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Searching for Health Sciences Research

Learn how to create a searchable question to find and access literature to help answer your clinical question.

Types of Research

In the Health Sciences, we generally categorize evidence into two main types: Filtered and Unfiltered resources. When you look at the traditional evidence pyramid, we are looking at the research cycle: starting with unfiltered information (the original research), once a body of work is established, we can start analyzing and synthesizing the existing research, creating filtered information (i.e., systematic reviews and meta-analyses). 

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Unfiltered (Primary / Original Research)

In the sciences, a primary source is a source that includes original research that's documented at the time of study. A primary source will generally have a Methods section that describes the researchers' procedures and materials. Primary sources can take the form of:

  • original research article
  • scholarly journal article
  • academic journal article
  • thesis or dissertation
  • conference paper
  • lab notebook

Filtered (Secondary Sources / Reviews)

Secondary sources offer analysis, evaluation, interpretation and/or synthesis of primary sources. A secondary source could be:

  • review article
  • literature review
  • systematic review
  • meta-analysis
  • editorial
  • book or product review
  • monograph (book) or book chapter
  • conference proceedings (collections of conference papers)

Filtered (Tertiary Sources)

Tertiary sources offer summaries or compilations of information from primary and secondary sources. A tertiary source could be:

  • encyclopedia, dictionary or handbook
  • textbook
  • bibliography
  • evidence-based care sheet
  • survey article

Study Design Glossary

Systematic Review 
A summary of the clinical literature. A systematic review is a critical assessment and evaluation of all research studies that address a particular clinical issue. The researchers use an organized method of locating, assembling, and evaluating a body of literature on a particular topic using a set of specific criteria. A systematic review typically includes a description of the findings of the collection of research studies. (AHRQ Glossary of Terms)

A work consisting of studies using a quantitative method of combining the results of independent studies (usually drawn from the published literature) and synthesizing summaries and conclusions which may be used to evaluate therapeutic effectiveness, plan new studies, etc. It is often an overview of clinical trials. It is usually called a meta-analysis by the author or sponsoring body and should be differentiated from reviews of literature. (PubMed)

Randomized Controlled Trial 
A controlled clinical trial that randomly (by chance) assigns participants to two or more groups. There are various methods to randomize study participants to their groups. (AHRQ Glossary of Terms)

Controlled Clinical Trial 
A type of clinical trial comparing the effectiveness of one medication or treatment with the effectiveness of another medication or treatment. In many controlled trials, the other treatment is a placebo (inactive substance) and is considered the "control." (AHRQ Glossary of Terms)

Cohort Study 
A clinical research study in which people who presently have a certain condition or receive a particular treatment are followed over time and compared with another group of people who are not affected by the condition. (AHRQ Glossary of Terms)

Case Control Study
The observational epidemiologic study of persons with the disease (or other outcome variable) of interest and a suitable control (comparison, reference) group of persons without the disease. The relationship of an attribute to the disease is examined by comparing the diseased and nondiseased with regard to how frequently the attribute is present or, if quantitative, the levels of the attribute, in each of the groups. (OCEBM Table of Evidence Glossary)

Case Series
A group or series of case reports involving patients who were given similar treatment. Reports of case series usually contain detailed information about the individual patients. This includes demographic information (for example, age, gender, ethnic origin) and information on diagnosis, treatment, response to treatment, and follow-up after treatment. (OCEBM Table of Evidence Glossary)

Case Study
An investigation of a single subject or a single unit, which could be a small number of individuals who seem to be representative of a larger group or very different from it. (Dictionary of Nursing Theory and Research, Fourth Edition)

Work consisting of a statement of the opinions, beliefs, and policy of the editor or publisher of a journal, usually on current matters of medical or scientific significance to the medical community or society at large. The editorials published by editors of journals representing the official organ of a society or organization are generally substantive. (PubMed)

A belief or conclusion held with confidence but not substantiated by positive knowledge or proof. (The Free Dictionary)

Animal Research
A laboratory experiment using animals to study the development and progression of diseases. Animal studies also test how safe and effective new treatments are before they are tested in people.(NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms)

In Vitro Research
In the laboratory (outside the body). The opposite of in vivo (in the body). (NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms)


"Types of Literature Reviews" content from University of Michigan Library's Systematic Reviews guide:
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