree with the findings for clinical scholarship articles. Most (78%) dealt primarily with intervention rather than assessment. The largest group of clinical practice research articles dealt with medical-surgical nursing (39%). Maternal-infant nursing (25%) and children's nursing (14%) and general nursing (12%) also comprised notable proportions of clinical nursing research topics.
Most (81%) of the research articles were quantitative, with 11% qualitative and the rest having mixed paradigms. Over the decade, there was a slight shift from quantitative to mixed paradigms with qualitative being approximately the same in both halves of the decade. The research designs for the quantitative studies were: co-relational (58%), descriptive (23%), quasi-experimental (10%) and experimental (9%). Most research studies (82%) used a convenience sample. As expected, the research articles were mainly reports of quantitative correlational studies.
About a quarter of all articles (26%) had a theoretical framework. More clinical scholarship articles (31%) or research scholarship articles (30%) had a theoretical framework than theoretical scholarship articles (18%). The proportion of articles with a theoretical framework did not increase over the decade. For articles that had a theoretical framework, behavioural science frameworks were most common (39%), while nursing theoretical frameworks were less common (19%). Of the latter, Orem's Roberts-care deficit nursing theory was the most common nursing theory used. There were various levels of operation of the theory. Thirteen articles only cited the theory, a further eight demonstrated conceptual links with the theory, while twelve used the theory as an organising framework and only one article tested the theory. This finding confirmed the expectation that the articles would lack a theoretical framework.
This study has shown that the AJAN scholarship has generally followed the same path as the scholarship from the USA, with the articles being single-authored and concentrating on quantitative, medical-surgical research with a co-relational design not driven by theory. It generally supported the conclusions of McConnell and Paech (1993) that there was little change over time.
The finding that there was a trend toward multiple authorship over time supports the previous findings of Brown et al. (1984) and McConnell and Paech (1993). The finding that research articles are more likely to be multiple-authored is probably linked to the finding that the proportion of research articles rose over the decade and both relate to the trend towards increasing nursing research, and increasing collaborative research in the universities.
The major focus of theoretical scholarship on education probably reflects the education background of the nurse-academics, who were the majority of authors.
The finding that the proportion of research articles was highest and increased over time may well reflect the increasing importance of research for nurse-academics, particularly concerning promotion. It could also reflect the increased importance of research in developing nursing knowledge, or even the values of the reviewers and editors of the journal.
The present findings that research articles were generally focussed on medical surgical or general nursing support the previous findings of American authors but differed with those of McConnell and Paech (1993), perhaps because this study used fewer classifications for types of articles and a different statistical analysis.
The finding that most research articles used a quantitative approach with correlational design and convenience sampling probably reflects the social science and education research traditions of nurse-scholars. The present findings for research design support those of Brown et al. (1984) and Moody et al. (1988). Perhaps this also reflects the values of the decision-makers at the AJAN and the reviewers.
The finding that few articles used a conceptual framework indicates that nursing scholarship is not very advanced in its use of theory. Perhaps research articles were more likely to use a theoretical framework because research develops nursing knowledge. For nursing to develop an unique body of knowledge, mature as a discipline, and achieve professional status it will need to expand its nursing theory base (Meleis 1991). In the opinion of the author, the theoretical base must underpin more of our nursing scholarship.
One of the most important findings of this study is that only about one-third of nursing research reported in the AJAN is clinical research. Our growth as a discipline requires that most future research must be in nursing or health care practice if we want to develop knowledge that will advance practice.
This study was limited by not including publications in books, overseas journals, or non-refereed journals. We do not know how much of Australian nursing scholarship the AJAN accounts for so we cannot say how typical the results of this study are for Australian nursing scholarship. Further research that examined these sources would add to the knowledge in this area.
This study has shown that it is possible to conceptualise nursing scholarship as research, theoretical and clinical scholarship. This allows us to comprehend how our scholarship is structured and in what directions it is moving, which will in turn help us to understand our development as a discipline and a profession.
On the whole that Australian nursing scholarship is in the early stages of its development, or, as Lumby put it, our infancy (Lumby 1991). Nursing scholarship will continue to develop through continued exposure to a research culture in the Universities and clinical facilities. In addition, as nurses gain control over approvals and funding for nursing research, they will be able to direct the path that nursing scholarship takes.
The first decade of nursing scholarship published in the AJAN concentrated on research, predominantly non-clinical research. It has contributed significantly to the development of scholarship in Australian nursing because it has established an appropriate scholarship base for nurses who wish to communicate knowledge to their colleagues. The next decade of the AJAN and the first decade of the newer journals will hopefully result in increased growth in the publication of nursing scholarship and research that uses increasingly sophisticated methods and a stronger theoretical base. Such developments will do much to advance the development of knowledge in the discipline of nursing.
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