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Evaluating Research Articles


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Evaluating Research Articles

Imagine for a moment that you are trying to answer a clinical (PICO) question regarding one of your patients/clients. Do you know how to determine if a research study is of high quality? Can you tell if it is applicable to your question? In evidence based practice, there are many things to look for in an article that will reveal its quality and relevance. This guide is a collection of resources and activities that will help you learn how to evaluate articles efficiently and accurately.

The Basics

Is health research new to you? Or perhaps you're a little out of practice with reading it? The following questions will help illuminate an article's strengths or shortcomings. Ask them of yourself as you are reading an article:

  1. Is the article peer reviewed?
  2. Are there any conflicts of interest based on the author's affiliation or the funding source of the research?
  3. Are the research questions or objectives clearly defined?
  4. Is the study a systematic review or meta analysis?
  5. Is the study design appropriate for the research question?
  6. Is the sample size justified? Do the authors explain how it is representative of the wider population?
  7. Do the researchers describe the setting of data collection?
  8. Does the paper clearly describe the measurements used?
  9. Did the researchers use appropriate statistical measures?
  10. Are the research questions or objectives answered?
  11. Did the researchers account for confounding factors?
  12. Have the researchers only drawn conclusions about the groups represented in the research?
  13. Have the authors declared any conflicts of interest?

If the answer to these questions about an article you are reading are mostly YESes, then it's likely that the article is of decent quality. If the answers are most NOs, then it may be a good idea to move on to another article. If the YESes and NOs are roughly even, you'll have to decide for yourself if the article is good enough quality for you. Some factors, like a poor literature review, are not as important as the researchers neglecting to describe the measurements they used. As you read more research, you'll be able to more easily identify research that is well done vs. that which is not well done.

Understanding Research Statistics

Determining if a research study has used appropriate statistical measures is one of the most critical and difficult steps in evaluating an article. The following links are great, quick resources for helping to better understand how to use statistics in health research.

Critical Appraisal

Critical appraisal is the process of systematically evaluating research using established and transparent methods. In critical appraisal, health professionals use validated checklists/worksheets as tools to guide their assessment of the research. It is a more advanced way of evaluating research than the more basic method explained above. To learn more about critical appraisal or to access critical appraisal tools, visit the websites below.