Nursing research has been a part of the nursing profession for many years, consisting of both qualitative and quantitative research. It is essential in guiding nursing practice. Many nurses have a baseline understanding of research in general, but when conducting research it is important also to understand personal values and beliefs to guide the type of research to conduct. Understanding the differences between epistemology, methodology, and methods, will assist in this choice to conduct a valid research project.
Overview of Qualitative Research
Research is an essential tool in nursing practice; it is an important link in providing excellent nursing care since the days of Florence Nightingale. Florence Nightingale participated in nursing research by comparing patient outcomes when receiving care provided by trained nurses as opposed to untrained nurses (Brady & Lewin, 2007). While nursing research occurred as early as the days of Florence; there is a large gap between the start of nursing research and research guiding best practice. Historically, most nursing knowledge came from many sources. Often best practice and other knowledge was either handed down, taken upon medical authority, and/or developed through simple trial and error (Nieswiadomy, 2011). Historically, nursing as a profession was often affiliated with medicine, hence nursing research evolved from medical research, and much of the research was quantitative in nature.
Ontology and Epistemology of Qualitative Research
The type of research conducted often depends on the epistemology of the researcher. Epistemology is considered the justification of knowledge; it is about the relationship between the researcher, knowledge, and how knowledge is created (Carter & Little, 2007; Krauss, 2005). As Kramer-Kile (2012) explains, epistemology is “how reality can come to be known, the relationship between the knower and known, as well as the characteristics, principles and assumptions that guide the process of knowing and the achievement of research findings” (p. 28). Every aspect of the research process is influenced by epistemology, as it guides the researcher in justifying the research methods (Carter & Little, 2007; Kramer-Kile, 2012). It is asking what is knowledge, and how can that knowledge be acquired.
Ontology is the question of the nature of reality. It deals with what exists, and what the reality of the situation is currently. It recognizes that reality can and will change and assists in defining the views and assumptions of the researcher (Kramer-Kile, 2012).
The epistemology and ontology together guide the researcher towards the type of research they will conduct, which in turn determines the type of methodology and methods of the research (Carter & Little, 2007).
Qualitative research is common in the social sciences as well as in market research (Alasuutari, 2010; Nieswiadomy, 2011), and has been on the rise in the last 30 years. It started to emerge in...