A cross-sectional study of the number and frequency of terms used to refer to knowledge translation in a body of health literature in 2006: a Tower of Babel?

Implement Sci. 2010 Feb 12;5:16. doi: 10.1186/1748-5908-5-16.


Background: The study of implementing research findings into practice is rapidly growing and has acquired many competing names (e.g., dissemination, uptake, utilization, translation) and contributing disciplines. The use of multiple terms across disciplines pose barriers to communication and progress for applying research findings. We sought to establish an inventory of terms describing this field and how often authors use them in a collection of health literature published in 2006.

Methods: We refer to this field as knowledge translation (KT). Terms describing aspects of KT and their definitions were collected from literature, the internet, reports, textbooks, and contact with experts. We compiled a database of KT and other articles by reading 12 healthcare journals representing multiple disciplines. All articles published in these journals in 2006 were categorized as being KT or not. The KT articles (all KT) were further categorized, if possible, for whether they described KT projects or implementations (KT application articles), or presented the theoretical basis, models, tools, methods, or techniques of KT (KT theory articles). Accuracy was checked using duplicate reading. Custom designed software determined how often KT terms were used in the titles and abstracts of articles categorized as being KT.

Results: A total of 2,603 articles were assessed, and 581 were identified as KT articles. Of these, 201 described KT applications, and 153 included KT theory. Of the 100 KT terms collected, 46 were used by the authors in the titles or abstracts of articles categorized as being KT. For all 581 KT articles, eight terms or term variations used by authors were highly discriminating for separating KT and non-KT articles (p < 0.001): implementation, adoption, quality improvement, dissemination, complex intervention (with multiple endings), implementation (within three words of) research, and complex intervention. More KT terms were associated with KT application articles (n = 13) and KT theory articles (n = 18).

Conclusions: We collected 100 terms describing KT research. Authors used 46 of them in titles and abstracts of KT articles. Of these, approximately half discriminated between KT and non-KT articles. Thus, the need for consolidation and consistent use of fewer terms related to KT research is evident.