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Tips For Identifying Primary Research

Within journals you will find a range of articles, including research, news, expert opinion and book reviews. Although all of these can be useful, you will need to know how to identify primary research.


Primary Research (original research) articles report on and share new research findings. Examples include: focus groups, interviews, surveys, observations, experiments.

Secondary Research (desk research) articles evaluate and synthesize existing primary research. Examples include: literature reviews, systematic reviews, meta-analyses.


When identifying primary research look out for:

  • a methodology or method which describes the processes involved in undertaking the study
  • a description of how the sample was obtained (how were the participants recruited?)
  • the method of data collection (were participants interviewed? were blood samples taken?)
  • the analysis of the results
  • there will be a literature review that will set out existing knowledge and understanding and is not the sole focus of the article.

Various research methods can be used. The main types are Qualitative and Quantitative.

Quantitative vs Qualitative

Quantitative research aims to measure or quantify the subject of the study. Data collection will often be numerical. The sample size in quantitative research tends to be large and there may be statistical analysis of the data collected. 

Here is an example of a quantitative research journal article.

YouTube Video: How to find quantitative research in CINAHL

Qualitative research aims to explore meaning and understanding of what is being studied through looking at experiences. Qualitative research records words rather than numbers and is often descriptive in nature.  

Here is an example of a qualitative research journal article.


Review Chart

Click here to view a reference chart outlining the differences between qualitative and quantitative research.

What To Look For In Journal Articles

In the title or abstract (summary of the article)

Look for words that describe research and the research process undertaken:

e.g. research, qualitative research, quantitative research, study, experiment, survey, questionnaire etc.

In the text of the article

Look for words / subheadings / sections of the article which describe the research process including:

  • Methodology / method of how the research was carried out
  • Details about the sample, size and how it was sources and selected
  • Possibly ethics and issues around bias, confidentiality etc.
  • Details about the data collection (recruitment of participants etc.)
  • Provide a literature review to set the research in context of existing knowledge and understanding (this should only be part of the article).
  • Provide the results and an analysis of the results (this could be in the form of tables, graphs,charts, quotes, transcripts etc. It will depend on the research method(s) used.
  • Conclusions and suggestions for practice or future research

Understanding And Critiquing Research Papers

Click here for more information on understanding and critiquing qualitative research papers.

Click here for more information on understanding and critiquing quantitative research papers.


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