Journal of Nursing Education

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RESEARCH BRIEFS 

Factors Influencing the Publishing Efforts of Graduate Students in Nursing

Georgia G Whitley, RN, EdD; Lorys F Oddi, RN, EdD; Deborah Terrell, RN, MS

Abstract

ABSTRACT

The purposes of this study were to identify factors influencing publication efforts of graduate students in nursing and determine the extent to which graduate students' scholarly activities contribute to the creation and dissemination of knowledge in nursing, as evidenced by publication in a professional journal. Authors of articles in Nursing Research were surveyed to assess their status as graduate students during the conceptualization, development, and publication of nursing research studies. The sample consisted of 633 authors of manuscripts published in Nursing Research from 1987 to 1991. The study design was descriptive. A survey questionnaire elicited data on graduate student status and factors that influenced the initiation and completion of the project. The data were analyzed using descriptive statistical techniques. The results of the study suggest that graduate students in nursing make important contributions to the advancement and dissemination of nursing knowledge. Factors that influence graduate students to engage in the process include academic requirements (e.g., thesis, dissertation, coursework), faculty involvement and support, and the ability to self-select the research topic.

Abstract

ABSTRACT

The purposes of this study were to identify factors influencing publication efforts of graduate students in nursing and determine the extent to which graduate students' scholarly activities contribute to the creation and dissemination of knowledge in nursing, as evidenced by publication in a professional journal. Authors of articles in Nursing Research were surveyed to assess their status as graduate students during the conceptualization, development, and publication of nursing research studies. The sample consisted of 633 authors of manuscripts published in Nursing Research from 1987 to 1991. The study design was descriptive. A survey questionnaire elicited data on graduate student status and factors that influenced the initiation and completion of the project. The data were analyzed using descriptive statistical techniques. The results of the study suggest that graduate students in nursing make important contributions to the advancement and dissemination of nursing knowledge. Factors that influence graduate students to engage in the process include academic requirements (e.g., thesis, dissertation, coursework), faculty involvement and support, and the ability to self-select the research topic.

Writing for publication provides an opportunity to reach a wider authence than is possible with individual contacts, provides a "shot" at personal power, provides an outlet for personal ambition, assists in the achievement of tenure and promotion for academicians, and provides an outlet for self-expression (Diers, 1981). The act of writing also enhances clarity and precision of thought, which may advance scholarship. Publishing, an important means of disseminating nursing knowledge (Cosgray, Davidhizar, Fawley, & Hanna, 1989; Davidhizar, 1986; Hagemaster & Kerrins, 1984; Nemcek & Egan, 1984), is a goal of graduate education (McCloskey & Grace, 1990; Miller, 1988). Current required and optional accreditation criteria (National League for Nursing, 1991) emphasize the critical nature of the publishing issue to the profession, as does the recent formation of a Dissemination Committee by the National Institute for Nursing Research ("NINR Dissemination Committee Formed," 1994) and the emergence of an International Dissemination of Nursing Research Award (Buckwalter, 1993).

The ultimate value of publishing scholarship is that existing knowledge can be used to improve patient care. Numerous articles suggest various means of increasing dissemination of knowledge to improve the quality of nursing practice (Camilleri, 1987, 1988; Cooper, 1971; Funk, Tomquist, & Champagne, 1989; Lindeman, 1984; Oddi, Whitley, & Pool, 1994; Tornquist, 1983). Despite such widespread recognition of its importance, the use of nursing knowledge to improve practice continues to be problematic for the profession. In their study of 1,989 nurses, Funk, Champagne, Weiss, and Tornquist (1991) noted that one major barrier to using research findings in practice is that "the nurse is unaware of the research" (p. 92).

Promoting the publication efforts of novice nurse authors, especially graduate students engaged in nursing scholarship, offers one means of addressing the problem of inadequate dissemination. Pagana (1989) identifies two major impediments confronting novice nurse authors: knowledge of the publishing process and motivation to publish. The literature is replete with practical suggestions for overcoming such impediments (Coletta, 1984; Hagemaster & Kerrins, 1984; HallJohnson, 1991; Maxwell, 1980) and with tips for avoiding rejection of one's manuscript (Cohen, 1989; Downs, 1985; Gay & Edgil, 1989; Puetz, 1992). Numerous authors (McCloskey, 1977; McCloskey & Swanson, 1982; Schmitt, 1992; Shilling, 1985; Swanson & McCloskey, 1986; Swanson, McCloskey, & Bodensteiner, 1991) make efforts to de-mystify the review and publishing process. Kramer (1986) and Yasko (1986) specifically target graduate nursing students as potential authors and offer suggestions on how to convert student projects into manuscripts.

