Online Research Guide

by NurseJournal Staff

This guide offers research tips for nursing students. The page contains guidelines on conducting effective internet searches, finding reliable sources, organizing the information you find, and citing your sources.

The internet has improved the process of conducting academic research. Just a generation ago, students had to sift through physical research materials available through their local and university libraries. The quality and quantity of these materials varied greatly depending location, and students who lived far from large cities faced many disadvantages; some students struggled with finding up-to-date, relevant sources. Today, the internet allows students to access vast stores of information from their own computers. Students can read old and new books, journals, and other information sources from anywhere in the world with an internet connection. Students conducting online research for nursing school should also be aware of some potential pitfalls. For instance, when conducting research online, you must discern the trustworthiness of your sources. Some information may be outdated, and some may not come from reliable websites. The vast resources available can also cause information overload, so you must learn to focus on finding the information you need without becoming sidetracked. This guide offers research tips for nursing students. The page contains guidelines on conducting effective internet searches, finding reliable sources, organizing the information you find, and citing your sources.

Using Google for Online Research

When conducting an internet research, you must filter out unreliable sources and locate search results relevant to your topic. Some tools specifically aid academic research, while others exist in virtually every search engine. You can achieve your desired results by learning to refine your search results. Google is the most commonly used search engine, and offers many helpful research tools. Therefore, we will use Google in our examples below.

Refining Your Search Results

Everyone knows you can type words into a search engine and get literally millions of results. However, most of those results will prove irrelevant to your purpose. When you learn the language of search engines, you can alter search engine settings to find the information you want. Fortunately, Google provides a variety of useful functionalities designed to make your search easier. Google’s search shortcuts can help you to focus in on certain results. For instance, you can use the hyphen to exclude certain words or phrases from your search. Google’s advanced search page allows you to narrow your results by criteria such as language, domain, and time range. A similar tool exists for searching images. Users can apply filters for particular attributes, including color and usage rights. You can find these and other features by clicking the settings button under the search bar. The site search function allows you to limit your search to a particular web domain. To use it, type “site:” into your search bar, followed by the domain you want to search. Do not include a space between the colon and the domain name. You may also add a keyword to your search. For example, typing nursing certification followed by produces results about nursing certification on the official website for the American Nurses Association. You also can use this function to show only results from a particular class of site, such as .edu, .gov, or .org.

Google Scholar

Google Scholar is an online research tool designed specifically for scholarly literature. Results include journal articles, reports, court opinions, books, and abstracts. Google Scholar searches through sources from universities, academic publishers, and other online repositories of scholarly publications. Limiting searches to academic sites eliminates less reliable sources that may not meet acceptable scholarly standards. Google Scholar also lets users view helpful information such as citations, related works, and additional publications by the same author. Results are ranked by relevance to your search, so learning to refine your parameters can improve your results. You also can save articles for later reference and create alerts for new results which meet your search criteria. Google Scholar may provide complete articles rather than just abstracts. However, this sometimes depends on a user’s school or other affiliation. To access resources provided through your college or university library, you must set up your Google Scholar preferences. These preferences include options for result delivery, languages, the user’s library access links and account information. Users may also add a Google Scholar button to their browser’s search bar. Be sure to review these Google Scholar search tips for getting the most out of this service.

Beyond Google

Google reigns as the most popular search engine, but many other online resources exist. Students may use several search engines and databases geared specifically toward academic searches. Many of these sites offer free or discounted services to students. Your school’s library may also provide access. The list below describes some of the most common resources for academic research, including some sites that specifically focus on online research for nurses.


  • AMiner: AMiner collects information about researchers who publish papers, attend academic and professional conferences, and teach courses on particular subjects. Users may search by topic to find researchers whose work fits their criteria.
  • BASE: Bielefeld Academic Search Engine offers results in a variety of academic disciplines. About 60% of the indexed documents are available for free. Results must meet BASE’s high academic standards for relevance and quality.
  • CGP: The Catalog of U.S. Government Publications allows users to search official documents published by the U.S. government, including current and historical sources.
  • CIA World Factbook: The Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook provides information on 267 countries and other entities around the world. This information includes maps and data on each entity’s history, people, geography, government, and economy.
  • ERIC: The U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences hosts ERIC. This database uses a formal review process to decide which scholarly articles, papers, reports, and other documents to include in its index.
  • iSeek Education: This resource compiles scholarly materials from noncommercial providers, including university and government sources. The searchable service allows users to bookmark items they wish to refer to later.
  • National Archives: This searchable catalog includes descriptions for 85% of the National Archives’ holdings, including documents, web pages, pictures, audio files, and videos. Users can also view more than two million digitized copies of government records.
  • OCLC: The OAIster catalog pools open access resources from entities such as libraries, museums, archives, and cultural heritage organizations.
  • CORE: CORE collects open access research materials from sources around the world and indexes them in a searchable database. The public can use CORE free of charge.

