To help make cleft research more accessible, we’ve asked a number of research and health professionals to write summaries studies for us in plain English. Researchers wishing to publicise their work on our website must also write a summary which can be easily understood by members of the public.
Critical Appraisal of Research
Understanding research is not as easy as you may think. Even if you understand what is being said, you still have to analyse it as you read to make sure that what the paper is saying makes sense given the evidence they’ve provided. There is a lot of bad research out there!
This analysis is called critical appraisal. It is a method of carefully reading and analysing research to judge how trustworthy it is and to look at its relevance and value in the context in which it is given. Critical appraisal is a skill that has to be learnt and it can take time to get good at it.
Here are some basic things to think about when you are reading a paper or summary:
- Are the results of the study valid? i.e. Did the researchers actually test what they set out to test?
- What are the results?
- Can the results be applied to the local population?
Other questions to consider are:
- Was the choice of study design suitable? Could another sort of study have answered the question better?
- Was there any bias in the study? Were the researchers objective?
- Were there any confounding factors (something else affecting the results) and were they accounted for?
- Was the method of recruitment acceptable?
- If it was a randomised control trial, was the method of randomisation acceptable?
- If blinding was used (i.e. hiding certain information from participants/researchers), was the method adequate?
- Was the control group matched?
If you are interested in learning more have a look at the Critical Appraisal Skills Programme (CASP) website.
How to Read Scientific Journals
Research papers have set layouts. Each journal has its own format and guidelines for its authors to follow. Whichever journal you look at, the overall layout is similar, but if you’re not used to reading them it can be confusing to know where to start.
To help with this, we have created a short guide to reading articles in scientific journals.
There are thousands of journals where scientific work can be published. Just about anyone could start up their own journal if they wanted to. There are so many journals, with thousands of papers being published every month it is hard to keep up to date with everything that is going on!
The best journals are peer reviewed. This means that all papers that are sent to the journal are reviewed by other experts in the same subject area before it is published. The review process can be very through and results in a paper being rejected, accepted or accepted following further revision. Some journals, such as the Lancet, Nature and Science are very highly respected in the research community and it is a real accomplishment to have a paper published in one of them.
Here is an alphabetical list of journals where cleft research is often published. Each journal name has an abbreviation which is shown below. Abbreviations are used when making references, to prevent the author from having to use the journal’s full title. This makes sense when you look at how long some of the journal’s titles are!
British Dental Journal (Br Dent J)
British Journal of Plastic Surgery (Br J Plast Surg)
British Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (Br J Oral Max Surg)
British Medical Journal (Br Med J)
The Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Journal (Cleft Palate Craniofac J)
Clinical Genetics (Clin Genet)
The Lancet (Lancet)
Journal of Orthodontics (J Orthod)
Plastic Reconstructive Surgery (Plas Recon Surg)