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Capstone and PICO (T) Project Toolkit: 6. Critical Appraisal

Guide to locating research for evidence synthesis projects and assignments.

Critical Appraisal Resources

Ranking and Appraising the Evidence

Appraising an article, a report, a protocol, a printed recommendation, etc. begins as you look at the document and evaluate the methodology and source of the research.

Start appraising by asking the following questions:

  • Who is the author?
  • Was it published by a credible source?  (a scholarly journal?  a popular periodical, e.g, newspaper or magazine?  an association? an organization?)
  • Is the source a book?  A journal article? (Usually a journal name will be in italics.)  Use a library catalog like Bobcat, to find a book in Bobst Library.
  • What is the date of publication?
  • What is the data or research based on?  If it is a scholarly article, is there a "Methods" section?
  • Is there a reference list at the end of the document?  From the reference list, you can assess currency of the information, credibility of the sources, level of evidence of the source material.

Tips for determining the "level of evidence" for an article.

  1. Use the evidence pyramid or scheme supplied by your professor.
  2. To track down a journal citation, select an article database (PubMed, CINAHL, PsycINFO etc.) using the author, article title, OR journal title.
  3. Other tools for tracking down a citation not easily found in databases:  scholar.google.com OR google.com   Googling may provide a path to a more obscure document or report.
  4. Within the article database, notice the "Publication Type" field for an individual citation.  There is often an indication that a citation is a "randomized controlled trial,"  a "case report," a "Review" article, etc. 
  5. Caution, a "review" is not necessarily a "systematic review."  Even if the title or abstract says "systematic review," carefully evaluate whether it is a true systematic review or merely a literature/narrative review.
  6. Look at the article Abstract.  Often an abstract will indicate the research design or methodology.  This can indicate the level of evidence.
  7. Link to the full text of an article; then look for the Methods section to review how the research was conducted.
  8. Use critical appraisal tools (CASP, PRISMA, etc.)  to fully appraise article evidence.
  9. If you have difficulty tracking down a citation in a reference list  using the above tips, consider this a potential indication of the quality of the original document.  Perhaps a typo or mistake is the result of careless information.  What does that tell you about the quality of the evidence?

More Helpful Links

Common Types of Research Designs

Here are some common types of research design from Understanding Research Study Designs (University of Minnesota)

  • Case Series and Case Reports
  • Case Control Studies
  • Cohort Studies
  • Randomized Controlled Studies
  • Double Blind Method
  • Meta Analyses
  • Systematic Reviews

PRISMA and editable PRISMA Statements

PRISMA or Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses is an evidence-based protocol for reporting information in systematic reviews and meta-analyses.

  • The PRISMA STATEMENT, a 27-item checklist and a four-phase flow diagram to help authors improve the reporting of systematic reviews and meta-analyses.
  • PRISMA also offers editable templates for the flow diagram as PDF and Word documents