Get access

The State of European Nursing Research: Dead, Alive, or Chronically Diseased? A Systematic Literature Review


  • David A. Richards RN, BSc (Hons), PhD,

    Corresponding author
    1. Professor, University of Exeter Medical School, University of Exeter, United Kingdom
    • Address correspondence to Dr. David A. Richards, University of Exeter Medical School, Haighton Building, University of Exeter, St Luke's Campus, Heavitree Road, Exeter, EX1 2LU, United Kingdom;

    Search for more papers by this author
  • Vania Coulthard MSc,

    1. University of Exeter Medical School, University of Exeter, United Kingdom
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Gunilla Borglin RN, MSc, PhD,

    1. Associate Professor, Department of Health, Blekinge Institute of Technology, Karlskrona, Sweden
    2. Faculty of Health and Society, Malmö University, SE-20506 Malmö, Sweden
    Search for more papers by this author
  • on behalf of the REFLECTION review team

  • Funding: This research was supported through the authors’ involvement in the European Science Foundation Research Network Programme ‘REFLECTION’ –09-RNP-049, Blekinge Institute of Technology, Karlskrona and the Faculty of Health and Society, Malmö, Sweden. The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the European Science Foundation. DAR also receives support from the UK National Institute for Health Research South West Peninsula Collaborations for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care.

  • The authors would like to acknowledge the contribution of Marte Lavender who managed the study databases and Neil Pumphrey who helped write the original protocol. In addition to the authors, REFLECTION review team members’ names, who all undertook data extraction, are listed with the online version of this article.



Reviews of nursing research have suggested that most is descriptive; with no more than 15% providing strong evidence for practice. No studies have examined this from the perspective of nursing research conducted in Europe.


The aim of this study was to review reports of European clinical nursing research in the top 20 nursing journals in 2010 to establish a baseline of nursing research activity in the year immediately prior to the launch of a European Science Foundation network to increase the proportion of intervention research in Europe.


We identified eligible reports that were then data-extracted by two independent reviewers. Disagreements were resolved through pair discussion and independent arbitration. We appraised and synthesized topics, methods, and the extent to which studies were programmatic. We synthesized data as proportions of study reports meeting our a priori categorization criteria.


We identified 1995 published reports and included 223 from 21 European countries, of which 193 (86.6%) reported studies of primary research only, 30 (13.5%) secondary research, and three (1.4%) a mix of primary and secondary. Methodological description was often poor, misleading, or even absent. One hundred (44.8%) articles reported observational studies, 87 (39.0%) qualitative studies. We found 26 (11.7%) articles reporting experimental studies, 10 (4.5%) of which were randomized controlled trials. We found 29 (13.0%) reports located within a larger program of research. Seventy-six (34.1%) articles reported studies of nursing interventions.

Linking Evidence to Action

European research in nursing reported in the leading nursing journals remains descriptive and poorly described. Only a third of research reports concerned nursing interventions, and a tiny proportion were part of a programmatic endeavor. Researchers in nursing must become better educated and skilled in developing, testing, evaluating, and reporting complex nursing interventions. Editors of nursing journals should insist on systematic reporting of research designs and methods in published articles.