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How to recognize NURS study methodology: Home

This guide covers how to recognize different kinds of nursing research articles, like primary sources and experimental studies, as well as how to figure out components of the study design like independent and dependent variables.

Using this guide

For some of your NURS classes, you'll have to evaluate if the research articles you find match the specific criteria your professor wants. You may be asked to find specific study types, or to identify the dependent and independent variables in a study. The tabs at the top of this page describe some basic categories of articles or variables you might have to find or identify. Click on each page to learn more about how to recognize and differentiate these types of articles.


A red exclamation point calls attention here.It's important to remember that these categories are not necessarily exclusive of each other. For example, a study can be a primary study, observational, retrospective, and longitudinal all at once. But also not every category will be relevant to every study.

Example Article Evaluation

Here is an example showing how you might assess the title and abstract of a work to identify what kind of study this is.

Image of an abstract with information relevant to determining article type highlighted and color coded. Same info is represented below in text.

Primary v. Secondary

This is a primary article. The title identifies it as a randomized controlled trial, and an RCT is only ever a primary article type. Learn more here.

Observational v. Experimental

This is an experimental study. Notice that the abstract says "patients were recruited...then randomly assigned to two groups." In an observational study the researchers can't control whether or not patients are exposed to the intervention or independent variable, so if these groups were assigned this makes it an experimental study where researchers control who receives the intervention. Learn more here.

Cross Sectional v. Longitudinal

This is a longitudinal study. Researchers checked in with study participants three times: "immediately, 1 month, and 3 months." This means it's a longitudinal study which follows participants over a period of time, rather than a cross sectional study which measures participants once. Learn more here.

Dependent Variable(s)

The dependent variable is "adherence to treatment in hemodialysis patients." This is what is being measured in the study and what the researchers want to determine if education will effect. It depends on that patient education. Learn more here.

Independent Variable(s)

The independent variable is "the patient education program and nurse led telephone follow up." This is what is expected to cause a change in patient adherence to treatment. Learn more here.

Prospective v. Retrospective

This study is neither! Learn more here.

This abstract is excerpted from Arad, M., Goli, R., Parizad, N., Vahabzadeh, D., & Baghaei, R. (2021). Do the patient education program and nurse-led telephone follow-up improve treatment adherence in hemodialysis patients? A randomized controlled trial. BMC nephrology, 22(1), 119.   CC-BY 4.0


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Susan Vandagriff
EPC 223