Q. How do I distinguish between original research and systematic reviews in nursing?


The best place to start is the nursing database CINAHL Complete. Search your topic, being sure to first set the "Publication Type" box to "Research" and the "Journal Subset" box to "Nursing." This setting will yield nursing articles that are either original research (primary research) or systematic reviews (secondary research). Look at the article descriptions. An article that is secondary research will be labeled as a systematic review. If that phrase doesn't appear in the description, the article is most likely original research.

Next, change the setting for the "Publication Type" box to "Systematic Review" and you will limit your results to exclude the majority of the primary research articles. (An alternative approach is to select the title from any systematic review article, then click on the Systematic Review subject heading...then use Search History option to combine the appropriate search sets.)


Here's an example of primary research:

The effect of music on biochemical markers and self-perceived stress among first-line nurses: a randomized controlled crossover trial. (includes abstract); Lai, Hui-Ling; Li, Yin-Ming; Journal of Advanced Nursing, 2011 Nov; 67 (11): 2414-24 (journal article - randomized controlled trial, research, tables/charts)

Here's an example of secondary research:

Music intervention and preoperative anxiety: an integrative review. (includes abstract); Pittman, S.; Kridli, S.; International Nursing Review, 2011 Jun; 58 (2): 157-63 (journal article - research, systematic review)

If you are still unsure about whether an article is primary or secondary, click the title and look at the full description. Descriptions of research, whether primary or secondary, tend to use similar language—e.g., purpose (or aims), method, and conclusions. But descriptions of secondary research will use an additional term such as review or systematic review or else indicate that it is summarizing the current state of knowledge. Other words that signal secondary research in nursing are literature review, meta analysis, metasynthesis, clinical practice guideline, qualitative synthesis, and integrative review.


  • Last Updated Mar 21, 2018
  • Views 420
  • Answered By David Kohut

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