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  • Writer's pictureLeanna Coy, FNP-C

Navigating the Maze of a Research Study

Updated: Mar 30

Elevate the accuracy of data in your writing.

Woman sitting reviewing stacks of paper

Writing about health topics frequently requires reviewing research studies in order to stay abreast of the most up-to-date facts. However, interpreting science-heavy research can be tricky for the uninitiated. When I was in nursing school, we had a whole term learning how to correctly review research studies and scientific papers. So, it is no wonder studies can be challenging for the average layperson to interpret. There are some basics for writers to know when analyzing a research study to ensure they understand what they are reading before translating it into their writing.

Sample size

This is a big one to keep an eye on. Sample size is one of the first things researchers look at when putting together a study, and scientific formulas are commonly used to determine the best sample size. Researchers studying the exact same thing using the same methods can come to completely different conclusions just by using different sample sizes. Why? The quantity of a sample size needs to represent the group being studied. If the sample size is too small, groups or conditions may not be well represented. If it is too large, the results may highlight issues that are not truly important. The sample used in a study is not designed to assess entire populations; it is just a representation of them.

Go beyond the abstract

The abstract is a research paper's first paragraph summarizing the study and results. It is a mistake to use the abstract as your only information and skip reading the entire (maybe dense) study. Only reading the abstract can limit you from fully understanding and correctly interpreting the results. Take the time to read the whole paper. If needed, make notes to help you understand the information. Then, go back and look at the abstract again. By taking time to read and understand the entire study, you are giving yourself a base for providing an informed opinion on their results.

What is this about anyway?

Can you determine what question the researchers are trying to answer with the study? Ideally, they will state this. But sometimes, you need to read into things a bit to know what they are trying to answer. Were they able to answer their question? What issues did they identify? Understanding the question researchers are looking to answer also can identify bias or an agenda. An example of this is a drug manufacturer asking questions that only focus on the positive aspects of a potential treatment. The significance of knowing what problem the researchers are hoping to solve will help you understand the results better when reviewing the findings.

Conclusion and interpretation

This is where the study authors summarize the findings. When reviewing this, consider if you see any problems with their conclusions. Did they miss something? Are they making claims the research doesn't support? Did you come to a different conclusion from the data? Look for the researchers to identify the weaknesses or issues within their study and the recommendations they make based on their findings.

This is just a partial list of how to understand research better. However, it provides enough information to help upgrade your ability to interpret study data to elevate the accuracy of your writing.

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