STUDY PLANNING & DESIGN:
A SERIES OF ACTION STEPS

SECTION 04 – PUTTING YOUR WORK IN CONTEXT

Section Goal

Upon completion of this section, you will be able to compile a list of relevant peer-reviewed resources. Using these resources, you will also be able to write detailed answers to Introduction Key Questions, which should assist in the writing of an IRB proposal introduction.

Action 1: Identify the Central Terms and Concepts of Your Study

CONTEXT AND COMMUNICATING YOUR RESEARCH

The last sections covered some crucial aspects of research design, like determining objectives, collecting data, and drawing conclusions from that data. Another important aspect of the science is communicating your research to others. A first step toward effectively communicating your study to an audience concerns putting your work in context.

When you put your work in context, you are communicating with your audience in mind. You want to make sure you are not only writing for yourself, in other words, but for others who might not know what information is already known about your topic, or why your topic is important. More specifically, giving your audience context generally involves providing background information, identifying the knowledge gap or problem your study will address, and drawing connections between your study’s purpose or methodological approach and the purposes or approaches of similar studies.

Most likely, the context you give will not be common knowledge, which is information that is known by most people. You don’t need to cite any information that is considered common knowledge in a proposal (such as “Bernie Sanders ran for President in 2016”), but you will need to cite anything that doesn’t meet the standard of being known by most|—like an interesting finding about your topic discovered in a specific research paper. Since most information you share won’t be already known by most people, you will need to provide context using relevant sources.

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CITING EXPLAINED

In short, to cite a source means that you are acknowledging that the source is the origin of a specific idea or quotation expressed in your writing. There are different rules for citing sources that are often referred to as “citation styles.” Before you submit your work to a journal, you should make sure that your writing follows the citation style adopted by the journal. For instance, if you submit your work to the Annals of Emergency Dispatch and Response, make sure it is formatted in AMA (American Medical Association) Style.

WHAT IS A SOURCE?

A source is a location for information. Common sources include magazines, journals, webpages, encyclopedias, and books. You can use sources for background reading, which is information-gathering to better inform yourself about a topic of interest. More importantly, you can also use sources as evidence inside a piece of scientific writing—in which case you will need to cite the source appropriately.

USING KEYWORDS

Keywords, which are informative words or phrases reflecting the content of a document, help you locate relevant sources. An original paper about the application of tourniquets would have the obvious keyword of “tourniquet,” for example, but it might also have other keywords such “traumatic injury,” “medical device,” or “bleeding control.” You can consider the central terms and concepts of your research to be keywords.

If you are writing an article on tourniquets, you can use the appropriate keywords to identify sources that explain methods for controlling bleeding. Also, you can use other informative words to find sources that compare tourniquets to other medical devices. Another way to put it is that identifying keywords for your research allows you to gain a fuller understanding of your subject matter—which you’ll need to do before writing your proposal.

CASE IN POINT - KEYWORDS FOR TURNOVER

A study on the topic of high turnover in emergency dispatching might use keywords such as “high turnover,” “emergency dispatching,” “EMS,” “training,” “work anxiety,” and “burnout.”

Action 2: Determine a List of Synonyms for Your Keywords

Synonyms are words that have roughly the same meaning as the original words. You should use synonyms as keywords because you want to locate papers in your search that employ equivalent phrasings. This helps ensure that you are finding all the relevant sources, not just those that use the same keywords you are searching with.

CASE IN POINT - SYNONYMS

A synonym for ‘work anxiety’ is ‘occupational stress,’ which is the term that many studies utilize—so this is a keyword that will lead to more results.

Action 3: Search Google Scholar to Identify Relevant Sources

Google Scholar is a search engine for scholarly articles. You can use Google Scholar to identify credible sources for your study.

You can start with your most important keywords and identify sources that are relevant to your research problem or topic. Consider reading the abstract to determine how the source is relevant to your research. Then you can compile sources into a single list.

You should determine how you plan to use individual sources in your research proposal. Some possible uses include:

  1. To support the idea of a knowledge gap your research will address
  2. To define or explain an important concept
  3. To establish possible relationships between concepts or variables
  4. To explain why you arrived at a certain hypothesis
  5. To demonstrate the importance of a problem or topic
  6. To justify the methodology of the study

WHAT IS A KNOWLEDGE GAP?

