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A Guide to Health Research for JUMP Students

Updated version

Research Study Definitions

The links below provide basic definitions and examples of clinical research designs.
Case Control
Case Series/Reports 
Cohort Studies
Double Blind
Randomized Controlled

Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses

Citing Definitions

citation reflects all of the information a person would need to locate a particular source. For example, basic citation information for a book consists of name(s) of author(s) or editor(s), title of book, name of publisher, place of publication, and most recent copyright date.

A citation style dictates the information required for a citation and the order of how the information is presented, as well as punctuation and other formatting. 

bibliography lists citations for all of the relevant resources a person consulted during the research process.

In an annotated bibliography, each citation is followed by a brief summary, or annotation, that describes and/or evaluates the source and the information found in it.

works cited list presents citations for those sources referenced in a particular paper, presentation, or other composition.

An in-text citation consists of required information required by citation style to correspond to a source's full citation in a Works Cited list. In-text citations often require a page number (or numbers) showing exactly where relevant information was found in the original source.

How To Read a Citation to Identify If It Is an Article or Book

Read this online content to discover how to read a citation.  This will help you identify if a citation is for an article or a book.

Primary and Secondary Sources

Primary Sources

In health sciences, the focus of a primary source is on original research from one research study.  A primary source in health sciences is an article written by the researcher who performed the research experiment and includes original research data.  Secondary sources are ones that summarize or compare primary research articles in a particular area, such as a Systematic Review.  A primary research article contains the following: 

  • Introduction: Research question which defines the aim of the research
  • Methodology
  • Results
  • Discussion/Conclusions
  • References

Tip: Go to Key Components of a Research Article for a visual example and more information.

Secondary Sources

A secondary source, such as a systematic review, interprets and synthesizes primary sources. These sources are one or more steps removed from the event. Secondary sources may have tables, graphs, illustrations or pictures of primary sources in them. Some examples of secondary sources include publications such as journal articles that are Systematic Reviews or Meta-Analysis.


Evidence-Based Practice - From a nursing perspective, Melnyk and Fineout-Overholt  (2011),  define evidence-based practice as "a problem-solving approach to the delivery of health care that integrates best evidence from studies and patient care data with clinician expertise and patient preferences and values."

Guideline - Statements or other indications of policy or procedure for standards of care or practice, based up the best available evidence.  Health fields often refer to "clinical practice guidelines."  Guidelines are often created by an expert consensus group based on rigorous analysis of existing evidence. (See National Guideline Clearinghouse as a free resource to search for guidelines).

Literature Search - Searching for content on a topic.  Tip: Look at assignment instructions to look for specific requirements, such as search for only primary articles.

Meta-analysis - A survey in which the results of all of the included studies are similar enough statistically that the results are combined and analyzed as if they were one study.   

MeSH - Medical Subject Headings: a thesaurus of medical terms used by many databases and libraries to index and classify medical information.

Primary Source - A a document or physical object which was written or created during the time under study. These sources were present during an experience or time period and offer an inside view of a particular event. In nursing literature a type of primary source is a journal article about new research findings.

Qualitative - Refers to any research based on something that is impossible to accurately and precisely measure.

Quantitative - Also called "empirical research," refers to any research based on something that can be accurately and precisely measured. Tip: An excellent clue that a scholarly journal article contains empirical research is the presence of some sort of statistical analysis

Secondary Source - A secondary source, such as a systematic review, interprets and synthesizes primary sources.  A systematic review can be a journal article within an article nursing database such as CINAHL Complete or PubMed.

Systematic Review - A comprehensive survey of a topic in which all of the primary studies of the highest level of evidence  have been systematically identified, appraised and then summarized according to an explicit and reproducible methodology.

Quantitative vs. Qualitative

Research Question Unit of Analysis Is Goal to Generalize? Methodology
What are the experiences of elderly in hospitals regarding their concerns to prevent falls before being discharged? Unstructured interviews with elderly: results left in narrative form describing themes based on nursing. No Qualitative
What is the effect of crossing legs on blood pressure measurement? Blood pressure measurements before and after crossing legs resulting in numbers. Yes Quantitative


Literature Review

The purpose of a literature review is to explore, compare and critically analyze what has been written in a specific subject area.  A literature review can stand as a piece of work in itself, or as a start when engaging in primary source research (see box below for further information).  A literature review is often a chapter in a thesis or dissertation and is also required for grant and research proposals.

A literature review contextualizes research by:

  • Examining the nature of the research topic/question and determining  the various methodologies used for investigation of the topic
  • Comprehensively identifying and evaluating previous work dealing with the topic  and identifying 'the gap' in the literature that new research is aiming to 'fill'            

An  effective literature review:

  • Describes  and synthesizes material from a range of sources rather than merely cataloguing information
  • Presents a clear focus of the topic in a logical and organized manner and in an academic writing style

 A literature review is based both on research and the writer's interpretation and analysis of this information. Through this process it is important to distinguish between the writer's interpretations and ideas and those which are found in the research; therefore, cite sources appropriately.

 It is beneficial to have difficulty finding literature on your exact topic because that means there is a justification for new research on the topic. The goal is to conduct research at the graduate level on topics that are unique or cutting-edge. A literature review can include dividing a new topic into related topics that will be synthesized to contextualize the new research.