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NURP 410: Advanced Research Methods: Article Types

Nursing 410 Research Methods

"What is the difference between a systematic review and a meta-analysis?"

Types of Articles (For more see Find Articles in the Nursing guide)

Here you will find descriptions, criteria, and examples of research and review articles. Once you understand the differences between research and review articles, see the Qualitative and Quantitative Articles and Types of Review Articles pages for more information.

Research Articles

Research articles describe an original study that the author(s) conducted themselves. They will include a brief literature review, but the main focus of the article is to describe the theoretical approach, methods, and results of the authors' own study.

Is It a Research Article

Look at the abstract or full text of the journal article and consider the following:

  • Was data collected?
  • Were there surveys, questionnaires, interviews, interventions (as in a clinical trial)?
  • Is there a population?
  • Is there an outline of the methodology used?
  • Are there findings or results?
  • Are there conclusions and a discussion of the significance?

Research articles use a standard format to clearly communicate information about an experiment. A research article usually has 7 major sections:

  • Title
  • Abstract
  • Introduction/Objective
  • Method
  • Results
  • Discussion/Conclusion

A research article has a hypothesis, a method for testing the hypothesis, a population on which the hypothesis was tested, results or findings, and a discussion or conclusion.

Review Articles

Review articles summarize the current state of research on a subject by organizing, synthesizing, and critically evaluating the relevant literature. They tell what is currently known about an area under study and place what is known in context. This allows the researcher to see how their particular study fits into a larger picture.

Review articles are NOT original research articles. Instead, they are a summary of many other original research articles. When your teacher tells you to obtain an "original research article"or to use a primary source, do not use an article that says review.

Is It a Review Article

Review articles are NOT original research articles. Instead, they are a summary of many other original research articles. 

Look at the abstract or full text of the article and consider the following:

  • Is it described as a review?
  • Is there a search strategy outlined?
  • Does the majority of the article focus on previous studies?


Suchmacher, M., & Geller, M. (2012). Systematic reviews and meta-analyses (Chapter 12). In Practical biostatistics, (p. 159). Academic Press, Elevier. Note: Source cited in answer to the question, "What is the difference between a systematic review and a meta-analysis?" at the top of the page.

Qualitative and Quantitative Articles (See also the Nursing Quantitative & Qualitative Articles guide)

Here you will find descriptions, criteria, and examples of qualitative and quantitative literature. Once you understand the differences between qualitative and quantitative research articles, see the Search Tips page in this guide for help with finding the articles you need.

- Qualitative Quantitative
Definition Research that seeks to provide understanding of human experience, perceptions, motivations, intentions, and behaviors based on description and observation and utilizing a naturalistic interpretative approach to a subject and its contextual setting. Research based on traditional scientific methods, which generates numerical data and usually seeks to establish causal relationships between two or more variables, using statistical methods to test the strength and significance of the relationships.
What's Involved Observations described in words Observations measured in numbers
Starting Point A situation the researcher can observe A testable hypothesis
Goals Participants are comfortable with the researcher. They are honest and forthcoming, so that the researcher can make robust observations. Others can repeat the findings of the study. Variables are defined and correlations between them are studied.
Drawbacks If the researcher is biased, or is expecting to find certain results, it can be difficult to make completely objective observations. Researchers may be so careful about measurement methods that they do not make connections to a greater context.
Some Methods Interview, Focused group, Observation, Ethnography, Grounded Theory Survey, Randomized controlled trial, Clinical trial, Experimental Statistics

From A Dictionary of Nursing

About Qualitative Studies

Qualitative research includes all modes of inquiry that do not rely on numbers or statistical methods. Naturalistic [qualitative] approaches comprise a wide array of research traditions, most often in the categories of ethnography, grounded theory, and phenomenology, but they also include ethnology, ethnomethodology, hermeneutics, oral and life histories, discourse analysis, case study methods, and critical, philosophical, and historical approaches to inquiry. See the Qualitative Research from the Dictionary of Nursing Theory and Research

Finding Qualitative Studies

Finding qualitative studies can be slightly more challenging because this type of methodology is less commonly used in nursing research.

Try adding one of the following keywords to your search:

  • qualitative studies (also a subject term)
  • case study
  • focus group
  • grounded theory
  • ethnographic
  • phenomenological
  • narrative

Look at the following qualitative article example for more search ideas:

Evaluating Qualitative Articles

Consider using one of the following when examining qualitative research:

About Quantitative Studies

Quantitative research consists of the collection, tabulation, summarization, and analysis of numerical data for the purpose of answering research questions or hypotheses. Quantitative research uses statistical methodology at every stage in the research process. At the inception of a research project, when the research questions are formulated, thought must be given to how the research variables are to be quantified, defined, measured, and analyzed. See the See Quantitative Research from the Dictionary of Nursing Theory and Research

Finding Quantitative Studies

According to the Encyclopedia of Nursing Research, "The vast majority of all nursing studies can be classified as quantitative."  

As a result, you'll likely find quantitative research articles when you search for your topic.

You can also try adding one of the following keywords to your search:

  • quantitative studies (also a subject term)
  • statistics OR statistical
  • survey
  • clinical trial
  • randomized controlled trial

Look at the following quantitative article example for more search ideas.

