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Systematic Reviews: Home

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Systematic Reviews

It is important to distinguish between primary research and reviews of primary research results. Both are important, and both types of research publications can be peer reviewed, but they serve different purposes and may be appropriate as supporting material in different circumstances.

Primary research contains a hypothesis, research methodologies, data, assessment of data results, and conclusions. These elements are supported by references to previous publications. 

Secondary articles, or research reviews, such as review articles and systematic reviews which provide a comprehensive review of all important previous articles in a research area, generally do not contain details on specific methodologies. These types of materials report on patterns, consistencies, and trends in research.


In order to determine if an article is reporting original research or summarizing previously performed 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.


There are three ways to restrict searches to Systematic Reviews:

    A good place to locate research articles is the nursing database CINAHL Complete. 


      (1) Add search terms during the search

  • First check the box for "Research Article" and set the "Journal Subset" Box to "Nursing."
  • Then enter your topic in the first search box.
  • Add the following terms (as a drop-down) to your search strategy in the second search box
    • systematic review or meta-analysis
  • Without the above limiters, your search will yield nursing-research articles that are original research or reviews -- or some combination of the two.
  • Remember, you can also limit your results using the pre-search limiters at the bottom of the search page, such as:

                     Publication Type: Case Study, Clinical Trial, Meta Analysis, Meta Synthesis, Randomized Control Trial, Systematic Review.

                     Clinical Queries: Prognosis, Review, Qualitative, Causation


     (2) Add a Publication Type limiter when you run the search

  • When performing a search, at the bottom of the search page, select the "Publication Type" of "Systematic Review" and you will limit your results to exclude the majority of the primary research articles.


    (3) restrict after the search using Subject facets

  • A third approach is to restrict your search results after the initial search
    • Using the Subject facets on the left column, pick the Systematic Review subject heading


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 - researchsystematic 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.

Evidence-Based Databases

CINAHL Complete  (journals, systematic reviews, care sheets)

  • Use the Clinical Queries search option to limit to therapy, prognosis, and causation (etiology).
  • Check the box for Evidence-Based Practice.
  • Use the Publication Type search option to limit to Evidence-Based Care Sheet.

Cochrane Collection Plus. Controlled trials and other healthcare interventions, which include the Central Register of Controlled Trials, Abstracts of Reviews of Effects, Systematic Reviews, NHS Economic Evaluation, Health Technology Assessments, and the Methodology Register.

Clinical Trials - search the registry.

National Guideline Clearinghouse. Objective, detailed information on clinical-practice guidelines.

MEDLINE with Full Text - Biomedical literature from MEDLINE, life-science journals, and online books.

PubMed Clinical Queries - subset of PubMed containing results limited to specific clinical research areas.

TRIP database - overlay of many sources containing high-quality clinical-research evidence.

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