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EXSC 4600: Research Methods

Research Strategies

  • Develop Keywords - Once you have your PICO question, use the concepts for each of the letters as search terms. Develop synonyms to these concepts to serve as additional keywords. The MeSH Thesaurus is a good resource. Use connecting words like AND or OR to link concepts and terms.
  • Pre-Research - Browse through the databases and other resources like Google of Wikipedia to see if there is enough research out there on your topic. This step in the research process also helps you learn more about your topic, discover keywords, and assists in refining your question or topic.
  • Utilize Database Tools - Each database has unique filters and/or limiters that help refine your search, such as date, study type, language, geography, age, gender, and more. These tools help you refine your results pool to an adequate number of articles that are also the most applicable. 
  • Evaluate Sources - Assess sources by reading the title, abstract, intro, headings, and conclusions. If an article does not meet your criteria at any point in the process, move on to the next one. If an article seems promising, then skim/read the entirety of it.
  • Organize & Save Sources - Do something with your articles. Email them to yourself, save them directly to your computer or drive, use citation buttons, manager tools, permalinks, copy and paste the citation into a document, etc.

Research Tips

  • Save More Than You Need - Locate and evaluate more articles than you need or what your professor requires. It is best to find more and then weed the weakest articles out later. 
  • Consult More Than One Database - In order to do thorough research, search multiple databases. Each database pulls from a different collection of journals, so therefore other databases will have different articles.
  • Go Where the Research Leads You - You may have an assumed answer for your research topic/question. Remember that the research evidence dictates the answer to your question, not your personal opinion or bias. 
  • Search References - If you find articles that you want to use, screen their references. Chances are, the articles they cite will be applicable and available for you to use as well.
  • Pay Attention to Dates - For medical research, try to stay within the last ten years or so. Medical research is constantly changing, so some things written even three years ago could be considered out of date. This is dependent on topic.
  • Look for the Best Evidence - There are articles/studies that are considered the best types of evidence. Keep a lookout for systematic reviews, meta-analyses, and randomized controlled trials. Study/evidence type is sometimes dictated by topic.

Helpful Definitions

  • Qualitative - Textual data
  • Quantitative - Numerical data
  • Peer-Reviewed - Essentially an article screening process. If a nurse wants to submit an article to a particular journal, it is reviewed by experts within the nursing field, primarily for content. An article can be rejected, accepted, or revised before publication.
  • Systematic Reviews - A study that critically appraises and summarizes the evidence from the primary literature on a certain topic.
  • Meta-Analysis - A study that merges the findings of the relevant literature on a topic to arrive at a conclusion.
  • Randomized Controlled Trials (RCT) - Subjects are randomly assigned to one of two groups: the experimental group or the control/placebo group.

Hierarchy of Evidence Pyramid