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University of Washington Health Sciences Library

ENGL 199H / HSERV 100: Library databases & techniques for literature reviews

What is research?

What is research?

  • The organized quest for new knowledge and better understanding (Stedman's Medical Dictionary, 28th ed)
  • Investigation or experimentation aimed at the discovery and interpretation of facts, revision of accepted theories or laws in the light of new facts, or practical application of such new or revised theories or laws (Merriam-Webster, 2011)

Research can be categorized in many different ways:

  • basic or applied
  • observational or interventional
  • qualitative or quantitative
  • primary or secondary

What do all types of research have in common?

  • structured process: uses a scientific perspective to analyze an issue of interest and develop an approach for studying it
  • methodology: follows recognized procedures appropriate to the research area
  • objectivity: incorporates multiple perspectives yet remains unbiased
  • context: prior research on the topic, future directions


How can I tell if an article is research?

Examine the Title of the Article

Sometimes the authors indicate the study type or design in the title of the article.


  • Sarris J, Byrne GJ. A systematic review of insomnia and complementary medicine. Sleep Med Rev. 2010 Jun 5. 
  • Hammond FM, Davis CS, Whiteside OY, Philbrick P, Hirsch MA. Marital adjustment and stability following traumatic brain injury: a pilot qualitative analysis of spouse perspectives. J Head Trauma Rehabil. 2011 Jan/Feb;26(1): 69-78. 


Examine the Abstract and/or Full Text Article 

Abstract: Look for key phrases such as the following.

"This study examines..."
"The purpose of this study was to..."
"The study's findings support..."
"We investigated..."
"The results of this study confirm..."

Examine the article for a structured outline such as the IMRAD format.

Introduction (Background, Objective)
Methodology (Methods)
Anaylsis  (Conclusion)



Examine the Indexing of an Article in a Bibliographic Database   

Bibliographic databases usually identify the publication type of a given article. Type of publication or subject headings can often include the type of research methodology used in the article. The organizations who funded the study may be identified. NOTE: there is a delay before an article is indexed in a databases, so this will not work with very recent articles.


NOTE: The best way to determine if an article is a research report is to read it.  Having determined that the article does describe a research study, the next step is to evaluate how well the research was done.


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