Competence 2: Identifying what information is needed

"What information do you need?"

This is your opportunity to locate the particular nursing topic that you need to research, and to identify which are the most trustworthy and relevant sources (i.e. primary sources, secondary sources, as explained below) for the information you need. It's a chance to identify:

Primary source

A source containing the original data, for example an original research study, a scholarly report or journal article. Research scientists run experiments and draw conclusions based on the observations of those experiments. This is called a 'knowledge claim'. A scholarly report covering a research project and containing original data based on findings is an example of a 'primary' source of information.

Secondary source

A source which takes the data from a primary source; for example a systematic review, textbook, clinical guideline, National Service Framework or Clinical Knowledge Summary. Clinical guidelines are recommendations for treatment of a particular condition, based on evidence.

Tacit knowledge

This often takes the form of anecdotal evidence and it is usually shared within a peer group. This often happens in the workplace when colleagues share their knowledge with each other. Another way to check out your understanding is to consult with peer groups through social media or other methods. For example, a group of people with a common interest can meet via a discussion group or forum (usually online, such as via the RCN Discussion Zone) where list members can talk and share information, anecdotal or otherwise, with other list members.

As a general rule, it's preferable to seek out information from either the primary source or the secondary source. Information at this level will generally be more trustworthy than information further down the chain. View the interactivity below to see the hierarchy of evidence that demonstrates the strength of different types of evidence with the strongest shown at the top. As you roll over each section, an explanation of this tier of evidence will appear at the bottom of the pyramid. You may wish to use stronger types of evidence in your work but remember that you should always evaluate the quality, appropriateness and trustworthiness of information from any level of the hierarchy. You can find out more about this in Competence  4.

Another example of the hierarchy of evidence is available in the Scottish Intercollegiate Guideline Network (SIGN) guideline developer's handbook, more information about which is included in the 'Useful resources' section. The highest level of evidence recognised by SIGN is high quality meta-analyses, systematic reviews of randomised control trials (RCTs), or RCTs with a very low risk of bias. However, it is important to realise that these hierarchies focus on quantitative evidence. For some nursing related topics it is equally important to explore findings from qualitative evidence. If you would like to find out more about research methods, Gerrish (2010) provides a useful introduction.

You may want to record any key actions that you want to implement in your daily practice, or any reflections related to your learning, in the Taking action section. You can type straight into the PDF documents, which can then be saved onto your computer and uploaded to your e-Portfolio, as evidence of your learning.