The evidence-based practice (EBP) movement that has developed and grown in the past two decades within nursing, medicine, and other social and clinical fields has led to the production of numerous guidelines for practice produced by professional societies, collaborative networks of experts, and regulatory authorities. Clinical practice guidelines in particular provide, as the name implies, guidance to clinicians and practitioners on how best to assess, diagnose, and treat many health conditions and disorders.
Some clinical practice guidelines have generated significant interest in the mass media, such as the 2017 guideline on hormone replacement therapy for postmenopausal women (Grossman et al., 2017) that recommended against routine hormone replacement with either combination estrogen and progestin preparations or with estrogen-only preparations. Others, such as the 2015 guideline on the use of capnography during procedural sedation in emergency departments (Emergency Nurses Association, 2015), may not make the same headlines but are nevertheless important in guiding the clinical practice of emergency nurses.
Alongside, and often as a consequence of, the broader EBP movement, numerous guidelines related to conducting and reporting on research and quality improvement projects also have been developed. These guidelines are often framed in terms of what should be reported in works disseminating the findings from these efforts. However, in outlining what should be reported in manuscripts, conference presentations, and other works describing a project and its findings, these guidelines serve another useful purpose: to help investigators and project leaders design and conduct more rigorous projects that are more easily integrated into the evidence base for a field of practice. Although some of the guidelines discussed here emerged from clinical practice, insomuch as they focus on general best practices in conducting research and quality improvement projects, their relevance to other fields of practice, such as that of nurse educators, is easy to see.
It also should be noted that the research and quality improvement-related guidelines discussed in this article were developed by a range of entities spanning from organizations consisting primarily of journal editors to broadly composed collaborative groups of experts from various fields of practice. An important useful resource is the EQUATOR Network (2018), an organization that describes its purpose as bringing together “researchers, medical journal editors, peer reviewers, developers of reporting guidelines, research funding bodies and other collaborators with mutual interest in improving the quality of research publications and of research itself” (para. 1). The EQUATOR Network serves as a compendium and clearinghouse for a variety of research-related reporting guidelines. Its Web site ( https://www.equator-network.org) is easily accessible and provides links to all of the guidelines it describes and organizes to assist researchers in conducting and reporting studies.
Selected Guidelines CONSORT
The Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials, known most widely by the acronym CONSORT, was last published simultaneously in nine health-related journals in 2010 (e.g., Schulz, Altman, & Moher for the CONSORT Group, 2010). The CONSORT guidelines focus specifically on aspects of quality in conducting and reporting randomized controlled trials. From among the 37 items on the CONSORT checklist, one example is Item 4, which requires that researchers describe “the interventions for each group with sufficient details to allow replication, including how and when they were actually administered” (Schulz et al., 2010, p. 2). A brief review of the other CONSORT checklist items shows their broad applicability beyond health research. In fact, there have been many extensions of the CONSORT guidelines, including a more recent set of guidelines for educational research involving simulation (Cheng et al., 2016). The main CONSORT group maintains an extensive Web site ( http://www.consort-statement.org).
A revision of an older set of guidelines with a different name, the latest Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines were published simultaneously in six journals in 2009 (e.g., Moher, Liberati, Tetzlaff, & Altman, 2009). As the title implies, the focus of the PRISMA guidelines is systematic reviews and meta-analyses. An example item from the PRISMA guidelines dealing with the information sources used in the review is Item 7, which requires authors to describe “all information sources (e.g., databases with dates of coverage, contact with study authors to identify additional studies) in the search and date last searched” (Moher et al., 2009, p. 4). Specialized versions of PRISMA also are available, such as the recent PRISMA guidelines for scoping reviews (Tricco et al., 2018), a type of review that is being seen increasingly in submissions to and publications in nursing education journals. The PRISMA group also maintains an extensive Web site at ( http://www.prisma-statement.org).
The most recent Standards for Quality Improvement Reporting Excellence (SQUIRE) were published simultaneously in six journals in 2016 (e.g., Ogrinc et al., 2016). The SQUIRE guidelines focus on quality improvement reports and, like the other guidelines described here, are broadly applicable across fields. An example item from the SQUIRE guidelines related to data analysis is Item 11b, which states that authors should report on “methods for understanding variation within the data, including the effects of time as a variable” (Ogrinc et al., 2016, p. 4). As a variable, time is often omitted from consideration in both research and quality improvement reports; this item draws attention to the importance of considering time as a variable in projects conducted over more than the briefest of time periods. More information about the SQUIRE guidelines is available from the SQUIRE Web site ( http://www.squire-statement.org/). Readers also can watch for more information about an adaptation of the SQUIRE guidelines for education-focused quality improvement reports in a future issue of the Journal of Nursing Education.
