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NUR 3165 - Nursing Research

This Libguide is designed to help UCF Nursing students enrolled in NUR3165 identify, understand, and effectively use relevant electronic sources, including eBooks and article databases.

Identifying Research Articles

What is a research article?

In the simplest terms, a research article is written account of a (scientific or academic) study. There are many different types and some research studies belong to several categories.  Studies take several shapes. Here are some examples of some of the more popular types of research:

Studies can be primary original research or secondary (reports of other studies), quantitative (involving numerical/statistical analysis), qualitative (involving open-ended questions or interviews, thematic analysis), or systematic reviews/meta-analyses (analyses of previously conducted studies).

Clues to look for:

  • Participants, methods/methodology, design, results, publication type
  • Look for documentation on how the study was conducted

Look up designs in Sage Research Methods. This is a great place to  For more information about this database, see

Research versus non-research articles

This is an example of a research study:

Brand C, Tropea J, Gorelik A, et al. An adverse event screening tool based on routinely collected hospital-acquired diagnosesInternational Journal for Quality in Health Care. 2012;24(3):266-278.

If you look at the detailed record by clicking on the title, you will see that the term research is listed under Publication Type. Also, note that the abstract has several sections germane to research studies, including design, participants, intervention, and results. 

Here is an example of a non-research article:

Evans, S. (2018). Could a risk-assessment tool prevent hospital-acquired pneumonia? British Journal of Nursing27(7), 402–404.

The above title appears to be an informational article and a proposal for a risk assessment tool instead of a research study. If you access the full text of the article, you will see that the key components that comprise a research study were missing (such as participants, results, discussion, conclusion, etc.). Also, please note that if this was a research study, the term “Research” should have been listed under ‘Publication Type’. This is great place to look when trying to determine what type of article you are dealing with. 

Primary vs. Secondary Research

Librarians receive lots of questions about primary and secondary sources. 

We learn that meta-analyses are secondary sources. Why are they secondary sources? Simply, they talk about primary sources. A meta-analysis, in particular, reviews multiple studies and combines the data.

In contrast, a primary source discusses new information, and it is a first-hand account of something. In nursing, some examples include: clinical trials, experiments, survey study reports, dissertations, etc. In all of these examples, typically the researchers who completed the studies/projects were the ones to write about it all. In other words, primary, original research are studies where the researchers collect and analyze the data, rather than reporting on someone else’s research. Look for clues in the record such as experimental designs, control groups, interviews, surveys/questionnaires, instruments, chart reviews, and other firsthand ways to collect data. I usually look in the abstract under the Participants and Results sections to see if the researchers were working with patients, participants, respondents, patient records, or other primary data. Those sections are good places to look to see if the researchers were dealing directly with the study participants/data or not.

The confusing part is that most of the primary source examples listed above start with a literature review. The literature review discusses other studies, so the literature review part of the article looks like a secondary source. The ‘Methods’ and ‘Results’ sections help indicate whether something is a primary or secondary source.

Most researchers and librarians usually skip ahead to the “Methods” and "Results" sections of an article (if it isn’t clear in the abstract). 

For example, if you come across something like this: 
“79 patients with prostate cancer were randomized to a nutritional intervention.... Levels of total PSA in heparin plasma were measured at the Dept. of Medical Biochemistry...”

Notice that patients were part of this study, and it includes other very specific information regarding methods, so this could be a clue that this is a form of primary research.

Here is an example of a primary research study record:


BUT... If you see wording like this instead: 
“PubMed, Embase, and Cochrane Library databases as well as the registry were searched for studies published before October 2018.”

In this case, their methods were to find other studies (to look for other primary sources). Since the resulting article is a meta-analysis that discusses other studies, the article itself is a secondary source.

Here is an example of a secondary (review) source record:


Systematic Reviews

What is a systematic review?

As opposed to primary research studies, systematic reviews and meta-analyses provide a detailed comparison of previously conducted studies done by other researchers, as opposed to original research projects directly conducted by the author(s). Although the scope and depth of this level of research is quite valuable, and actually places systematic reviews at the top of the research pyramid, assigments often require students to use "original research", and systematic reviews are not "original research".  With this understanding, knowing how to remove systematic reviews from your search results will be beneficial. To do this in our CINAHL Plus with Full Text database, you would type “systematic review” or meta-analysis or “integrat* review” in a new line and change the Boolean Operator to NOT like so:

Tip: Don’t forget to check the Research Article box in the CINAHL Advanced Search while using this strategy! 

Many articles contain the term “Systematic review” in the Publication Type field, making them easy to identify, although this is not consistently the case. You will definitely want to scan abstract as well.  Language indicating that the methodology centers on the retrieval and analysis of articles from multiple databases is a clue that the article is most likely a systematic review. Here is an example of a systematic review record containing some of the more common clues to look for: