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databases, nursing methodology research, nursing theory



  1. Magee, Tracy PhD, RN, FAAN
  2. Lee, Susan M. PhD, RN, FAAN
  3. Giuliano, Karen K. PhD, RN, FAAN
  4. Munro, Barbara PhD, RN, FAAN


Background: An unprecedented amount of data from a variety of disciplines containing variables of interest to nursing are available to nurse researchers. In response, the use of large data sets is emerging as a legitimate method that can help facilitate the translation of knowledge to practice.


Objective: To explore the spectrum of methodological issues and practical applications encountered by three nurse researchers using secondary data analysis of three existing large data sets as a means to ask new questions and generate new nursing knowledge.


Methods: Three research studies using the analysis of three existing large data sets were described. The following are discussed: developing a theoretical framework, selecting an appropriate data set, operationalizing and measuring variables, preparing data for analysis, and identifying threats to validity and reliability.


Results: Although the use of existing data may shorten the time from question to answer, the research process remains the same. The three research studies were used to illustrate conceptual congruence, threats to internal and external validity, and threats to reliability and generalizability.


Discussion: Data obtained from a variety of disciplines and for a variety of reasons can and should be used to answer nursing practice and research questions. Using existing large data sets offers nurse researchers a unique opportunity to ask and answer questions that can affect how nurses care for patients in a time-effective and cost-efficient manner. Exploring the spectrum of methodological issues and practical applications involved in this work will help guide nurse researchers through the process.