The current investigation indicated that SLPs within this workforce had moderate levels of interest in participating in research activities. However, their experience and confidence in completing research tasks other than finding and reviewing literature was limited. Respondents did not frequently undertake the majority of the ten research tasks. Engagement in research activities was predicted by highest qualification obtained, current job classification level and overall interest in research. These predictors of research engagement may offer a useful starting point for strategic initiatives intended to increase the level of research engagement amongst SLP workforce. Specifically, this may include strategies to foster the attainment of research-related qualifications and promote general interest in research among individual clinicians or groups of clinicians.
Variation in the level of research interest existed across the ten research tasks. The median level of interest was generally either ‘some’ or ‘moderate’ (i.e., median ratings ranged from 3 to 4 on the 5 point interest rating scale) for most tasks. While interest was greatest in the tasks related to finding literature, appraising literature and generating research ideas, it was encouraging that a portion of respondents did report being very interested in each of the other seven tasks. Less encouraging, was the greater proportion of respondents who indicated little or no interest in these seven remaining research related tasks. While this study has provided empirical evidence indicating that an association between research interest and research engagement exists, a salient point for future investigations is the nature of causality of this link between interest and engagement.
The finding from this investigation that research interest was associated with engagement has face validity and is consistent with prior research on the topic of research engagement. Stephens and colleagues  found a moderate correlation between interest in research and research experience, and observed that higher interest levels were associated with greater research engagement. Hence stimulating clinician interest in research activities would appear to be an integral step in enhancing research engagement. To this end, the proportion of respondents who reported having a moderate to high level of interest in partaking in more advanced research activities may be the individuals most likely to respond favourably to initiatives designed to stimulate research activity. However, it is also plausible that SLPs who were exposed to research through participation in a structured research activity subsequently developed a stronger interest in research related tasks. Regarding the proportion of individuals reporting no interest, further qualitative research is warranted to determine the barriers or other issues influencing this opinion, and identify potential facilitators that may foster an interest (and engagement) in research.
The findings from this research are consistent with previous literature that indicated the majority of allied health professionals have limited experience conducting research related tasks. In previous studies, moderate to high levels of experience with research tasks were found in only 2 or 3 areas covered by the research spider tool [1, 3]. As observed by both Reid et al.  and Stephens et al.  in their populations, the area of greatest experience in the SLP cohort was finding relevant literature. Searching for, and appraising, research literature may be considered one of the more rudimentary research tasks, but also represents a significant aspect of EBP and is the initial step in ensuring that clinical practice is driven by evidence. This promising data indicates that many clinicians are indeed participating in a task that is central to both EBP and research generating activities. In some clinical settings, systematic training in conducting literature searches as well as the formation of journal clubs and EBP groups has helped to train the clinical workforce on how to conduct literature searches to answer clinical questions [23, 24]. Searching for literature is also an integral skill developed in undergraduate training programs for all students. Hence it is likely that the relative strength observed in levels of interest, engagement and confidence in the searching for literature task appears to reflect activities in an area that is perceived as having direct relevance to the clinicians' daily activities. Furthermore, literature searching is a process in which most SLPs have historically received training or have support for in the workplace.
One concerning finding from the present study was that 69 (50%) of the respondents had completed two or less literature searches per year over the previous 5 years despite this task being reported as having the highest level of interest, experience and confidence. Furthermore 39 (28%) of respondents had searched for literature less than once per year (on average) over this time. While the current study did not explore reasons for low levels of research activity, previous research has suggested that SLPs often use the opinions of colleagues or their own clinical judgement when making clinical decisions, rather than searching published journal articles [10, 11]. This may also be the case in the current cohort. Further investigation of this issue is warranted to determine whether or not the low frequency of literature searching reflects (a) a need for further support and training in the components of literature searching and critical appraisal, (b) an issue with availability of resources (e.g., lack of access to academic databases and online journals), (c) a need for further ongoing initiatives designed at increasing the frequency with which an interest in finding and appraising literature is translated into an actual literature search (and appraisal) being undertaken as a part of routine practice or (d) a more complex discrepancy between self-reported survey behaviour and actual activities undertaken in real-life daily practice.
Few SLPs had completed more complex research tasks including applying for research funding, writing and publishing a research paper. This was also consistent with prior research in other related populations [1, 3]. In general terms, SLPs in this investigation reported having little or no confidence in their ability to undertake the more specialised research tasks. For example, only 8 (6%) and 11 (8%) respondents reported moderate or high levels of confidence in applying for research funding or writing and publishing a research paper (respectively). Similarly, few participants had frequently performed the more complex or specialised research activities (Figures 3 and 4) over the past five years.
Findings from this study indicate that formal research capacity building strategies are likely to be required to engage allied health staff in more complex research tasks beyond literature searching and review. There are a number of strategies that have potential to address this low level of research activity in order to achieve organisational aims of increased research capacity within the healthcare workforce. These strategies may include training workshops (with allied health relevant interactive activities) , mentoring by colleagues who are experienced in undertaking clinical research [2, 26], and active recruitment of SLPs to undertake research higher degrees [12, 14, 15]. This latter strategy is particularly pertinent given that in the present study, highest qualification obtained was a significant predictor of research engagement. The finding is not surprising given that many postgraduate qualifications (e.g., masters and doctorates) are research-focused, so individuals with these research-based higher degrees would be expected to have well-developed research skills. Indeed, previous research with occupational therapists and physiotherapists reported that individuals with research higher degrees are more likely to be able to generate clinical research questions, search databases and understand research terminology, and be more confident undertaking these tasks [12, 14, 15].
In addition to level of academic training, a higher position classification level was also found to predict research engagement in the current cohort. A number of factors are likely to have contributed to this finding. It is customary for senior clinical positions to have research activity built into the position description . Hence there is recognition of the importance of demonstrating research engagement by those individuals serving in more senior roles. Individuals in more senior roles are also often seen as clinical leaders in their fields and therefore may have more opportunity to become involved in university led research activities than clinicians in more junior positions.
Contrary to popular perception, geographical location was not a predictor of research engagement [25, 26]. Findings from this investigation indicated that a SLP worked in a metropolitan setting or a non-metropolitan or rural setting did not impact upon their research engagement. This finding is concordant with previous empirical EBP research, which found no difference in EBP skills between city and rural occupational therapists . To ensure that this positive finding of equality across metropolitan and regional or rural services remains, it is important that future research capacity building opportunities and strategies are made equally accessible to non-metropolitan clinicians. Recent technological advances such as videoteleconferencing could be used to facilitate this process.
Limitations and future directions
Although the authors acknowledge that the small sample and the low response rate of the current study may limit the generalisation of the results, it is noted that the sample demographics were not dissimilar to the total SLP workforce demographics released by the Speech Pathology Registration Board of Queensland , supporting the potential representative nature of the current sample. Notably, while the relatively high proportion of clinicians in the lower two industrial position classification (HP3 and HP4) may have potentially influenced the study results toward lower levels of research engagement, this preponderance of HP3 and HP4 positions is representative of the typical SLP workforce in the state. However, the sample was limited to only SLPs working within the organisation responsible for public healthcare service in the state Queensland, Australia. SLPs from other health services may not have responded in the same way as participants in this investigation. Further research among SLPs from other organisations, including those based in education and private practice, as well as from other geographical locations is warranted. Future research could also explore the factors influencing research engagement further through individual in-depth interviews or focus group discussions in order to identify other targets for research capacity building. Similarly, exploring the reasons why certain individuals have no interest in research and no level of research engagement should be further examined to see if perceived barriers can be addressed.