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Researching in Nursing and Allied Health

A research guide for students in MJC's Nursing, Respiratory Therapy, and other Allied Health programs.

Everyday Information vs. Academic Information

In our everyday lives it is very common for us to get answers to  questions by consulting the Web. We can find almost anything there in just a few seconds: recipes, driving directions, gardening tips, weather forecasts, movie times, song lyrics,  baseball scores...the list is almost endless. We've all become very efficient at "jumping online" to get answers and solve problems.

Researching within higher education is different. Research in the fields of nursing and allied health, in particular, requires the almost exclusive use of scholarly sources. There are a few exceptions.

  1. If your instructor explicitly says it is okay to use other types of material as a source.
  2. If you need to consult a substantive source like medical encyclopedia to understand your topic before you tackle those jargon-laden journal articles. 

Types of Scholarly Articles


Scholarly journals contain many types of articles. Here are some of the different formats you may see, and some of their defining characteristics:

Review articles (AKA filtered information: includes literature reviews, systematic reviews, meta-analyses):

  • Summarize research on a particular topic
  • Evaluate research on a particular topic 
  • Analyze research on a particular topic
  • Provide no original research on the topic
  • Are often peer reviewed
  • Are considered secondary sources

Primary research articles (unfiltered information: research studies, reports, clinical reports):

  • Ask a research question
  • Identify a research population or group
  • Describe a research method
  • Test or measure something
  • Summarize the results
  • Are almost always peer-reviewed
  • Are considered primary sources

Case studies (unfiltered information: includes case reports)

  • Provide a detailed analysis on one patient/case
  • Draws conclusions only on that one patient/case
  • Ask new questions, suggest new avenues of research
  • Are almost always peer reviewed
  • Are considered primary sources


  • Provide a professional opinion a a particular topic
  • Are selected for publication by an individual editor instead of a peer-review process
  • Are considered primary sources