After the hard work of research, make sure your findings reach the people you need

It is all too easy to forget dissemination of your research if you feel drained from it or in a rush to move on to the next project. This could be a big mistake, says Liz Halcomb

Two Nurse Researcher articles highlight the need to consider the types of research dissemination strategies that might be relevant to your research project

An important but too often neglected step in the research process is the dissemination of findings. Sometimes researchers are drained from the hard work it has taken to conduct the project, other times they want to move on to the next project and so do not take the time to ensure that their research is optimally disseminated. This is a mistake. Gaps in research dissemination limit the reach and impact of the research. When dissemination strategies are not well developed and put into practice, good and necessary research does not reach those who most need to know about the findings.

Much of the discussion about disseminating research centres on publication of research findings in the peer reviewed literature. Dissemination, however, also encompasses a range of other strategies to communicate research findings to a range of audiences, including policymakers, clinicians, patients and carers and multidisciplinary researchers. To reach each of these different audiences the researcher may need to use a range of strategies to ensure that the message is tailored to the target group. Two Nurse Researcher papers, Ligita et al (2019) and Douglas et al (2019) discuss different ways in which research findings can be creatively disseminated.

Crafting a storyline to expand on the findings of a grounded theory study

In the first of these, Ligita et al (2019) provide an example of how they crafted a storyline to explicate the findings of a grounded theory study seeking to identify the process whereby Indonesian people with diabetes learn about their disease.

This storyline then underpinned the dissemination of findings in the peer-reviewed literature, a thesis and other publications. Sometimes grounded theory research can be presented as complex theoretical constructs not accessible to the broader audience. However, the way in which Ligita et al (2019) present a storyline in both the local Indonesian language and English made the findings more accessible and ensured that the range of participants, policymakers and clinicians could understand the findings.

Developing a storyline is not an easy task and adds a layer of complexity to the research process. In their paper, Ligita et al (2019) drew on the TALES pneumonic, described by Birks and Mills (2015), to frame their storyline.

This pneumonic ensures that the theory is explicated within the storyline, the gaps are limited, the relationships between concepts are grounded in the data and the writing style is based on its purpose and target audience. By applying these principles the researchers can be confident that the storyline describes the basic social processes that emerged from their data, translated in a meaningful way for the target audience.

Strategy encourages participants to share research findings in a conference setting

In contrast, Douglas et al (2019) present an innovative strategy for engaging participants in disseminating findings. In this paper they discuss the benefits and challenges of engaging young people with childhood experiences of trauma to share research findings in a conference setting.

While this may not be a suitable strategy for all research it certainly highlights a novel strategy to allow participants', as opposed to researchers', voices to be heard. In their paper Douglas et al (2019) discuss important considerations to work through before embarking on having participants present findings at a conference. Issues such as selecting the right venue, maintaining anonymity through pseudonyms and managing audience response are discussed through the lens of the author’s experience.

'Hopefully, these articles might spark conversations in research teams about how they could best share their findings to ensure that the pertinent messages of the research are shared'

For participants who took part in the Douglas et al (2019) study, being involved in the dissemination at a conference gave them a voice that they had previously not had. The positive response from the audience and engagement through questions following the presentation was well received by participants.

Researchers must, however, carefully consider the potential risks for participants of publicly sharing their stories. The outcome for participants may be very different if they speak publicly and the audience is not supportive or if difficult questions are posed.

Care should be taken before any presentation to ensure that the participants are protected and are at low risk of harm from telling their story in a public setting. This may mean careful selection of appropriate participants and assessment of the specific audience to appreciate the mood within the room. Regardless of the safeguards, the research team must ensure that they have support strategies in place to manage a difficult situation during the presentation, as well as to provide support and follow-up to participants following the event.

Sharing findings and the pertinent messages of research

Ligita et al (2019) and Douglas et al (2019) highlight the need to consider the types of research dissemination strategies that might be relevant to your research project. Hopefully, these articles might spark conversations in research teams about how they could best share their findings to ensure that the pertinent messages of the research are shared.

Participants engage in research to share their experiences. It is vital that researchers work strategically to ensure that these voices are heard by a range of audiences who could learn from this knowledge. To optimise dissemination, this step in the research process should be embedded in the research planning phase and time and resources committed as an important part of the project.


Elizabeth Halcomb is professor of primary health care nursing and head of postgraduate studies at the School of Nursing, University of Wollongong, NSW, Australia, and editor of Nurse Researcher

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