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Health Promotion Programs

How To

Evaluating Research Articles

10 Questions to Ask When Studying Research Studies

  1. What type of study is it? Peer-reviewed? Presentation at a conference? Retrospective or prospective? Observational? Case report? Epidemiological? Randomized, Controlled, Double-Blind?
  2. Where was it published? Not all scientific journals carry equal weight; generally, the better studies are in the better journals. Look for well-known journals and leading journals in the respective fields.  Higher impact factors indicate more influential journals.
  3. Who funded the research? Be aware that studies paid for by non-profit groups can be done to promote a particular agenda. Studies funded by a company or an industry are not necessarily biased or inaccurate, but be aware that they can be. The key is to make certain the study acknowledges its funding source and that it was conducted as independently as possible. Look for Conflict of Interest statements--they are usually at the end of the article in a small font.
  4. Who conducted the research? Studies are usually given greater weight that are done at reputable, well-known universities or health centers with good track records for research in a particular field. Look for the research setting in either the Methods section or the Introduction. Also, you can look at the addresses of the authors or study centers.
  5. Was it a human trial? Be careful about applying results from animal or cellular studies to humans.
  6. How long did the study last? The key is whether the study was long enough to adequately measure its desired outcome. Example: is a 6-month study long enough to measure long-term weight loss?
  7. How many participants were studied? Did the study include enough subjects to be statistically significant? Remember that small numbers can produce meaningful results in clinical trials.
  8. What kinds of people were included? Studies looking at men only may or may not be applicable to women. Research on patients with cardiovascular disease may not be applicable to people in general.
  9. What do other experts say? The journal may run an accompanying editorial commenting on the research. Professional associations and national health groups can help to filter the plethora of research reports and studies.
  10. What phase was the study? Research on new drug treatments goes through three or four phases. Focus on Phase III trials or later.

Reference: Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter Special Report, June 2006, pp. 4-5.