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Nursing Guide: How to find specific research

This Guide has been created to help Nursing students find Library resources

Types of Research

Definition of Original/Primary Research

An "original" research article is a detailed account of research activity written by the scientists who did the research--not by someone else who is reporting on the research; it is a primary resource (Source).

Original/Primary research is research someone has generated by asking questions, conducting trials and collating the results. The researcher generates original research/information for a specific purpose, instead of gathering information from published sources.

"A systematic investigation, including pilot projects and feasibility studies, designed for the purpose of expanding knowledge or understanding, including the collection and analysis of data from questionnaires, observation, manipulation, sampling and experimentation" (Source)



  • Written by multiple authors (usually three or more)
  • Long, technical article titles
  • Lengthy--a minimum of six pages, often twenty or more
  • Divided into sections
    • Problem, Question, Objectives
    • Methods or Approach
    • Results
    • Discussion
    • References
  • Article abstracts will include words such as:
    • Methods, Study, Results
    • Randomized, Double blind, Placebo-controlled
  • Chart, graphs, and/or tables
  • Lengthy references list
  • Published in professional or scholarly journals (Source)


Where and how to find Original Research

Instead of searching Library Search, use databases like:

  • Science Direct

As mentioned, words like 'methods', 'study' and 'results' will be included in the abstract of an original research article. Use these words in one of your search boxes 'methods OR study OR results' and set the search parameters for this specific search box to Abstract.


Try and do a search for Original Research in Nursing

Open CINAHL or MEDLINE from the above link and go the the Advanced Search.

  • Enter your keyword into the first search box (searching in Select a Field optional)
  • Enter 'methods OR study OR results' in the other search box (searching in AB Abstract)

Example from CINAHL:

Another option CINAHL offers is a Research tick box in the Search Options (Limit your results). This could be used instead of the above.

And you can also select Research from the drop down menu in Publication Type (also in your Search Options).


Science Direct

Apply the same principles as above in Science Direct. Go to Advanced Search in Science Direct and extend the search fields to see all options:

  • Enter your keyword in one search box (Finding articles with these terms)
  • Enter 'methods OR study OR results' in Title, abstract or author-specific keywords 
  • Select 'Research articles' from 'Research types'


Still make sure that you evaluate your article, using the above dot points to assess if your article is an original research article or not.

Definition of Secondary Research

Secondary research gathers existing information through available sources.

Secondary research is one or more steps removed from the event. Secondary research interprets and analysis primary sources (Source).

Secondary research is based on the findings from other people's research. It involves the gathering of the results of other's research from books, reports or the Internet. Selections or summaries are made of the research allowing for evidence to be gathered to support your conclusions (Source).



  • Secondary research articles are often called 'review' articles
  • The author(s) might make statements like "Previous studies found ..." or "We reviewed the literature ..." - the information comes from others' accounts
  • Secondary research describes, discusses, interprets, comments upon, analyzes, evaluates, summarizes and processes primary research
  • Abstract or summary will discuss the total number of studies that were examined and the criteria for inclusion of the studies in the review
  • Systematic Review is a report that collects and examines a number of related original research studies


Why use secondary sources?

Secondary sources can provide you with background information and offer analysis of the event or work by those removed one or more steps from the event or work itself. Scholarly articles are written by experts studying in a particular field, offering credibility to your research by providing interpretation of material by scholars. Secondary sources look beyond a particular event or artefact and can broaden your perspective and research. They can also provide historical perspective based on other events that have taken since the original event or work.


Where to find secondary research

Use Library Search or specific databases to find books and journal articles.

Articles in many of these databases provide an analysis of data and historical events. Many provide the secondary sources that will help you broaden your topic and add credibility to your research.

Definition of Qualitative Research

Qualitative research is concerned with opinions and feelings. The data does not necessarily end up as a set of numbers that can be analyzed. It looks at the total picture rather than the separate components (Source).

Qualitative research deals with data in the form of words.



  • Text-based
  • Associated with description
  • No statistical tests undertaken
  • Researcher uses unstructured or semi-structured response options
  • Explores underlying reasons, opinions and motivations
  • Researcher generates new hypotheses and grounded theory from data collected
  • Emphasis is on discovery rather than proof
  • Provides insight into the problem
  • Uncovers trends in thought and opinions
  • Develops ideas for potential quantitative research
  • Uses small sample - small-scale studies


Qualitative data gathering methods

  • Focus groups
  • Individual interviews
  • Participation and observation
  • Case study
  • Historical methods


Example of Qualitative data

The Australian Bureau of Statistics offers a good comparison of quantitative and qualitative data.

