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Nursing program: Research skills: Appropriate?

Provides starting points for research in TCC's Nursing Program

Article types

Article Types

Instructors in the Nursing Program expect you to use scholarly, peer-reviewed articles from professional nursing journals for much of your research. However, even these kinds of journals can contain a variety of articles. The following are some common article types and whether or not they are appropriate for you research.

NOTE: If you are doing evidence-based practice (EBP) research see the Evidence-based practice tab of this guide for information on appropriate article types.

Empirical Research Articles

Empirical research articles are reports of original scientific research, written by the scientists themselves. They can be identified by having some or all of the following characteristics:

  • Multiple authors (usually at least 3)
  • Can be quite lengthy, depending on the journal (10+ pages)
  • Long, technical titles
  • Thick in the language of the speciality, lots of jargon
  • Include an abstract
  • Divided into sections, which often include “Objectives”, “Methods”, “Discussion”, and “Results”
  • Charts, graphs, and tables
  • Lengthy references list

Always appropriate, unless an instructor specifically forbids. Instructors will often request that you include this type of article in a paper and may even insist that you use ONLY this type of article. Much of the information that eventually trickles down to general magazines and newspapers begins at this scholarly level. 

Literature Reviews

Literature reviews are meant to analyze and pull together – in one place -- the results of different research projects on a specific topic. They are usually written by a scholar/practitioner in the field, but not necessarily by someone who has done empirical research themselves. Literature review articles can be identified by having some or all of the following characteristics:

  • Usually just one, or maybe two, authors
  • Often brief, two or three pages
  • Titles are not necessarily technical-sounding, and may even include the word “review” in them
  • Peppered with references to other research
  • Lengthy references list

These are usually appropriate—although it may be wise to find the original articles that are of the most interest. They are a good "first read" when approaching an unfamiliar topic.

Best Practices Articles

Best practices articles generally advocate for a particular way of doing something, or are instructive in a particular procedure. They sometimes will look like a combination literature review and editorial, but their intention is different:

  • Unlike a literature review, a “best practices” article is not a comprehensive review of research on a particular topic, but it may mention some specific studies
  • Not an editorial, because it will usually include a references list.
  • Usually a single author, musing in a scholarly/professional way on the implications of a specific procedure, practice, or attitude.
  • Usually written in a casual tone (language is more "conversational")

Use these articles sparingly!

Continuing Education Articles

Continuing education articles are (usually) a type of Best Practices article. They are not found in every journal, but are a consistent feature in Nursing (2000), RN, and MedSurg Nursing. Look for the Continuing Education (or “CE”) section in the Table of Contents. Here are some identifying features of these articles:

  • Usually written by an expert practitioner
  •  Instructive for a specific skill, set of skills, or competency
  • Often include test instructions at the end of the article, which you can follow to earn Continuing Education credit as an RN!

Use these articles sparingly!

News Round-ups

News Round-ups are just reports on recent research or industry news. They usually appear in the "less academic" professional journals, and are marked by these identifiers:

  • Very short, often just a few paragraphs
  • Synopsis of a study that has been published somewhere else
  • No references list

Not appropriate, unless specifically requested by an instructor


Editorials are opinion pieces, just like editorials in newspapers. If they appear in professional journals, they will be written by a practitioner.  They can be identified by some or all of the following criteria:

  • Normally just one author
  • Clearly expressing opinion
  • Usually just one or two pages
  • No references list (usually)

Not appropriate, unless specifically requested by an instructor

Which sources are appropriate?

Which Sources Are Appropriate?

The answer is: It depends on the assignment! However, most of the time your instructors expect you will use nursing literature from reliable professional sources.

Some of these sources may be books or items from Web sites, but usually they will be scholarly, peer-reviewed journal articles.

See the video tutorial in the box below for more information on what a scholarly journal article is.

Scholarly article vs. popular magazines

Scholarly Article vs. Popular Magazines

Scholarly Journals

A scholarly journal is generally one that is published by and for experts. In order to be published in a scholarly journal, an article must first go through the peer review process in which a group of widely acknowledged experts in a field reviews it for content, scholarly soundness and academic value. In most cases, articles in scholarly journals present new, previously un-published research.

Scholarly sources will almost always include:

  • Bibliography and footnotes
  • Author's name and academic credentials

As a general rule, scholarly journals are not printed on glossy paper, do not contain advertisements for popular consumer items and do not have colorful graphics and illustrations (there are, of course, exceptions).

Popular Magazines

Popular magazines, on the other hand, are written by journalists for a lay audience, are not peer-reviewed, rarely contain a bibliography, and often contain advertisements and colorful graphics.

The following video is from the UW Libraries. For more information about scholarly, peer-reviewed articles see NCSU's Scholarly vs. Popular Guide, linked below.

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