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NRS328 Research Skills Guide: Evaluating search results

EVALUATING SEARCH RESULTS FOR RELEVANCE

When you get a list of results, you see the brief records of articles. At this stage, you can begin to evaluate your search results.

The first part in evaluating research is assessing the relevance of the research to your needs.

If you look at the titles of articles, you can check that your search uncovered the type(s) of publication you were intending to find. For example, were you seeking only research articles or only systematic reviews? Scan the article titles to check that your search limiters worked as you intended. If you’re unsure by just looking at an article title, click on the article title to see the full record.

Another important aspect of evaluating the relevance of published research is assessing how well the article answers your professional practice or policy question(s) - or your university assignment needs! Remember that right from the start, before you begin searching, you should be very clear about what your information needs are

After checking the article title, you might also wish to check the article abstract. You can see this in the full record. A well-written abstract will give you a clear idea about whether or not the article is relevant to your needs. If the abstract seems relevant, you can proceed to the next step and access the full-text of the article with some confidence that you won’t be wasting time and downloads.

For more information on evaluating the full-text of articles, read on to Evaluating full articles for relevance and rigour.
 
Hint: In CINAHL, you can view an article abstract quickly and easily by simply hovering your mouse over the magnifying-glass icon beside the title of the article :

EVALUATING FULL ARTICLES FOR RELEVANCE AND RIGOUR

In most full-text articles, if you read the introductory section, you can continue to evaluate the relevance of the article to your information needs. Does the introduction make clear what research question(s) the author(s) aimed to answer?  Are these questions relevant to your professional practice, policy development, or other information needs? If not, do not invest any more time in evaluating the article. If so, continue reading the article critically.

If it is a research article, meta-synthesis, or meta-analysis, skim-read the Method section of the article. Consider whether the research setting(s) and participants/informants are relevant to your situation or information needs.  Make a critical judgment about whether the Results and Conclusions in the article will be potentially generalisable or transferrable to your situation or question.

In all of this, you are evaluating the relevance of research: that is, assessing the usefulness of the findings.

But by checking the full-text of a research article, you can also begin a different type of evaluation: assessing the rigour of the study.

Evaluating rigour is concerned with how well the reported findings (or claims) not only answer the research question but are supported by the research methods and data reported in the article. Published articles (even those that have been peer-reviewed) vary widely in their level of rigour.

More specifically, rigour in research refers to the effort that has been made ...

  • to clearly and precisely articulate the research question(s); and
  • to ensure that the research methods, results, and conclusions strongly align with the research question and with each other.

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