Skip to Main Content

Pacific Lutheran University

Inquiry. Service. Leadership. Care.


General nursing research guide and course and degree specific pages.

Session Overview

• Evidence Based Practice and research literature

• Topic refinement & search strategy development

• Getting the best results out of CINAHL: Accessing, searching, interpreting citations, article retrieval

• Reading and interpreting nursing research; article evaluation

• EBSCO's citation tools

• Introduction to UpToDate

Topic refinement & search strategy development

Before you begin your search, a good research habit is to spend a little bit of time thinking about what you want to know, and what words you'd use to describe it. Here are some brainstorming strategies to try:

  • Write out a description of your topic. Then, elaborate. What else do you want to know about it? Add specifics as you think of them.
  • Underline or circle the most important concepts in your topic.
  • Write down synonyms, related words, or other words those concepts make you think of.
  • As you do your research, note other key words that describe your topic. Try using those to search instead. How does that change your results?


Start with CINAHL

CINAHL via EBSCO logoCINAHL, or Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, is the world's most comprehensive nursing research database. Our subscription includes the full text of over 600 journals, plus links out to other nursing research databases and library subscriptions. From primary research literature to systematic reviews to the latest evidence-based practice, CINAHL may be the only database you need to complete your assignment.

Search tips:

  • Start with the keywords you wrote above
  • Look for additional search terms in the suggested subject headings, titles of articles, and individual article subject headings
  • Use Boolean operators—AND, OR, NOT—to make your search more specific and more powerful
  • Select subject heading specifications—MW, MH, MJ, MM—to focus your search
  • Use CINAHL search limiters (on the Advanced Search page) to specify language, study population age range, publication type, peer review

Search CINAHL now.

More nursing, medicine, and allied health databases are available via the Find Articles tab above.

Interpret Citations

Even before looking at the article, you can determine its potential usefulness and quality from its citation information. Here are some characteristics to look for:

Author affiliation: where/who authors work for
Publication type: whether item is a journal article and whether it’s research:

  • Systematic review or meta-analysis
  • Controlled trial, randomized or not
  • Case control or cohort study
  • Descriptive or qualitative study
  • Editorial, letter, opinion, practice guideline

Major/minor subjects: article’s area of focus, study population, methodology—good source of additional search terms, too
Abstract: summary of article’s content, can give you an idea of its rigor and evidence basis
Journal subset: look here to see if journal is peer reviewed

Evaluating Your Articles

Your assignment requires that identify an article of interest, explain why it's interesting, why it's important, and how you might apply it. How do you choose?

  • Evidence-based means that the article's assertions are based on evidence; that it either is a piece of documented research, i.e., a study, or that it cites such studies to support its claims. An article that makes claims about healthcare without backing them up with evidence is not evidence based. Click the tab labeled "EBP" above for more about evidence-based practice.
  • In general, a quality work of evidence-based research will have the following characteristics:
    • Undergone a review process;
    • Have expert authors;
    • Been published in a reputable source;
    • Be an example of original research, or else cite such research;
    • If a research article, include all of the component parts and describe its research methodology;
    • Cite its sources in a reference list;
    • Answer an easily identifiable and articulated question;
    • Implications relevant to your research topic.

Attached below is a more detailed rubric covering these criteria. Feel free to use it to evaluate research resources.