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Effective online nursing research skills can make a tremendous difference for your academic success in nursing school and throughout your career. Medicine and nursing change rapidly, and knowing how to conduct nursing research online keeps your skills and knowledge current.
Successful research includes both how to use nursing literature search engines and how to analyze the information you find. This helps you distinguish between reliable information that supports evidence-based nursing and misleading information that can influence your ability to care for patients.
This guide can help you find and effectively use the best nursing research websites and other research tools, whether you need a writing guide for nurses, continuing education coursework, or just hope to increase your knowledge in the field.
Conducting Online Research for Nursing Students
You can conduct most of your nursing research online, but some sources may not be available online. For example, your school library may subscribe to print journals not published on the internet. Many important books only exist in print.
Your school or hospital librarian is an invaluable resource to help you find materials online or in print. If your school or hospital doesn't have a specific book or article, the librarian might be able to get it through an interlibrary loan service.
You can use only online nursing research tools if the most significant publications on a topic are available online. Otherwise, consider using print resources too.
Refining Your Search Results
When conducting online research, you must filter out unreliable sources and locate search results relevant to your topic. Fortunately, Google searches and other nursing literature search engines have tools to help you narrow your research to get the most reliable results.
Filter by type of domain: For example, government and education sites rarely have a financial interest in selling a product or service. They review information carefully before adding it to their sites. To filter results to authoritative domains, add site:.gov or site:.edu to your search query.
Filter by particular site: If you know a site is the best information source on a topic, you can search only that site through Google. To do this, simply add site:[website address] and then your search term.
Filter by date: This ensures you have the most current information on a topic. After entering a search query, click on Tools, and select an option under "Any time."
Filter by a specific keyword or phrase, exactly as you type it: This gives you more focused results, especially for a broad topic. To filter for a specific keyword or phrase, place the search query in quotes.
Filter by results, excluding a specific keyword or phrase: This helps you get rid of unwanted results like sale listings. You can exclude certain results by typing a minus sign in front of a term or phrase, such as stethoscope -"for sale."
In addition to open web searches, you can use the specialty nursing literature search engines listed below.
Google Scholar has special features to make it easier to find the most relevant professional literature on a topic. Besides letting you refine your search by date, it displays related articles or other articles by the author. If the piece is available in full-text online, Google Scholar links to the page. If not, you can search to see if your library has the article or can get you a copy.
Google Scholar also tells you how many other papers cite a particular source. While this doesn't necessarily mean that an article has reliable and current information, it does demonstrate the article's influence.
The search engine also offers tools to help you manage your research projects and write papers. You can create a citation in several standard formats and save an article to a list. You can make as many lists as you like, such as one for different topics or assignments.
If you want to follow a specific topic, refine your search to give you preferred results, and then select "create alert." You will then receive emails with new articles as Google Scholar indexes them.
Online Research Tools
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 focus on online research for nurses.
General Academic Research Tools
- 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 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.
Nursing Research Tools
- 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.
- Sigma Repository: The Sigma 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.
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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 an online information source's reputation, 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 hosting site. 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 noncommercial source that intends to educate the reader without persuasion is most likely to be reliable.
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 is 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 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 references list.
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 your 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 book or published study, find and cite that primary source in your own research.
Bookmark Web Pages: When you find a webpage containing 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 the 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. This formatting makes it easy for readers to retrieve sources that may interest them.
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 the DOI in any citation for which it is available. See the examples below.
Author, A. A., & Author, B. B. (Date of publication). Title of article. Title of Journal, volume number, page range. doi:0000000/000000000000 or http://doi.org/10.0000/0000
Brownlie, D. (2007). Toward effective poster presentations: An annotated bibliography. European Journal of Marketing, 41, 1245-1283. doi:10.1108/03090560710821161
Author, A. A., & Author, B. B. (Date of publication). Title of article. Title of Journal, volume number. Retrieved from https://www.journalhomepage.com/full/url/
Kenneth, I. A. (2000). A Buddhist response to the nature of human rights. Journal of Buddhist Ethics, 8. Retrieved from https://www.cac.psu.edu/jbe/twocont.html
Author, A. A. (Year, Month Day). Title of article. Title of Newspaper. Retrieved from https://www.homeaddress.com/
Parker-Pope, T. (2008, May 6). Psychiatry handbook linked to drug industry. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/
Last name, A. A. (n.d.). Title. Available from https://www.urlofebook.com/full/url/
Davis, J. (n.d.). Familiar birdsongs of the Northwest. Available from https://www.powells.com/cgi-bin/biblio? inkey=1-9780931686108-0
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
Name of organization. Title of specific item cited. URL. Accessed date.
International Society for Infectious Diseases. ProMED-mail Website. https://www.promedmail.org. Accessed April 29, 2004.
Author Name Provided
Author A. Title. Name of website. URL. Updated date. Accessed date.
Sullivan D. Major search engines and directories. SearchEngineWatch Website. https://www.searchenginewatch.com/links/article.php/2156221. Updated April 28, 2004. Accessed December 6, 2005.
Online Journal Article With Six or Fewer Authors -- DOI Included
Author A. Title. Name of online journal. URL. Publication year;volume(issue):page numbers. doi.
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
Author A. Title. Name of online journal. URL. Publication year;volume(issue):page numbers. Access date.
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. https://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/reprint/286/22 /2815. Accessed April 4, 2007.
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