For Nursing Students

  • CINAHL Complete: The Cumulative Index of Nursing and Allied Health Literature offers a large database of research material for nurses and students. The site provides full-text access to resources including journals, care sheets, and continuing education modules.
  • MedScape: MedScape provides the latest medical news, research updates, case studies, continuing education opportunities, and disease and drug information for healthcare professionals around the world.
  • National Institute of Nursing Research: Part of the National Institutes of Health, the NINR provides support for nursing research. The website hosts information on research conducted through their programs.
  • Nursing Reference Center: The Nursing Reference Center features various resources for nurses, including care sheets about diseases and treatment options, drug information, information on treating patients from diverse cultural backgrounds, patient handouts, and lessons about diseases and conditions.
  • PubMed: PubMed is a searchable database operated by the U.S. National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health. The site provides abstracts and full-text articles from journals, books, and other publications about life science and medicine.
  • Virginia Henderson Global Nursing e-Repository: The Henderson Repository boasts an open access database of nursing research and practice materials created by nurses. Sigma Theta Tau International, the nursing honor society, sponsors this free resource.

Evaluating Sources

When you conduct research on the web, you must evaluate the reliability of your sources. If your information comes from an untrustworthy source, the quality of your research will suffer and the data you gather may lead to incorrect conclusions. When you need to determine whether or not an online information source is trustworthy, you can ask yourself some questions to help evaluate its quality. The questions below include tips from Georgetown University and the University of Chicago Press.

Who is the Author?

Find the name of the article’s author or creator. Then locate the author’s credentials to determine whether their education and experience qualifies them to speak as an authority on the topic. You also can search for the author’s other works or more information about them. If the source does not list an author, look at the domain to see whether it belongs to a reputable entity.

What is its Purpose?

Look at the article and the site hosting it. Who is the intended audience? Is the information for academics and experts, or the general public? Why was it written and posted? Is it intended to inform or educate the reader, or does it attempt to persuade the reader to view a topic in a certain way? Is it meant to sell a product or service? A non-commercial source that intends to educate the reader without persuasion is most likely to present reliable information.

Does it Look Professional?

When you view the website and read the article, take note of any errors in grammar or spelling. The site’s content should appear clean and organized. Poorly organized content and errors in the text indicate unprofessionalism, as does the use of profanity. If the site emphasizes images over text or appears to focus on selling products or services, it may not be a reliable source for scholarly information.

Is it Objective?

Academic sources should show objectivity, and must not present opinions as hard data. Consider whether the information constitutes fact or opinion. Does the author show any bias? Is the information officially endorsed or approved by an organization? If so, determine whether the organization takes an official position on the issue at hand.

Is it Current?

When researching science and medical topics, students must take care to find the most current information. Scientific knowledge progresses rapidly, and new research appears frequently. Check the publishing date listed on your source. If it is more than a few years old, look for more current sources on the same topic. If a website has not been updated recently, this also may indicate information is outdated.

What Sites does it Link to?

The links featured in your source may provide clues about the information’s reliability. The links should relate to the site’s purpose or the topic at hand. In most cases, a source should link back to research which supports the text. Students may find this information within the text or in a bibliography. Test the links to make sure they work. If the links are broken, the information may be old or outdated.

Organizing Your Research

You will most likely browse a large amount of information as you conduct research online. To avoid becoming overwhelmed, you must remain organized before, during, and after your search. Remember that you must cite all the sources accurately. If you develop a consistent system for locating and organizing your information, your research efforts will be more efficient and accurate. Below are a few basic tips to help you manage and organize your online research.
  • Keep Track of Sources: As you conduct research and take notes, keep track of the source where you found each bit of information. This will help you create accurate citations later.
  • Find the Original Source: Instead of citing an article which discusses information from a source such as a book or published study, find and cite that primary source in your own research.
  • Bookmark Web Pages: When you find a web page which contains information relevant to your research, use your browser’s bookmark function to save the link. Some browsers allow you to group your bookmarks in folders.
  • Record Complete Citations: Don’t rely purely on URLs. When you find data you plan to use, write down all the information required for a complete citation in your bibliography.
  • Note Helpful Websites: When you find a reliable website which offers a lot of helpful information, take note of it so you can return to it for future research.

