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How To... Read and Understand Research

31 March 2022

In this React19 How To Guide we offer a Research Primer: How to read and understand research. 3400 COVID Vaccine Publications and Case Reports

Welcome to the React19 research section of our website. Here you will find a compendium of research related to COVID-19 vaccines and related adverse events.

React 19 is a science-based, research-driven non-profit. One of our aims is to stimulate and follow the research on vaccine related adverse effects. Integral to this goal is to track and post all research literature related to COVID-19 vaccines as well as their adverse effects. In this section you will find numerous research articles or links to research. Listing research here does not necessarily imply that React19 endorses any of the articles and/or conclusions offered in the research. We provide this as a service in the interest of following the research and science relevant to our mission to helping the vaccine injured.

Research Primer: How to read and understand research.

We also want website visitors to be able to have a basis in reading and understanding research. Unseasoned readers of research can be easily swayed by a single study or article. This can sometimes mislead the reader and in some cases may propel them down misguided paths. In this introduction, we want to offer a simple primer on how to approach research studies, so that you may read with a more discerning eye.

“Critically” reading a research paper is a vitally important skill. The primary goal when you read a research paper, is to understand the scientific contribution/s the author/s are making to a particular subject or area of medicine.

Sometimes papers are complex and may require reading it numerous times to capture all the important components. This can be especially true of more complex research based on randomized controlled trials or systematic reviews.

There are many ways to tackle reading research articles. For most in a hurry this may be simply skipping to the end to look for the “ultimate” conclusions. While certainly an expeditious approach, the reader will miss out on the entire process which led to that conclusion. Understanding the process is vital as it can help determine the “weight” or “validity” of the conclusion drawn. Let’s take a simplistic example. A study was conducted recently, and the conclusion was drawn that those eating a single apple a day were less likely to see doctor when followed over a period of 1 year. Now based solely on reading the conclusion, some may simply accept this as fact and rush out to eat an apple a day.

Doing a deeper dive into the article, we find that the population studied was only 100 people and the system to track whether indeed they ate an apple every day was based solely on self-report. Knowing this information helps us to judge the “power” of the study.

There are many different approaches to reading a paper, but in general, following 3 easy steps may assist you getting more out of your reading:

STEP 1. First browse over the paper Most research papers are divided into standard sections:

  • Title
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Headings of sections and sub-sections
  • Statistical methods used, mathematical and data content
  • Conclusion
  • References

During the first review you should be able to determine what type of research paper it is:

  • systematic review
  • review article
  • randomized control trial
  • qualitative vs quantitative
  • observational study
  • animal vs human study
  • study protocol

You can google each type of study to better understand the type of research approach taken by the author/s. You should also be able to determine if the paper and its conclusions are pertinent to you and your interests. At this stage you should determine if the conclusions made are valid. Are the statistical methods used reliable (this may require further education in research), and are they applicable to the research methodology.

Step 2. Read the paper Reading a research paper must be a critical process. Do not assume the authors are always correct. Be a skeptic in your approach – apply a keen eye to all research. Critical reading involves asking appropriate questions.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself when critically reading a paper:

  • Is the study attempting to solve a problem?
  • Are they solving the right problem?
  • Are there other solutions the authors do not seem to have considered?
  • What are the limitations of the solution (including limitations the authors might not have noticed or admitted)?
  • Are the assumptions the authors make reasonable?
  • Is the logic of the paper clear and justifiable, given the assumptions, or is there a flaw in the reasoning?
  • If the authors present data, did they gather the right data to substantiate their argument?
  • Did they gather and interpret the data in the correct manner?
  • Would other data or other means of collection of data be more compelling?
  • Are the results or ideas generalizable to wider populations?
  • Are there improvements that might make important differences?

During the reading, it might be helpful to make notes. Take liberty to highlight any key points made by the authors, and look for the key data such as:

  • population size
  • sample size
  • inclusion and exclusion criteria
  • limitations
  • data collection methods used

You may need to read the paper several times to fully understand what the authors are trying to determine.

Step 3. Compare the paper

Most importantly, never “put all your eggs into one research basket.” Once you have read and understand the paper, you should attempt to compare it to similar papers.

It is vital to note that making decisions, especially health decisions, based on one study can sometimes lead to more harm than good. Evidence-based medicine makes attempts to take many
studies (sometimes over numerous years) to draw a conclusion on whether a treatment is appropriate