Unlike the reporting guidelines listed above, the Standards for Reporting Qualitative Research (SRQR) (O'Brien, Harris, Beckman, Reed, & Cook, 2014) were produced by an independent group of academic medical education researchers, rather than by a well-organized consortium or professional organization. The guidelines provide researchers with a checklist; an example item included under the heading of Methods, Item S8, notes that authors should report “how and why research participants, documents, or events were selected; criteria for deciding when no further sampling was necessary [e.g., sampling saturation]; rationale” (O'Brien et al., 2014, p. 1247). Although guidelines for reporting on qualitative research are not as well developed as guidelines in other areas of research, the SRQR guidelines provide a useful starting point for basic qualitative research reporting requirements.
Research reporting guidelines such as those described in this column are useful to researchers and to consumers of research in multiple ways. Apart from the obvious utility of research reporting guidelines and checklists for the authors of research and quality improvement reports, the guidelines are an invaluable resource for students learning how to design and conduct scholarly inquiry activities, as well as for more seasoned researchers in the early stages of designing a study or improvement project. The guidelines remind us of not only what should be included in a manuscript or conference abstract submitted for peer review, but also what makes for good science. Students and faculty alike could benefit from wider adoption and use of the guidelines long before reaching the point of documenting the results and findings from a project.
At the start of 2019, as we quickly approach the next decade of knowledge development in nursing education, let us all endeavor to search out and follow the best-practice guidelines set forth by groups committed to building a robust evidence base across fields of inquiry. As researchers in nursing education continue to focus on improving the quality of our evidence base, adhering to best-practice guidelines for study design, conduct, and reporting should become the norm, rather than the exception.
Please send feedback, comments, and suggestions for future Methodology Corner topics to Darrell Spurlock, Jr., PhD, RN, NEA-BC, ANEF, at
- Cheng, A., Kessler, D., Mackinnon, R., Chang, T.P., Nadkarni, V.M. & Hunt, E.A.International Network for Simulation-based Pediatric Innovation Research, and Education (INSPIRE) Reporting Guidelines Investigators. (2016). Reporting guidelines for health care simulation research: Extensions to the CONSORT and STROBE statements. Simulation in Healthcare, 11, 238–248. doi:10.1097/SIH.0000000000000150 [CrossRef]
- Emergency Nurses Association. (2015). Clinical practice guideline: Capnography during procedural sedation/analgesia. Des Plaines, IL: Author. Retrieved from https://www.ena.org/docs/default-source/resource-library/practice-resources/cpg/capnographycpg.pdf?sfvrsn=2acee418_20
- EQUATOR Network. (2018, December7). EQUATOR Network: What we do and how we are organised. Retrieved from https://www.equator-network.org/about-us/equator-network-what-we-do-and-how-we-areorganised/
- Grossman, D.C., Curry, S.J., Owens, D.K., Barry, M.J., Davidson, K.W., Doubeni, C.A. & Tseng, C.W. (2017). Hormone therapy for the primary prevention of chronic conditions in postmenopausal women: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendation statement. JAMA, 318, 2224–2233. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.18261 [CrossRef]
- Moher, D., Liberati, A., Tetzlaff, J. & Altman, D.G. (2009). Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses: The PRISMA Statement. PLoS Medicine, 6(7), e1000097. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000097 [CrossRef]
- O'Brien, B.C., Harris, I.B., Beckman, T.J., Reed, D.A. & Cook, D.A. (2014). Standards for reporting qualitative research: A synthesis of recommendations. Academic Medicine, 89, 1245–1251. doi:10.1097/ACM.0000000000000388 [CrossRef]
- Ogrinc, G., Davies, L., Goodman, D., Batalden, P., Davidoff, F. & Stevens, D. (2016). SQUIRE2.0 (Standards for QUality Improvement Reporting Excellence): Revised publication guidelines from a detailed consensus process. Journal of Nursing Care Quality, 31, 1–8. doi:10.1097/NCQ.0000000000000153 [CrossRef]
- Schulz, K.F., Altman, D.G. & Moher, D.for the CONSORT Group. (2010). CONSORT 2010 statement: Updated guidelines for reporting parallel group randomised trials. PLOS Medicine, 7(3), e1000251. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000251 [CrossRef]
- Tricco, A.C., Lillie, E., Zarin, W., O'Brien, K.K., Colquhoun, H., Levac, D. & Straus, S.E. (2018). PRISMA Extension for Scoping Reviews (PRISMA-ScR): Checklist and explanation. Annals of Internal Medicine, 169, 467–473. doi:10.7326/M18-0850 [CrossRef]