Here's some qualitative data on the cup of coffee you might need by now:

  • Latte
  • Brown
  • Strong taste
  • Robust aroma
  • Sweet (if you added sugar)
  • Brown cup and saucer with a white rim

As questions of your coffee:

  • What is it?
  • What does it look like?
  • What does it taste like?
  • What is it served in?
  • What type of coffee was used?
  • etc.


How to find Qualitative Research

Databases like CINAHL use specific subject terms.

CINAHL uses 'Qualitative Studies' as the subject term for qualitative research.

Let's do a search for Qualitative Research articles on Headaches:

  • Open CINAHL and go to Advanced Search
  • Enter your key words:
    • For 'qualitative studies' limit your search to 'MH Exact Subject Heading'.
    • For 'headache' leave your search set to 'Select a Field (optional)'

In CINAHL you can limit your search to 'Clinical Queries'. Within 'Clinical Queries' you can select Qualitative-High Sensitivity, Qualitative-High Specificity or Qualitative-Best Balance. High Sensitivity is the broadest search, to include ALL relevant material, but may also include less relevant materials. High Specificity is the most targeted search to include only the most relevant result set, but may miss some relevant materials. Best Balance retrieves the best balance between Sensitivity and Specificity.

Databases like MEDLINE use Medical Subject Headings (MeSH), which in this case is 'Qualitative Research'.

The word 'Qualitative' is part of all those official subject terms, which means you can even do a basic search across all fields by simply using 'qualitative' as one of your keywords.

So if you for example do a search in Library Search, simply add the word 'qualitative' as one of your keywords.

Once you have found an article, you will still have to evaluate it and make sure it is qualitative research on the topic you are researching.

Books on Qualitative Research

Definition of Quantitative Research

Quantitative research uses a scientific approach. An hypothesis may be stated and the researcher attempts to prove or disprove that hypothesis. The techniques used are usually easy to measure. The data generated can be analyzed mathematically (Source).

Quantitative Research deals with data in the form of numbers and statistics.



  • Number-based
  • Tends to use numbers and statistical methods as key research indicators and tools
  • Statistical tests are used for analysis
  • Researcher uses fixed response options
  • Quantifies attitudes, opinions, behaviors and other defined variables
  • Researcher tests hypotheses and theory with data
  • Uses a large sample - is part of a large-scale study
  • Uses measurable data to formulate facts and uncover patterns in research
  • More structured that qualitative research
  • More emphasis on proof rather than discovery


Quantitative data gathering methods

  • Various forms of surveys
  • Face-to-face interviews, Longitudinal studies
  • Online polls
  • Systematic observations


Example of Quantitative data

The Australian Bureau of Statistics offers a good comparison of quantitative and qualitative data.

Here's some quantitative data on the cup of coffee you might need by now:

  • 80ml of espresso
  • 240ml of milk
  • 1 packet of sugar
  • Serving temperature: 75 degrees Celsius
  • Cost: $4.50

Ask quantitative questions of your cup of coffee:

  • How much coffee?
  • How much milk?
  • How much sugar?
  • How much did it cost?
  • What's the serving temperature?
  • What's the size of the cup?
  • etc.


How to find Quantitative Research

Databases like CINAHL use specific subject terms.

CINAHL uses 'Quantitative Studies' as the subject term for quantitative research.

Let's do a search for Quantitative Research articles on Diabetes:

  • Open CINAHL and go to Advanced Search
  • Enter your key words:
    • For 'quantitative studies' limit your search to 'MH Exact Subject Heading'.
    • For 'diabetes' leave your search set to 'Select a Field (optional)'

In CINAHL you could also use limiters like 'Research' and 'Statistics' under 'Publication Type' (multiple options can be highlighted by holding Ctrl while selecting options), or use the tick box for 'Research Articles'. For more information see Original/Primary Research.


Not all databases have a specific subject term for 'quantitative research'. Another option is to search with some words that specifically relate to quantitative data, like for example quantitative, statistics, data analysis, correlation, experiment, variable, variance, etc.

Truncate words that could be listed in various forms like fore example statistic*. This means that the database will search for the part of the word you typed before the asterisk, along with any possible endings of the word. Using statistic* tells the database to search for statistics, statistical, etc.Connect the alternative terms you chose with OR to tell the database to search for any of these terms.

