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Evidence-based nursing and scholarly sources

Evidence-based practice involves providing the highest quality patient care by reviewing and assessing the scholarly research literature in nursing - not by relying on newspapers, magazines, opinions from colleagues, or personal beliefs. 

Scholarly research allows new discoveries and knowledge to be communicated to health care professionals; therefore, scholarly information can improve patient care and improve nursing practice.  

Try to think of scholarly Information in two ways:

  • Primary (unfiltered) sources: include original research studies, randomized controlled trials, and case-control studies.  These studies have not undergone additional analysis and review beyond that of the peer review process.  
  • Secondary (filtered) sources: include sources that evaluate and analyze existing research and often provide recommendations for practice.  Systematic reviews, critically-appraised topics, and meta-analyses are considered filtered information.

CINAHL and the Evidence Pyramid

To find scholarly sources that support your topics, you need to use a database like CINAHL - do not rely on more commons options like Wikipedia, magazines, newspapers, or a basic Google search.

CINAHL has many related search features like randomized control trial, clinical trials, and meta-analysis, but you should be cautious in using these limits too quickly.  First, start with a very broad search, evaluate the results, then consider using some of the specific search features in order to find a more focused set of research articles.

As always, pay attention to the requirements outlined by your instructor which might require very specific articles such as "limited by date" or "first author is a nurse."

Evidence Pyramid


Evidence Pyramid

Primary Sources: Unfiltered

  • Research Articles
  • Pilot/prospective studies
  • Cohort study - Identifies two groups (cohorts) of patients, one which did receive the exposure of interest, and one which did not, and following these cohorts forward for the outcome of interest.
  • Survey research
  • Case control study - Individuals with a particular condition or disease (the cases) are selected for comparison with individuals who do not have the condition or disease (the controls)
  • Clinical trials
  • Randomized controlled trials/RCTs - An experiment where individuals are randomly assigned to an experimental or control group to test the value or efficiency of a treatment or intervention

Secondary Sources: Filtered

  • Review articles
  • Systematic reviews - are articles in which the authors have systematically searched for and summarized all of the medical literature for a specific topic.
  • Meta-analysis - is a systematic review that uses quantitative methods to summarize the results.
  • Critically appraised topic -  Authors of critically-appraised topics evaluate and synthesize multiple research studies.
  • Clinical practice guidelines
  • Clinical care notes
  • Patient education information

Background Information/Expert Opinion

  • Background Information/Expert Opinion - Handbooks, encyclopedias, and textbooks often provide a good introduction to a topic, but often provides very brief or generalized information.