How to read a paper
Many papers are published every day in the field of veterinary medicine and science. It is not possible to keep up to date with all of them, so it is important to consider carefully what to read and how good it is. Reading papers quickly and critically is a skill anyone can learn—and it can save time!
It is often not necessary to read the whole paper to find out what the authors did (the methods), and what they found out (the results). Once you have read these parts, you can decide whether the findings in the paper should affect your practice or not. Sometimes the introduction may provide background information and the discussion/conclusion will tell you what the authors think of what they found—but no new findings will be in this bit so it may be a waste of time reading it!
The are three main questions to ask when reading a paper...
1. Is this paper relevant to my work?
This depends on the type of practice and the work you undertake each day, as well as the subject areas that interest you.
2. What type of study is it?
There are lots of different types of study relevant to veterinary work and certain types of study are best placed to answer particular questions. It is important to ensure before you spend time reading the whole paper that the study design is right for the question you are interested in. For further information go to study types.
3. What is the quality of this study?
The quality of the study is a really important thing to consider and there are some key points to think about:
- Is there a clear aim for the study?
- Were the population of animals studied similar enough to your patients to make the findings useful?
- Did they measure useful things that you can repeat in practice?
Rachel Dean has written an article for In Practice that is an introduction to these areas:
Dean R. How to read a paper and appraise the evidence. In Practice 2013;35:282-5
Contact: Rachel Dean