One means cited as beneficial to increasing publication is mentoring (Cosgray et al., 1989; Megel, Längsten, & Cresswell, 1988). Especially stimulating is the effect of contact with actively publishing authors (Pagana. 1989). One area that has received little attention to date, however, is the influence of specific elements in the educational process in promoting publication of nursing scholarship. Educational processes, which presumably include mentoring and other efforts to promote scholarship, can play a major role in encouraging novice authors. To gain insight into specific elements of the educational process that contribute to dissemination, the present study aimed to identify factors influencing publication efforts of graduate students in nursing and determine the extent to which graduate students' research and scholarly activities contribute to the creation and dissemination of knowledge in nursing, as evidenced by publication in a professional journal. This study replicated an earlier descriptive study (Oddi et al., 1994) and will be used as a basis for future studies to delineate specific educational activities that can be used to encourage and support the publishing efforts of graduate students in nursing.

Methodology

Design. Authors of articles published in Nursing Research over a 5-year period (1987 to 1991) were mailed a questionnaire to ascertain their student status during the various stages of the research and publication process and to describe the factors that influenced them to publish. Nursing Research was selected because of the research and scholarship emphases of this journal and because of its prominent reputation as a major research journal in nursing (Gay, Edgil, & Rozmus, 1989). For the purposes of this study, research and scholarship were denned as empirical research, philosophical inquiry, historical analysis, theoretical formulations, comparative studies, literature reviews, and critical analysis. This study weis approved by the appropriate institutional committee for the review of research proposals. Data were collected over a 4-month period in the latter part of 1993.

Respondents completed a mailed survey questionnaire. Names and addresses of authors were obtained from biographic data published with the article, from the Directory of Nurse Researchers (Hudgings, Hogan, & Stevenson, 1990), and from telephone contacts with co-authors. All coauthors received separate questionnaires.

Instrument. The instrument used in this study was adapted, with permission, from a survey questionnaire designed for use with adult educators (Lee, 1979). Selected items on the instrument were revised as necessary to reflect the focus of graduate education in nursing (Oddi et al., 1994). The instrument consists of 15 items of varying complexity including:

* Educational status of respondents at five steps in the publication process.

* University attended.

* Duration of student enrollment.

* Date of degree completion.

* Factors that influence students to participate in research and publishing (i.e., advisor supervision; time in consultation with advisor; requirement of a publishable project for course assignment or thesis/dissertation; impact of self-motivated interest; funding for the research project; effect, if any, of how topic was selected on publishing efforts).

Findings

Of 673 mailed questionnaires, 633 were delivered. The remainder were undeliverable due to changes in addresses. Completed responses were received from 337 authors, yielding a response rate of 53.2%. Two questionnaires were discarded because they were incomplete. Of the 335 usable responses, 229 authors (68.4%) stated that they had not been students during any phase of the research and publication process. Of the respondents, 106 (31.6%) had been students at some point during the process. Major findings included in this brief report will refer only to these 106 "student authors."

Profile of Student Authors. Of the 106 student authors, 41 (38.7%) were sole authors, and 65 (61.3%) had collaborated with at least one other author. The number of authors per article ranged from one to seven. The majority of student authors (n = 74, 69.8%) were at the doctoral level, and 21 (19.8%) were at the master's level at some time during the research and publication process. The status of 11 (10.4%) was unknown. The enrollment status of student authors fluctuated between fulltime and part-time during the various phases of the process, with fewer reporting student status when the manuscript submission and publication phases of the process were entered.

Faculty Involvement in Phases. One hundred three student authors (97%) responded to an item requesting information on faculty involvement in the phases of the research and publishing process. Of these, 87 (84.5%) indicated that they were supervised, and 16 (15.5%) reported that they were not supervised during some phase of the process.

Student authors estimated the number of hours spent monthly in consultation with a major faculty advisor at various phases of the process. Shaping the research problem and collecting data required, on average, approximately 5 hours per month of faculty consultation. Consultation with faculty was most intense during the phases of data analysis (7 hours per month), drafting the report (9.4 hours per month), and preparing the manuscript for submission to Nursing Research (7.75 hours per month).

