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Nursing 4402 - Fall 2019


Guide to Nursing Research

Guide to Nursing Research for NURS 4402

The Research Cycle

Explore Your Topic

1. Explore Your Topic

Before you settle on a topic, it's a good idea to do some background research first. The library is a great source for background information!

Refine Your Topic

2. Refine Your Topic

Now that you've done some background research, it's time to narrow your topic. Remember: the shorter your final paper, the narrower your topic needs to be.

Search for Sources

3. Search For Sources

After you've refined your topic, it's time to start searching for sources. Do you need books, articles, or something else?

Evaluate Your Sources

4. Evaluate Your Sources

It's always a good idea to evaluate sources before using them in your assignment. Do you need to have scholarly sources or the most recent research?

Writing Center

5. Write

Pull everything together to share your argument and your evidence. Tie ideas from your sources together with your own thoughts and analysis to make a compelling case.

Develop a Topic

Develop Your Topic

Before you develop your research topic or question, you'll need to do some background research first.

Some good places to find background information:

  • Your textbook or class readings
  • Encyclopedias and reference books
  • Credible websites
  • Library databases

Try the library databases below to explore your topic. When you're ready, move on to refining your topic.

Find Background Information:

Now that you've done some background research, it's time to narrow your topic. Remember: the shorter your final paper, the narrower your topic needs to be. Here are some suggestions for narrowing and defining your topic:

  • Is there a specific subset of the topic you can focus on?
  • Is there a cause and effect relationship you can explore?
  • Is there an unanswered question on the subject?
  • Can you focus on a specific time period or group of people?


Use PICO to develop a searchable question: 

Form a Research Question

What is PICO?

"PICO" is an acronym you can use to create your research question. When you use PICO, you define each part of the question by breaking it down into its essential parts. This will help you come up with the keywords and phrases you'll need to make your search strategy.

By doing this BEFORE you attempt to do a search, you can ensure that you will not waste your time looking at search results that are irrelevant to your search.

Create a Searchable Question

The PICO framework is an excellent tool to get at the root of your clinical problem. However, it is NOT a good format to search a database. You have to determine the keywords or the main ideas of your question when searching in a database. 

Start your search using only one or two PICO elements in combination: try the P and the I elements first. Combine them using "AND."

Do not include the O element in your initial search unless you must. 

Search Effectively

Basic Search Tips

SearchUnlike Google, library databases can't understand an entire sentence. So you'll need to break your topic down into the most important ideas - the KEYWORDS.

Example Topic: Is acetaminophen more effective than other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for pain relief in patients with osteoarthritis?

The specifics of your topic will matter when selecting sources, but for searching you only need the most essential components.

Keywords: acetaminophen, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, pain relief, osteoarthritis

Animated GIF shows how to identify keywords

Most words have synonyms that mean the same, or very similar, things. For each keyword in your topic, try to come up with at least one synonym. Not all keywords will have synonyms, but many do!


Keyword: pain relief    Synonym: pain management


Keep an Eye Out

Sometimes scholars use terms that you might not be familiar with, or which might mean something very specific within the discipline. While searching, look for unfamiliar terms or words that show up a lot. Try searching for those and see if you find more relevant sources.

example database tools locationMost library databases have search tools built in. Try some of these:

  • Subject: Think of subjects as official hashtags. Use them to find sources about that subject.
  • Date Range: Limit your search to sources published between specific years.
  • Peer Reviewed: Limit your search to scholarly journal articles.
  • Full Text: Make sure all of the results are available to read in full.

Look on the left and right of your search results, or for an "advanced search" page to find these tools - and more!


You can evaluate any source using the 5 W's:

  • Who: ...wrote it? Are they an expert?
  • What: the purpose of this resource?
  • Where: ...was this information published? ...does the information come from?
  • When: ...was this published or last updated?
  • Why: this resource useful? this resource better than other ones?

Advanced Search Tips

Use the operator AND to find only sources that mention both keywords.

acetaminophen AND osteoarthritis

This search will bring back fewer results than searching either keyword on its own.


Use the OR operator to expand your search with additional keywords.

pain relief OR pain management

This will find sources that include either word, so you'll see more results than by searching for just one keyword.


Use the “QUOTES” strategy to search for several words in a phrase.

