How to read a scientific paper (medical journal) correctly.

Hi everyone, Welcome back to my blog post series, today’s topic is -

How to read a scientific paper (medical journal) correctly.

As students, reading journal articles can be long and very time consuming. When the workload increases you may not have time to read entire articles. Here is where I can give you some tips and tricks about how to extract the relevant and important information from journal articles which will save you heaps of time during the busy study period.

Step 1:

Before you read, you need the right equipment

  • A scientific dictionary – to look up terms you do not know (my favourite is www.AccessScience.com)
  • A notebook and highlighters- to make notes to remember your insights

Step 2:

Reading the article.

  • Do not read the paper straight through – its like walking through quicksand, you will become overwhelmed with all the new information (especially if you are new to reading journals) and can lead to a lot of confusion.
  • Instead, lets read the sections of the paper in an order that makes for faster and more efficient comprehension.
  • Tip: When reading a paper highlight words you need to look up (in pink) and examples of good vocabulary or phrasing (in yellow) that you can reuse in your own work.

Reading Order:

Section 1:

  • First, start with the abstract
  • The abstract tells you briefly what experiment/intervention was done and what was found from it.
  • When reading an abstract always keep the acronym PICO (population, intervention, control/comparator and outcome) in mind.
  • Questions to ask yourself:
    • What was this study’s population?
    • What intervention was used?
    • Is there a control/comparator group? What is the control/comparator group?
    • What specific results/outcomes are mentioned?
    • Is this what I am looking for? Is this relevant to me?

Section 2:

  • Next, briefly read the discussion
  • The discussion summarizes important results. It also gives explanation for conclusions based on the obtained results.
  • Questions to ask yourself:
    • Are these results useful to me?
    • Do I agree with the logic of the drawn conclusion?
    • Are these results/conclusions generalizable? Are they applicable to a clinical setting?

*From reading the abstract and the discussion you should be able to decide whether to continue reading the whole paper or not*

Section 3:

If you decide to keep reading the paper

Next, review the results

  • The results section provides you with the raw data you might need for your research.
  • The results often include figures and tables to display the data in a compact and easy viewing format.
  • Questions to ask yourself:
    • What are the results/outcomes?
    • Do I understand these results?
    • Are these results expected? If not, why?
    • Are these results relevant to my research?

Section 4:

  • Next, read the methods
  • This section gives details about how the experiment was set up and carried out.
  • Questions to ask yourself:
    • What was the FITT (frequency, intensity, time (duration) and type) of the intervention?
    • How many participants were recruited (sample size)?/ How were they recruited?
    • Were the participants randomized?
    • Is this relevant to me and my research?

Section 5:

  • Lastly, take a look at the introduction
  • This explains the reasons/motivation and importance of the research.
  • It also provides some background information on the research- why was this study conducted i.e. gaps in the literature/knowledge.
  • Questions to ask yourself:
    • Do I understand the background information?
    • Do I need to look up references for more information?
    • What is the research question/aims of this study?

 

Using this method, you can reach an understanding of the paper. You can see whether the paper is relevant to your work and know where the data and conclusions are hidden.

  • Note: This reading order is related to reading articles for appraisal purposes. If you are reading a paper to reference it for an essay or assignment, I would recommend reading the abstract, discussion and skim the methods and introduction. If you are reviewing articles to the determine their eligibility for your systematic review, I would recommend reading the abstract, methods and results.

Thanks everyone for reading and I hope this helps some of you with your academic work. I will see you all in my next blog. Next week the topic is How to critically appraise a paper

See you soon,

Leanne

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