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NUR 311: Nursing Research and Evidence-Based Practice

Course guide developed by your Librarian

Critical Appraisal

Critical appraisal is an integral process in Evidence Based Practice. Critical appraisal aims to identify methodological flaws in the literature and provide consumers of research, evidence the opportunity to make informed decisions about the quality of research evidence.

Structure of a Scholarly Article

A scholarly article, also known as a research or original article, is one of the main ways new knowledge and discoveries are communicated to a scientific or academic community.  It is a full-length document on original research.  A scholarly article generally consists of the background of a research topic, its study design and methodology, the results of the study, and then its conclusion.  The scholarly articles or publications used to inform the research are listed at the end of the article as its references. 

Another main objective of a scholarly article is to give readers enough information about a study to reproduce it.  Redoing a study may confirm its initial findings or reveal its possible shortcomings.  When a study is repeated with consistent results, it possesses validity or is highly likely to have a truthful result. The new findings then can be added to its subject's body of knowledge. When a repeated study has different results than its initial study, it may signify that a gap still remains in that area of knowledge or that subsequent studies may be needed.

For the convenience of readers, scholarly articles written within many STEM fields have evolved to follow an IMRAD format (or something close to it). Please refer to the table on the left.

Primary research articles (also called empirical, clinical studies, or research articles) contain firsthand information or original data on a topic that is not interpreted, evaluated, or analyzed. These articles also include components of a variation of these elements: Introduction, Methods, Results, an Discussion. Primary research articles are usually peer-reviewed (i.e. article was critically evaluated by experts in the field before accepted for publication).

Empirical research is based on observed and measured phenomena and derives knowledge from actual experience rather than from theory or belief. How do you know if a study is empirical? Read the subheadings within the article, book, or report and look for a description of the research "methodology." Ask yourself: Could I recreate this study and test these results?

Key characteristics to look for:

  • Specific research questions to be answered
  • Definition of the population, behavior, or phenomena being studied
  • Description of the process used to study this population or phenomena, including selection criteria, controls, and testing instruments (such as surveys)

Another hint: some scholarly journals use a specific layout, called the "IMRaD" format, to communicate empirical research findings. Such articles typically have 4 components:

  • Introduction: sometimes called "literature review" -- what is currently known about the topic -- usually includes a theoretical framework and/or discussion of previous studies
  • Methodology: sometimes called "research design" -- how to recreate the study -- usually describes the population, research process, and analytical tools
  • Results: sometimes called "findings" -- what was learned through the study -- usually appears as statistical data or as substantial quotations from research participants
  • Discussion: sometimes called "conclusion" or "implications" -- why the study is important -- usually describes how the research results influence professional practices or future studies

Summarize a research article