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Nursing Research: 8200: 436: Understanding Scientific Terms

Nursing Faculty: Pamela L. Bonnett, Spring 2017

Commonly Used Terms in Scientific Literature: Sources: U.S. National Library of Medicine. National Information Center on Health Services Research and Health Care Technology (NICHSR). "HTA 101: Glossary" at:

  • Case-control study: a retrospective observational study designed to determine the relationship between a particular outcome of interest (e.g., disease or condition) and a potential cause (e.g., an intervention, risk factor, or exposure). Investigators identify a group of patients with a specified outcome (cases) and a group of patients without the specified outcome (controls). Investigators then compare the histories of the cases and the controls to determine the rate or level at which each group experienced a potential cause. As such, this study design leads from outcome (disease or condition) to cause (intervention, risk factor, or exposure).
  • Case study: an uncontrolled (prospective or retrospective) observational study involving an intervention and outcome in a single patient. (Also known as a single case report or anecdote.)
  • Clinical practice guidelines: a systematically developed statement to assist practitioner and patient decisions about appropriate health care for one or more specific clinical circumstances. The development of clinical practice guidelines can be considered to be a particular type of HTA; or, it can be considered to be one of the types of policymaking that is informed or supported by HTA.
  • Cohort study: an observational study in which outcomes in a group of patients that received an intervention are compared with outcomes in a similar group i.e., the cohort, either contemporary or historical, of patients that did not receive the intervention. In an adjusted- (or matched-) cohort study, investigators identify (or make statistical adjustments to provide) a cohort group that has characteristics (e.g., age, gender, disease severity) that are as similar as possible to the group that experienced the intervention.
  • Control group: a group of patients that serves as the basis of comparison when assessing the effects of the intervention of interest that is given to the patients in the treatment group. Depending upon the circumstances of the trial, a control group may receive no treatment, a "usual" or "standard" treatment, or a placebo. To make the comparison valid, the composition of the control group should resemble that of the treatment group as closely as possible. (See also historical control and concurrent nonrandomized control.)
  • Controlled clinical trial: a prospective experiment in which investigators compare outcomes of a group of patients receiving an intervention to a group of similar patients not receiving the intervention. Not all clinical trials are RCTs, though all RCTs are clinical trials.
  • Cross-sectional study: a (prospective or retrospective) observational study in which a group is chosen (sometimes as a random sample) from a certain larger population, and the exposures of people in the group to an intervention and outcomes of interest are determined.
  • Delphi technique: an iterative group judgment technique in which a central source forwards surveys or questionnaires to isolated, anonymous (to each other) participants whose responses are collated/summarized and recirculated to the participants in multiple rounds for further modification/critique, producing a final group response (sometimes statistical).
  • Literature review: a summary and interpretation of research findings reported in the literature. May include unstructured qualitative reviews by single authors as well as various systematic and quantitative procedures such as meta-analysis. (Also known as overview.)
  • Meta-analysis: systematic methods that use statistical techniques for combining results from different studies to obtain a quantitative estimate of the overall effect of a particular intervention or variable on a defined outcome. This combination may produce a stronger conclusion than can be provided by any individual study. (Also known as data synthesis or quantitative overview.)
  • Observational study: a study in which the investigators do not intervene, but simply observe the course of events over time. That is, investigators do not manipulate the use of, or deliver, an intervention or exposure (e.g., do not assign patients to treatment and control groups), but only observe patients who are (and sometimes patients who are not, as a basis of comparison) receive the intervention or exposure, and interpret the outcomes. These studies are more subject to selection bias than experimental studies such as randomized controlled trials. (Contrast with interventional study.)
  • Randomized controlled trial (RCT): an experiment (and therefore a prospective study) in which investigators randomly assign an eligible sample of patients to one or more treatment groups and a control group and follow patients' outcomes. (Also known as randomized clinical trial.)
  • Systematic review: a form of structured literature review that addresses a question that is formulated to be answered by analysis of evidence, and involves objective means of searching the literature, applying predetermined inclusion and exclusion criteria to this literature, critically appraising the relevant literature, and extraction and synthesis of data from evidence base to formulate findings.