Precision and patience

The secret to publishing research is putting solid work in at the start

Carrying out research takes time and effort, yet increasing numbers of physiotherapists are adding this to their working lives.  Given that the route to publication is long and arduous (see Frontline, 20 October 2010), with no guarantee of success, how do published researchers recommend maximising your chances?

‘You need to be passionate about the idea and believe it’s worth researching,’ says Leeds physio Dickon Crawshaw. He noticed that published research into his area of shoulder pain focused either on steroid injections or on physiotherapy, although a combination of the two had become popular. He consulted an experienced researcher, who agreed that his proposed study of the combined therapies would meet a need.

His next step was to gain support from employers and colleagues. ‘I’ve needed the full backing of pretty much the whole service, not just releasing me from my job but allowing other clinicians to be involved too,’ he says. He recommends talking to managers right at the start. Let colleagues know what you’re planning to do too, he says.

They may help later by recommending suitable patients to take part.

When you have a brilliant idea, you may want to launch in by yourself. But those who have been through the process strongly recommend seeking experienced help.

‘I always suggest collaborating,’ says Ann Moore, editor of Manual Therapy, whose own research has been published in numerous medical journals. ‘The more you collaborate, the more the workload is spread. If you’re a new researcher, contacting an academic or a senior researcher, maybe in your trust, would be valuable. Get a support group together.’


Several organisations can help you get started. The CSP-funded National Physiotherapy Research Network, for example, encourages physios to get involved in research and provides a supportive network. Its 20 regional hubs offer beginners a number of aids, from advice about resources and funding to mentorship and peer review.

For funding, medical charities are a good place to start. If you’re doing a small study alone, you may be able to manage without. But lack of resources isn’t the only limitation you may face. Meeting a funding body’s requirements makes researchers set out their projects clearly. The study design is scrutinised by experts, who should point out any flaws  potentially saving years of wasted work.

After winning workplace support, Dickon Crawshaw spent a long time assembling a team of experienced co-authors. Their track record helped secure him a grant from Arthritis UK that freed him to do the research half-time for three years. They also helped during the long process of research and publication.

His study of 232 patients ended up published in the BMJ (BMJ 2010; 340: c3037,  ‘The time you put in at the beginning definitely pays off,’ he says. fl 

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Janet Wright

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