Evaluating Quantitative Articles

Consider using one of the following when examining quantitative research:

Is It Qualitative or Quantitative Research?

If you're still wondering if the article you have is qualitative or quantitative, below you'll find a table that highlights some of the key differences in qualitative versus quantitative research methods.

Qualitative Methods Quantitative Methods
Methods include focus groups, in-depth interviews, and reviews of documents for types of themes Surveys, structured interviews & observations, and reviews of records or documents for numeric information
Primarily inductive process used to formulate theory or hypotheses Primarily deductive process used to test pre-specified concepts, constructs, and hypotheses that make up a theory
More subjective: describes a problem or condition from the point of view of those experiencing it More objective: provides observed effects (interpreted by researchers) of a program on a problem or condition
Text-based Number-based
More in-depth information on a few cases Less in-depth but more breadth of information across a large number of cases
Unstructured or semi-structured response options Fixed response options
No statistical tests Statistical tests are used for analysis
Can be valid and reliable: largely depends on skill and rigor of the researcher Can be valid and reliable: largely depends on the measurement device or instrument used-
Time expenditure lighter on the planning end and heavier during the analysis phase Time expenditure heavier on the planning phase and lighter on the analysis phase
Less generalizable More generalizable

From the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education

Mixed Methods Research

Mixed methods research combines quantitative and qualitative research methods in a single study. The use of mixed methods research is increasingly popular in nursing and health sciences research. This growth in popularity has been driven by the increasing complexity of research problems relating to human health and wellbeing. See Mixed Methods Research for Nursing and the Health Sciences by Halcomb & Andrew

Comparing Different Types of Reviews

Here you will find descriptions of narrative, integrative, and systematic reviews. You will also find additional information about finding and understanding systematic reviews. Once you understand what a systematic review is and where to search for them, see the Search Tips page in this guide for help with finding the articles you need.

Narrative Review Integrative Review Systematic Review
Purpose: address a specific question with a summary of previous findings and an implicit conclusion Purpose: wide range of purposes - define concepts, review theories, review evidence, analyze methodological issue of a topic Purpose: in response to an answerable, clinical question
Literature includes: there is not necessarily an orderly process, so a broad overview of the topic is often presented through primary and secondary sources Literature includes: diverse methodologies - experimental and non-experimental; theoretical and empirical literature. Explicit strategies and inclusion/exclusion criteria recommended Literature includes: primary studies based on explicit search strategies and inclusion/exclusion criteria
Evidence Level: not included in the levels of evidence Evidence Level: informally considered to be mid-level in the evidence hierarchies Evidence Level: universally considered to be at the highest level in the evidence hierarchies
Biases: this type of review relies on the author's expert opinion, and often only articles that support that opinion are included Biases: it's possible for authors to choose studies arbitrarily considered to most relevant for supporting their own opinions or research hypotheses Biases: the explicit structures and strategies reduce the potential for author bias that exists in narrative and integrative reviews

From the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education

What is a Systematic Review?

A systematic review attempts to identify, appraise and synthesize all the empirical evidence that meets pre-specified eligibility criteria to answer a specific research question. Researchers conducting systematic reviews use explicit, systematic methods that are selected with a view aimed at minimizing bias, to produce more reliable findings to inform decision making. See the Cochrane Library

What is a Meta-Analysis?

Meta-analysis is a quantitative approach that permits the synthesis and integration of results from multiple individual studies focused on a specific research question. A meta-analysis is a rigorous alternative to the traditional narrative review of the literature. It involves the application of the research process to a collection of studies in a specific area. The individual studies are considered the sample.

A systematic review may include meta-analysis if it is able to combine the results of comparable randomized controlled trials. See Systematic Review in the Encyclopedia of Nursing Research.

Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews

Cochrane Reviews are systematic reviews of research in healthcare and health policy that are published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. There are five types of Cochrane Review:

  1. Intervention reviews assess the benefits and harms of interventions used in healthcare and health policy.
  2. Diagnostic test accuracy reviews assess how well a diagnostic test performs in diagnosing and detecting a particular disease.
  3. Methodology reviews address issues relevant to how systematic reviews and clinical trials are conducted and reported.
  4. Qualitative reviews synthesize qualitative evidence to address questions on aspects other than effectiveness.
  5. Prognosis reviews address the probable course or future outcome(s) of people with a health problem. 

Cochrane Reviews are updated to reflect the findings of new evidence when it becomes available because the results of new studies can change the conclusions of a review. Cochrane Reviews are therefore valuable sources of information for those receiving and providing care, as well as for decision-makers and researchers.

See About Cochrane Systematic Reviews

There are two ways to find Cochrane Reviews:

  1. Under the Cochrane Reviews tab, search or browse.
  2. In the top right corner of the screen, type in your topic and click the magnifying glass icon.

Both options will allow you to narrow you results on the next page. Check out Cochrane's self-paced tutorials for search demos and additional tips.

cochrane library systematic search Searching The Cochrane Library of Systematic Reviews

Finding Systematic Reviews in Other Databases

You can also search for systematic reviews in CINAHL, Medline, and other health sciences databases. The phrase "systematic review" will generally appear in the title or abstract of an article. As a result, you can find them by adding "systematic review" as one of your search terms.

systematic review search in CINAHL Searching CINAHL for Systematic Reviews