Influences for Engaging in the Process. One hundred five student authors (99%) provided information relating to factors influencing them to engage in the research and publishing process. These influences included academic requirements for a thesis/dissertation (n = 62, 59%) and course requirements (n = 5, 5%). Other motivators provided by 34 of the remaining student authors included: self-motivated research interest (n = 16, 46%), opportunity to work with faculty (n = 8, 23%), access to data (n = 5, 14%), availability of funding (n = 3, 9%), and "other factors" (n = 2, 6%). Percentages have been rounded, with approximately 2% error in subjects' computation not included among the factors.

Self-selection of the research topic was reported by 94 student authors, while 10 had their topics assigned to them. Whether the topic was self-selected or assigned was considered to be irrelevant by 22 of the 103 student authors who responded to this question. Eighty-one (78.6%) indicated that the method of selection had a positive effect on their publishing efforts. No respondents indicated that method of selection exerted negative effects on publishing efforts.

Dissemination Efforts. In addition to the Nursing Research article, a majority of student authors (n = 93, 87.7%) presented papers at a professional conference. Twelve (11.3%) had no presentations, and 1 (1%) did not respond to this question. A majority of the student authors (n = 73, 68.9%) also published additional articles related to the original work published in Nursing Research.

Discussion

As might be anticipated from its present position as the oldest research journal for the profession, Nursing Research was found to rely on nonstudent authors for most articles. The finding that one third of the published articles were student authored, however, attests to the importance of student authors' contributions to the dissemination of nursing knowledge. As anticipated, most student authors in this survey reported being at the doctoral level, where research and publication are presumably emphasized.

The finding that success in publishing in Nursing Research involved faculty for the vast majority of student authors attests to the importance of faculty influence in the dissemination of nursing knowledge by novice nurse authors. In addition, the increased consultation by student authors with faculty while they were engaged in writing the report and preparing the manuscript for submission implies that the need for faculty support (and hence the opportunity for faculty influence on publishing efforts) is greater during these activities.

Influence for Engaging in the Process. Student authors frequently reported their participation in research and publishing as being stimulated by academic requirements for a thesis or dissertation and influenced much less by course requirements. Interestingly, approximately one third of the sample engaged in the process for nonacademic reasons, a positive statement regarding the intellectual curiosity and drive of graduate students in nursing.

The majority of the Nursing Research sample self-selected their topics (90%), and most (78.6%) felt self-selection had a positive effect on their subsequent efforts. The importance of self-motivated interest and self-selection of topics is supported by this finding. Further investigation is needed to define clearly the effect of faculty's assigning a topic. Collaboration with at least one other author was also a prominent finding in this study. More definitive study of the nature of such collaboration is an area for future research.

Dissemination Efforts. Most student authors (88%) reported they had presented papers on the topic published in Nursing Research, a finding congruent with investigators' expectations of those publishing in a major research journal. An interesting finding, and one that should be investigated more fully, is why approximately one third of published student authors in this study failed to publish additional work on the topic- an important consideration if nurse researchers are to develop indepth understanding of a specific area of knowledge.

Conclusions

Replication of a study of dissemination of nursing knowledge by graduate students with a survey of Nursing Research student authors tends, overall, to support the findings of a similar, earlier study (Oddi et al., 1994). Although the nature of the sample limits generalizability, results suggest that nurse educators play a major role in enhancing the dissemination of nursing knowledge by:

* Considering the potential for publication when guiding theses and dissertations.

* Offering support and advice to potential student authors, especially as students are engaged in drafting reports and preparing manuscripts for submission.

* Encouraging students to select topics that interest and motivate them to publieh.

* Targeting doctoral students whose educational focus is the generation of knowledge for specific guidance and by encouraging doctoral study.

Educators should explicitly emphasize the reinforcing effect of successful dissemination through presented papers and published articles and encourage appropriate collaboration in authorship to increase the dissemination efforts of students.

A study of faculty productivity (Barhyte & Redman, 1993) suggests that matching student interests to faculty endeavors yields "creative energy" (p. 183). Findings from this preliminary study, which focuses on publishing from a student perspective, indicate a need for more indepth exploration of specific elements of faculty mentoring and other activities that may enhance or detract from the productivity of students in publishing.

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