How to Read a Scientiﬁc Paper
David W. Ramey, DVM
Biomedical literature is expanding at a phenomenal pace. At the same time, the time that’s available to read that literature is becoming increasingly hard to ﬁnd. Thus, if you want to try to stay current with medical developments and you don’t want to get overwhelmed, it is important to develop a system for reading andevaluating papers of interest. This paper will look at why you might read a scientiﬁc paper, suggest ways to decide whether to read a particular paper, and how to interpret the evidence presented. Author’s address: PO Box 5231, Glendale, CA 91221. 1999 AAEP.
Why Read a Scientiﬁc Paper?
If you want to continue to try to do more good than harm for the horses in your care, you need to recognizethe need to change and/or improve your diagnostic and therapeutic interventions so that they remain consistent with valid new knowledge. If you don’t stay current, you run the risk of falling short in your clinical practice. Clinical journals are generally the most accessible means of obtaining the information that you need. There are any number of reasons why you might read a clinical journal;10 of them are listed in Table 1. Of particular interest to practitioners are items 5–7; these will be discussed in more detail later in this article.
2. Whether to Read a Particular Scientiﬁc Paper
out of your reading time, you should consider focusing on the few articles that are both valid and applicable to your area of interest and rejecting most articles almost immediately. The followingguidelines should help you do that (Figure 1).
3. Is the Study Relevant?
If the study doesn’t apply to you or your practice, it may not be worth reading at all. Here are a few suggestions on how you might be able to tell if an article is worth a more thorough evaluation. 1. Look at the title. Is the article one that is potentially useful in your practice? For example, do you have a reproductivepractice and is the article about a new orthopedic technique? If so, you may consider rejecting the article out of hand and go on to the next article. 2. Read the summary. Here your objective is simply to decide if the conclusion, if valid, would be important to you as a clinician. The issue here is not whether the results are true; rather, it is whether the results, if true, would be useful.Most summaries can be found in the abstracts that precede full-text articles.
It’s not possible for an individual veterinary practitioner to know everything about veterinary medicine or even equine medicine and surgery. Given the demands of clinical practice and the desire to maintain some sort of a nonpractice life, it seems reasonable to assume that you’re already behind in your reading and thatyou will never have more time to read than you do right now. Thus, to make the most
1999 9 Vol. 45 9 AAEP PROCEEDINGS
BACK TO BASICS
Table 1. Ten Reasons to Read Clinical Journals
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10.
To impress others To keep abreast of news in the profession To understand pathobiology To ﬁnd out how a seasoned clinician handles a particular problem To ﬁndout whether to use a new or existing diagnostic tests on your patients To learn the clinical features and course of a disorder To distinguish useful from useless or even harmful therapies To determine etiology or causation To sort out claims concerning new therapies To read the letters to the editor
not be useful for foals. Putting it another way, are the patients that are included in thestudy similar to those in your own practice and could you apply the results even if you wanted to?
4. Is the Study Valid?
3. Consider the site. Here, the question is if the site of the study is such that it might apply to your practice. For example, if a new technique for laparoscopic renal biopsy is proposed, would you have the expertise, or access to the required facilities and equipment to...