"pain relief"

This will bring back results that only use that exact phrase.


Practice Case

Practice Case

You are working in a small, rural hospital where primary population has become elderly patients. You and other nurses are working together to update patient safety procedures. When you look at hospital records, you realize that falls are the number one risk factor among your patients. You decide to look into what the effectiveness of restraints is in reducing the occurrence of falls in patients 65 and over.


What are the main ideas - or keywords - that you would search for?

  • P – _________________
  • I – _________________
  • C – _________________
  • O – _________________

A Note About Choosing Search Terms

Start your search using only one or two PICO elements in combination: try the P and the I elements first. Combine them using "AND."

Do not include the O element in your initial search unless you must. 

Find Sources

Start Searching

SuperSearch doesn't have everything! Check out the tabs below to search for more specific types of information. For more help searching, visit the Search Effectively page.

Find Sources

stack of journals

Also known as "Scholarly Articles," "Refereed Articles," or "Academic Articles." These sources are written and reviewed by scholars; this means the information is approved by other experts before publication.

Key Features of Journal Articles:

  • Provide new research, analysis, or information about a specific topic
    • The information is based on research and expertise
  • Usually focused on a narrow subject or a single case study
  • Intended for an academic audience

Find Nursing Journal Articles:

Unlike journal articles, scholarly books:

  • Are written on a broader, general subject
  • May contain a collection of related chapters by different authors
  • Contain less recent information

Remember: you may only need to read one chapter of a scholarly book!

Find Books:

Refworks Basics

Welcome to Refworks!

RefWorks is a web-based program that allows you to easily collect, manage, and organize all of your bibliographic citations. You can import citations, create bibliographies, and share folders with others in your group.

To access Refworks directly, go to

To access Refworks from the KSU Library's website, under Additional Resources, select Refworks Proquest.


Create an account

To create a RefWorks account:

  1. Go to and click the “Create Account” link.
  2. Fill in your information making sure to use your KSU email address (you can’t sign up with,, etc.).  
  3. You'll receive an email with a link to complete the registration process. Once you activate your account, you’ll get access immediately and can get started managing your documents.

Creating and sharing folders

1. Create folders in your RefWorks account to organize your information. On the left side of the page, select My Folders, then Add a Folder:

2. Organize your imported articles into folders. To see how to do this, please watch this tutorial:

3. Share the folder with your group members so that they can add their articles too. Select the 3 dots to the right of your folder's name to add the email addresses of the members. Make sure to select "can modify" to give them access to add articles. 


Create a Bibliography

 The magical part of RefWorks is that it will create your References page for you!

  • First, select the articles in your folder that you want to cite.
  • Then, select the quote marks in the top bar and then "Create bibliography."

  • Next, select your citation style:

  • Select "Copy to Clipboard" to copy and paste into your final document! 

For more information, please watch this video tutorial:

Refworks Guide and Tutorials

For more information about RefWorks, check out their website:

Export to RefWorks

Export from Cinahl

Here is a video tutorial from another library showing how to export articles from Cinahl into Refworks. 

Export from Cochrane Library

1. Select title of article that you want to import:

2. Select Info - the 2nd icon on the left side of the article:

3. Select "View/save citation"

4. Save citation to RefWorks:

5. Select "Export to New RefWorks"

Export from Nursing & Allied Health Database

1. Click on the title of the article that you want to save.

2. On the next page, underneath the Download PDF button, select Save. 

3. Under "Save to My Research," select RefWorks.

4.  Click Continue

5. Select "Export to the new RefWorks."

Export from Joanna Briggs Institute

NOTE: The export function from JBI isn't completely working. It only exports the permalink to the article -- not any of the rest of the citation information. However, you can add this information within RefWorks. 

1. Select the articles you want to export.


2.  Select Export:

3. Select RefWorks from the drop-down menu, then select Export:

4. Select "Export to the new RefWorks"


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Search Strategies

Use PICO to make keywords

Starting with your PICO statement, come up with your keywords. You can use all or just some of the different parts of PICO as keywords:

P: Population
Elderly hospital patients

I: Improvement
Fall reduction

C: Comparison
Standard practice

O: Outcomes
The number of 

Combine keywords for best results

Think of related terms