Research tips and resources

Top tips for research

  • 1. Know the literature—One of the challenges with arts in health research is that, because of its multi-disciplinary nature, research can be published in hundreds of journals, including those relating to the arts, medicine, psychology, wellbeing, public health, etc. A question that often arises in the field is ‘where is the research?’. In truth, it is scattered disparately, so the first challenge is to find it. If a particular study is being planned, searches of research databases such as Google Scholar, PubMed, ScienceDirect, PsychINFO, Web of Science, and ProQuest using keywords relating to the topic of interest can help to bring some of the key studies together. Often researchers specialize in one particular topic for a few years (or even longer), so if a good article is found by one researcher it can also be worth searching for the research listings of this researcher through the same databases, or through more general internet searches for their university homepages or through research repositories such as Research Gate or It is also important to stay up-to-date with recent papers as studies can produce different findings
  • 2. Use systematic reviews to narrow reading—For some topics, there may be an overload of relevant research papers. One way to reduce the reading is to search specifically for systematic reviews. These are comprehensive reviews of all papers relating to a specific topic and they often present data in accessible ways such as graphs or tables as well as summarizing common findings. However, systematic reviews date quickly, so they are best when combined with ordinary article searches
  • 3. Allow for different outcomes—Many research studies start with very specific research questions or hypotheses. However, it is often advisable to think beyond a narrow scope and consider what other effects an intervention can have. For example, if you are researching whether photography could reduce anxiety in patients with an anxiety disorder, do not confine the study to the single measure of anxiety. It is quite possible that there may not be any significant changes in anxiety because the intervention is not effectively tailored to anxiety, or because the anxiety measure is not well suited to the intervention, or because the patient group chosen is not especially responsive. However, it may be that there are significant improvements in other related constructs, such as social resilience through connecting with others during the project. This could still be of value to people with anxiety in reducing parallel feelings of isolation and helping to build up a social support network for them that could support their mental health further in the future. Previous related studies may give indications as to which additional constructs could be tested. However, it is equally important not to overload a study with measures. This can lead to overburdening of research participants and also have implications when carrying out statistical tests if numerical data are involved. So a select group of measures should be chosen, probably narrowed down from a longer list of potentials, prior to a research study being carried out
  • 4. Plan for a sufficient sample size—The ability of a study to find significant results is partly determined by the number of participants included in the study. If the sample is too small, it can look as though there were no significant findings, even if there were (or vice versa). More on choosing the right sample size is provided in Chapter 11. To allow for a sufficient sample size, parallel versions of the intervention may need to be planned, such as back- to-back classes, or more time may be built in for recruitment. Recruitment should not be underestimated in terms of the time it may take nor in terms of the number of dropouts that may occur across the course of a project
  • 5. Use a computerized online reference manager—There are a number of software options, both paying and free, available for citing papers including EndNote, RefWorks, and Zotero. These allow readers to capture the details about an article they find online and save it to a database for later use and then allow for the easy citation of papers within documents later. Some even give the option of changing the referencing style with a single click, which can be a helpful way of changing the format of a document to suit the needs of different journals. This automation can save a lot of time formatting references and bibliographies and also will help gather together research articles in a single place for future reading
  • 6. Collaborate—Arts in health research often involves multiple different fields, as discussed earlier in this chapter. Science papers are rarely single- authored because of the breadth of expertise required within studies. Arts in health studies should be treated no differently and support should be sought where expertise is not available within the immediate project team. Researchers may be willing to collaborate and help with study design or statistical analysis or other elements of a study or advise on the overall thrust of the research question
  • 7. Attend conferences—One of the best ways of keeping up-to-date with new research is to attend conferences, seminars, and other presentations. This too can be a good way of meeting fellow practitioners and researchers with similar interests and discussing research ideas or potential challenges encountered with others in the field. Some conferences have a specific arts in health focus, whereas others may be broader, for example including more general psychological or social interventions or focusing on specific health conditions. These broader conferences can also be of value as they may reveal specific health challenges where the arts could provide solutions or suggest which measures or research designs are valued most highly within that area of research so you can design future studies in the most effective way. Such events can also be of value in raising the profile of your own work through poster or oral presentations
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