Online Tools to Manage Your Research

  • EasyBib: This tool helps you improve your writing, take notes, avoid unintentional plagiarism, and add citations in your choice of style. Options include MLA, APA, and Chicago. EasyBib offers basic services and MLA citations for free. Users pay a monthly fee for additional access.
  • Endnote: This software package manages references and bibliographies. Endnote provides research tools and allows teams to share documents, files, and other materials. The software offers student pricing.
  • Mendeley: Designed for science and technology research, Mendeley helps store and organize research documents and files. Mendeley manages citations and lets users connect with others in a research network.
  • RefWorks: This web-based reference management tool stores the user’s reference database in an online portal. Some universities grant their students free access to RefWorks.
  • Zotero: This free, open source software helps users find research materials and organize their information. Zotero manages citations, documents, and other research materials.

Citing Online Resources for Nursing Students

When you write a research paper or create a research presentation, you must follow a consistent format and include a bibliography of all sources you used. Several popular editorial styles exist. Science and social science disciplines, including nursing, most frequently use the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, commonly known as APA style. Alternatively, some institutions require AMA style, created by the American Medical Association. The style you use depends on the institution you attend. These editorial styles establish a consistent format for researchers to follow when publishing their work. They cover aspects of writing such as punctuation, accepted abbreviations, headings, and formatting for statistics and tables. Style also dictates a specific format for listing citations, including the order in which the information must appear and the punctuation required. Such standardization makes it easy for others to read and understand the research and citations.

APA Style

Several examples of APA style from the Purdue Online Writing Lab appear below. You can find an expanded list of such examples on the Purdue website.

Articles From Online Periodicals

What is a DOI?

When an article is published electronically, the publisher assigns a unique digital object identifier (DOI) to it. The DOI provides a permanent identification code and internet link for the article. APA Style recommends that you include DOI in any citation for which it is available. See the examples below.

With DOI

Author, A. A., & Author, B. B. (Date of publication). Title of article. Title of Journal, volume number, page range. doi:0000000/000000000000 or
Brownlie, D. (2007). Toward effective poster presentations: An annotated bibliography. European Journal of Marketing, 41, 1245-1283. doi:10.1108/03090560710821161

Without DOI

Author, A. A., & Author, B. B. (Date of publication). Title of article. Title of Journal, volume number. Retrieved from
Kenneth, I. A. (2000). A Buddhist response to the nature of human rights. Journal of Buddhist Ethics, 8. Retrieved from

Newspaper Articles

Author, A. A. (Year, Month Day). Title of article. Title of Newspaper. Retrieved from
Parker-Pope, T. (2008, May 6). Psychiatry handbook linked to drug industry. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Electronic Books

De Huff, E. W. (n.d.). Taytay’s tales: Traditional Pueblo Indian tales. Retrieved from
Davis, J. (n.d.). Familiar birdsongs of the Northwest. Available from inkey=1-9780931686108-0

AMA Style

The AMA Manual of Style details official guidelines for writing and citing medical research. The style is maintained by the American Medical Association. The examples below originate from the Arizona Health Sciences Library website and the USciences website.

No Author Name Provided

Format: Name of organization. Title of specific item cited. URL. Accessed date. Example: International Society for Infectious Diseases. ProMED-mail Website. Accessed April 29, 2004.

Author Name Provided

Format: Author A. Title. Name of website. URL. Updated date. Accessed date. Example: Sullivan D. Major search engines and directories. SearchEngineWatch Website. Updated April 28, 2004. Accessed December 6, 2005.

Online Journal Article With Six or Fewer Authors; DOI Included

Example: Florez H, Martinez R, Chakra W, Strickman-Stein M, Levis S. Outdoor exercise reduces the risk of hypovitaminosis D in the obese. J Steroid Biochem Mol Bio. 2007;103(3-5):679-681. doi:10.1016 /j.jsbmb.2006.12.032.

Online Journal Article With Six or More Authors; DOI Not Included

Example: Siris ES, Miller PD, Barrett-Connor E, et al. Identification and fracture outcomes of undiagnosed low bone mineral density in postmenopausal women: results from the National Osteoporosis Risk Assessment. JAMA. 2001;286(22):2815-2822. /2815. Accessed April 4, 2007. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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