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INF 220: Intermediate Research Skills

This guide expands on the topics you've explored in INF: 220

Librarian Tip

Differentiating between types of sources can be challenging and is an important skill to develop. This page explains three different search strategies for finding articles of particular methodologies and how to differentiate between them. In reality, you're going to combine these strategies to be as efficient and effective as possible. 

DefinitionsSearch StrategiesEvaluation Techniques | Hands-on Practice

Qualitative vs. Quantitative Research

  Qualitative Quantitative

To understand and interpret social interactions.

Research that seeks to provide understanding of human experience, perceptions, motivations, intentions, and behaviours based on description and observation and utilizing a naturalistic interpretative approach to a subject and its contextual setting.

To test hypotheses, look at cause & effect, and make predictions.

Research based on traditional scientific methods, which generates numerical data and usually seeks to establish causal relationships between two or more variables, using statistical methods to test the strength and significance of the relationships.

Involves: Observations described in words of behavior in natural environment. Observations measured in numbers of behavior under controlled conditions; isolate causal effects.
Starts with: A situation the researcher can observe. A testable hypothesis.
Scientific Method: Exploratory or bottom up: the researcher can generate a new hypothesis and theory from the data collected. Confirmatory or top-down: the researcher tests the hypothesis and theory with the data.
Nature of Reality: Multiple realities; subjective. Human behavior is dynamic, situational, social and personal. Single reality; objective. Human behavior is regular and predictable.
Goals of study design: Participants are comfortable with the researcher. They are honest and forthcoming, so that the researcher can make robust observations.

Others can repeat the findings of the study.

Variables are defined and correlations between them are studied.

Drawbacks: If the researcher is biased, or is expecting to find certain results, it can be difficult to make completely objective observations. Researchers may be so careful about measurement methods that they do not make connections to a greater context.
Variables: Study of the whole, not variables. Specific variables studied.
Group Studied: Smaller and not as randomly selected. Larger and more randomly selected.
Some methods:

Open-ended interviews

Focus groups


Participant observation

Field notes

Close-ended interviews

Surveys and other instruments

Clinical Trials

Laboratory Experiments

Final Report Narrative report with contextual description and direct quotes from research participants. Statistical report with correlations, comparisons of means, statistical significance of findings.


Mixed Methods Research

Mixed-methods is more than simply the ad hoc combination of qualitative and quantiative data in a single study. It involves the planned mixing of qualitative and quantitative methods at a predetermined stage of the research process, be it during the initial study planning, the process of data collection, data analysis or reporting, in order to better answer the research question. 

Dictionary of Nursing Theory and Research

Strategy One: Keywords


You may remember from previous research instruction that keywords are words or phrases used to describe your research topic. Try including a type of research or research methodology as one of your keywords - for example, diabetes AND quantitative. This should help narrow down your search results to exactly the type of article you're looking for. Below are a couple of other examples:

CINAHL search showing use of keyword for content

CINAHL search box showing use of keyword for research methodology


Strategy Two: Filters & Limits

Database Tools:

Databases are here to help! Be sure to examine the limiter or filter options that are available. Some databases will include ways you can narrow your results to specific types of scholarly articles or specific types of research. For example:

Limit results to Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals


Limit results to Research Articles



Strategy Three: Subject Terms

Subject Terms:

Subject terms are search terms that have already been assigned to each source within a database as one way to describe the content. Most databases include Subject Terms, Subject Headings, Keywords, or some other option amongst the limiters/filters to browse terms related to what you've already searched for. You can then select terms related to types of scholarly articles or types of research to help limit your results.  Below is am example of the keywords available after searching in the database Scopus. Potentially useful limiters have a red circle next to them.

Remember: If you're stuck,  consider contacting your librarian! 


What Does the Abstract Tell You?

Very often, the abstract of an article will make it clear what type of research has been done, as seen in the example below. This journal even lists the type of research as one of the article's keywords.

Initial Evaluation: What kind of research is this article?

  1. Start with the title and work your way down through publication type, abstract, and the other items in the database record.
  2. The author(s), journal and database want you to know what the article is, they aren't trying to trick you!
  3. Reviews are when the authors are summarizing, or reviewing the available literature on a topic. These are not considered original research articles.
  4. Mixed methods research uses qualitative AND quantitative methods, so remember to check for both. 
  5. Are there other assignment criteria for the article you're evaluating? Don't forget those too!

Think you found an article that works? Great!

Remember to read the whole article to be certain!

Practice: Identifying Qualitative and Quantitative Research Articles

Practice: Finding Qualitative and Quantitative Research Articles

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