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Literature reviews: Health: Evaluating

For level 6/7 students

Look at the 'check your progress' box at the bottom of this page to make sure you have completed all the steps for this stage of your search

Evaluating Health research

Understanding Health Research - this resource gives a really good clear explanation of the different types of health research and will help you assess your findings/

The importance of listing exclusion and inclusion criteria

No search strategy is perfect, so you will need to eliminate articles based on exclusion and inclusion criteria. You need to be transparent with these criteria and list them in your methodology.

These criteria might be geographical location, economic characteristics, similar healthcare systems, type of studies (quantitative or qualitative)...etc.

You can apply these criteria at the title and abstract screening stage (you're likely to eliminate quite a lot of articles during this stage) or at the full-text stage (you might notice that the focus of an article is not relevant to your topic after reading it in full).

The number of titles you exclude and include must be reported using the PRISMA flowchart.

At the bottom of the page you will find a blank Word document for you to use to record your inclusion / Exclusion Criteria



Primary and Secondary Research

In your literature review you will be asked to critically evaluate primary research papers from peer reviewed journals.

Open the sections below on primary and secondary research for some help spotting the difference, and finding your primary research papers.

Primary research is when someone has done something to test a hypothesis for example testing whether a drug improves outcomes for a set of patients, or asking people about their experiences in particular field of healthcare.

Primary Sources include:

  • Cohort studies
  • Surveys
  • Case studies
  • Clinical trials

You may need to open the paper and read a little to see if it is a primary source. Look in the abstract and (if it has one), the methods or methodology section to see if there is an explanation of what research was done.

Literature reviews are not primary research, but a primary source may contain a literature review as one section - just check to make sure that it is about some primary research before including it in your papers.

A secondary source gives an overview of other peoples' research to draw conclusions, or present the current situation in an area of research.

Secondary Sources include:

  • Literature reviews - these could be called reviews, systematic reviews, meta-analysis
  • practice guidelines & standards
  • government & legal Information
  • textbooks
  • entries in nursing or medical encyclopedias

Check your progress

Stage of your search Things to remember
Start to document the number of articles retrieved
  • Once you are happy with your search and the articles being retrieved, start to document how many articles were retrieved from the databases you are searching
Have you developed inclusion/exclusion criteria you can now apply?
  • As you go through your results apply your inclusion/exclusion criteria, but be prepared to adjust them if there are too many or too few results which you can use.
Assess your articles for relevance looking at the title & abstract
  • Initially screen the title and abstracts of your results for relevance
Assess your articles for relevance looking at the full-text
  • Read the full-text of the articles you believe are relevant and eligible for inclusion in your review (which you kept at the Title & Abstract screening stage)
  • Exclude any after reading the full article which are not relevant