You could for example do a search in Science Direct like this:

As you are looking specifically for quantitative research, you can also do a basic search across all fields by simply using 'quantitative' as one of your keywords.

So if you for example do a search in Library Search, simply add the word 'quantitative' as one of your keywords.

Once you have found an article, you will still have to evaluate it and make sure it is quantitative research on the topic you are researching.


Books on Quantitative Research

Definitions of Evidence-Based Health Care (EBHC) and Evidence-Based Practice (EBP)

"The conscientious, explicit, and judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions about the care of individual patients" (McKibbon, 2009)


According the the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, evidence-based practice (EBP) is:

  • Practice based on the best available evidence that also incorporates
    • Patient values and preferences
    • Clinician judgement and expertise
  • Using evidence to guide nursing practice


Evidence-based practice (EBP) is a process which involves critical thinking and evaluation of information to determine the most effective and efficient treatment for your client or community. It is a three pronged approach, taking into consideration:

  • The Practitioner's Individual Expertise
  • The Client's Values and Expectations
  • The Best Evidence

(University of Michigan Library)


Evidence-based practice (EBP) is a process in which the practitioner combines well-researched interventions with clinical experience and ethics, and client preferences and culture to guide and inform the delivery of treatments and services (Social Work Policy Institute).


"The use of best research evidence, along with clinical expertise, available resources and patient's preferences to determine the optimal management option in a specific situation (Liamputtong, 2010)."


Process of Evidence-Based Practice - 5 steps

  • ASK & ASSESS: Assess the patient; define the problem; define the question - convert information needs into focused questions
  • ACQUIRE: Collect evidence to answer the questions - find the best evidence from the literature
  • APPRAISE: Critically appraise the evidence - appraise for validity and relevance
  • APPLY: Apply the evidence to practice - combine best evidence, practitioners expertise and patient values; and apply the evidence to practice
  • Evaluate the process and results


Sources of Evidence

  • Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT)
  • Evidence from scientific methods (eg. descriptive and qualitative research)
  • Systematic research
  • Case reports
  • Case studies
  • Clinical trials
  • Comparative studies
  • Diagnostic study
  • Systematic reviews
  • Scientific principles
  • Expert opinions
  • Practitioner expertise
  • Patient values
  • Government reports
  • Policy statements


Where and how to find evidence for Evidence-Based Practice

  • Books
  • Journals
  • Databases

Key databases for Evidence-Based Research


In CINAHL you can search for articles on evidence-based research by using the Exact Subject Heading 'Medical practice, evidence-based' in combination with your other keywords. See example:

Other options: 

  • Add 'evidence-based' as a keyword
  • Select 'Advanced Search' and then select the filter 'Evidence-Based Practice'




Cochrane Library offers a collection of six databases that contain different types of high-quality, independent evidence to inform healthcare decision-making, including a database of systematic reviews. The database of systematic reviews and protocols can be searched, or browsed by topic or review group.

If you do a general search in Cochrane Library, you have the option to limit your search results to a specific database, like the reviews, trials, etc. Only the reviews and protocols provide full text access of the original article.




Joanna Briggs Institute (JBI COnNECT via OvidSP) provides you with easy access to evidence-based resources, making it easy for you to find and use evidence to inform your clinical decision-making. You can either search with keywords or you can browse your specialty area (see Nodes). If you don't limit your search by a specific type of publication, you can still select the publication from your search results

Video on how to search Joanna Briggs Institute



Nursing Reference Center Plus can provide you with evidence-based information about diseases and conditions and evidence-based care sheets. 

To browse, select 'Diseases' and then click on 'Explore evidence-based information about diseases and conditions':

Or you can do

Or run a search for a specific condition and then for example select 'Evidence-Based Care Sheets' from 'Refine Results':



When searching PubMed you have the option to limit your search results by Article Types, incl. clinical trial, systematic review, case report, comparative study, randomized controlled trial, etc. Run a search and then refine by 'Article Type'. If more options are needed, select 'Additional filters' in the refinement options. 

Or you can select Clinical Queries (Pub Med homepage, below 'Find') from the PubMed homepage, which will limit your search from the start to Clinical Study Categories (incl. options to further limit results), Systematic Reviews and Medical Genetics (incl. the option to further limit results):



Other information

The Duke University Medical Center Library & Archives have a very informative guide on Evidence-Based Practice, including an Introduction to Evidence-Based Practice tutorial. 


Books on Evidence Based Research/Practice

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