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NRS 410 Research and Evidence-Based practice: Types of Nursing Literature

Evidence-based literature pyramid

What is Evidence-based literature?

Evidence based literature is used to support evidence based practice (EBP) in nursing; it "involves an ability to access, summarize, and apply information from the literature to day-to-day clinical problems." Evidence based literature exists on a continuum from weaker-to-stronger evidence (see pyramid above).

Many databases have some form of check box or limiter that allows you to restrict results to evidence based literature. For instance, clicking the checkbox on the CINAHL databse for evidence-based results restricts your search to the following:

  • Articles from evidence-based practice journals
  • Articles about evidence-based practice
  • Research articles (including systematic reviews, clinical trials, meta analyses, etc.)
  • Commentaries on research studies (applying practice to research)

As you can see, the results vary in terms of the type of literature and strength of evidence.  It is up to you to select the most appropriate results.

(source Kessenich CR, "Teaching nursing students evidence-based nursing." Nurse Educator, Nov/Dec 1997, 22(6): 25-29.

Nursing literature categories

Systematic Reviews:(also known as "meta-analysis") A systematic review identifies an intervention for a specific disease or other problem in health care, and determines whether or not this intervention works. To do this authors locate, appraise and synthesize evidence from as many relevant scientific studies as possible. They summarize conclusions about effectiveness, and provide a unique collation of the known evidence on a given topic, so that others can easily review the primary studies for any intervention.

Empirical research articles: Empirical research is based on observed and measured phenomena and derives knowledge from actual experience rather than from theory or belief. Usually published in peer-reviewed journals.

   Key characteristics to look for:

  • Statement about the methodology being used 
  • Research questions to be answered 
  • Definition of the group or phenomena being studied 
  • Process used to study this group or phenomena, including any
  • controls or instruments such as tests or surveys 
  • Ask yourself: Could I recreate this study and test these results?
  • Read the abstract of the article for a description of the methodology

Research articles will include a bibliography of other literature reviewed, and may lead you to similar articles; its primary purpose is to present original findings. Look for the following elements

  • Introduction
  • Research design (participants)
  • Discussion of data & methods
  • Results
  • Numerical data

Evidence-Based Care Sheets and Evidence-Based Articles: both evidence-based care sheets and evidence-based articles are similar to review articles (described below). These types of articles focus on summarzing research relating to specific ailments and the efficacy of their treatments, and serve as general overviews.

Review articles: Summarizes and synthesizes the results of many different original studies. Its purpose is to define the state of the literature on a particular topic, and discuss different methodologies for conducting research. Review articles are excellent sources for locating research articles, and contain helpful bibliographies.

Clinical articles: Written for practitioners. Clinical articles might present a particular case study or define a new technique.

(sources: Clemens, Rachel, "Library Research Guide for Nursing," Dept. of Nursing, Cal State University , and Cahoy, Ellysa, "What is Empirical Research," Education and Behavioral Sciences Library, Penn State University,