To boldly go where no one has gone before, this is the ethos that motivates the crew of the starship Enterprise. But it is also the ethos that motivates good research. Whereas the characters in Star Trek explore a physical frontier using spacecraft and teleportation devices, researchers explore a knowledge frontier using something more down-to-earth—a review of scientific literature that identifies what is unknown about a topic. Generally, researchers identify these knowledge gaps through evaluating what other credible researchers have published about the topic in peer-reviewed journals, which are sources that publish articles only after expert review.

CASE IN POINT - SEARCHING FOR TURNOVER SOURCES

You go to the Google Scholar homepage and type in “turnover” AND “emergency dispatching.” This is a Boolean search where two keywords are combined to search results of documents containing those two terms. You find a promising result, a study called “Frontline Stress Behind the Scenes: Emergency Medical Dispatchers.” Since you know turnover is mentioned in the document, you can control-F (search) “turnover” to find where it is mentioned. In this article, you discover high employee turnover is mentioned as a possible effect of “daily occupational stressors.” You might conclude this is a good source to use to connect the idea of high turnover to occupational stress. Additionally, you can use the source to provide a clear definition of occupational stress.

As well, after reviewing the abstract, you note that this source doesn’t explore other possible causes of high turnover in dispatch centers—which could be a knowledge gap that your research will attempt to fill. But you would need to make sure that this gap also holds in other sources.

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COMMON CHALLENGE: WHAT IS A "GOOD" SOURCE?

Here are a few characteristics of a “good” source:

  1. Published in a peer-reviewed journal
  2. Published within the last ten years (however, this does not apply for older sources that are influential (cited often), or provide historical perspective, like a history of the topic)
  3. Written by authors experienced in the field they are reporting on or with academic credentials in an area of study

Action 4: Narrow or Broaden the Search as Needed

You might find that when you use “emergency dispatch” and another central term as your keywords, there are few results. That’s because emergency dispatch is a relatively new field of research, without a lot of published studies. In this case, you can broaden your search to find more relevant sources using two different methods. The first method is to replace keywords with other terms that pick out a broader topic or context. For instance, you can do this by replacing “emergency dispatch” with “EMS” to search for your central term in an EMS context. The second method is to use different Boolean operators. In this case, you could replace the ‘AND’ operator with ‘OR,’ which searches for papers that contain at least one of two keywords.

CASE IN POINT - BROADENING A SEARCH (EXAMPLE 1)

To broaden the investigation, you search Google Scholar with the Boolean phrase “turnover” AND “EMS.” You find a paper that is about turnover in EMS agencies called “The Longitudinal Study of Turnover and the Cost of Turnover in EMS.” Since this study discusses the cost of turnover in EMS agencies, this would be a good source to present the topic’s importance, even though it is not directly about emergency dispatch.

CASE IN POINT - BROADENING A SEARCH (EXAMPLE 2)

To broaden the investigation, you search “turnover” OR “emergency dispatch” and find a paper that presents a general theory of turnover: “Job Matching and the Theory of Turnover.” The paper states that “workers remain on jobs in which their productivity is revealed to be relatively high and that they select themselves out of jobs in which their productivity is revealed to be low.” This could be used to support a hypothesis about why employees leave their jobs at the dispatch center. As well, it could be used to draw a connection between the concepts of productivity and turnover.

Action 5: Write Detailed Answers to the Introduction Key Questions

The introduction of an IRB proposal should answer the following key questions:

  1. What is the research problem and why is it important?
  2. What is the broader context for your problem/study?
  3. What knowledge or research about the problem exists and how do you plan to contribute to the existing body of knowledge?
  4. What methods should be used to analyze the research problem? (keep in mind, you don’t need to answer this question if you already answered it in section two)

ACCOUNTABILITY CHECK

Find a partner or mentor. Have them review your answers to the Introduction Key Questions to determine if they are accurate and complete.

NEXT STEPS

  • Using what you’ve already written (research objectives, data collection and analysis procedures, description of potential benefits and harms, and answers to Introduction Key Questions) you should complete the IRB template for the IAED IRB.
  • You can obtain the IAED IRB template through contacting us at AEDRjournal@emergencydispatch.org.
  • After submitting your research proposal to the IAED IRB, you must wait for board members to review your work. Generally, it takes weeks for IRB reviewers to approve a research project.