Becoming a Critical Reader: Journal papers that aren't studies

In this, my last article for the “Becoming a Critical Reader” series, I want to discuss a few types of articles that are frequently found in journals, but are not studies. These can provide important information, and are not by any means worthless, but they are not what we traditionally think of as research.

Opinion pieces – Most issues of a journal will have one or more editorials. In these, the authors get to give their opinion. And like in the rest of life, opinions are not the same as fact. These articles give the reader a chance to see how one individual reads, interprets and applies the research in their practice. Editorial pieces can be unsigned, representing the editorial board of the journal, or can be written by and represent the opinion of an individual.

Practice guidelines – These are statements that organizations put together to help their members practice. Journals are a way that some organizations will spread the word about a new, updated practice guideline, express opinions about current guidelines, etc.

Media reviews – Some journals, like the Journal of Perinatal Education, will publish reviews of various types of media: books, videos, patient education programs, anything that might be relevant to their readers.

Case reports – Sometimes unusual cases come up, and they don’t happen often enough to have a formal study. While you certainly can’t make a definitive statement about a treatment based on a case study, they make for interesting reading. Occasionally a case study might be published, which leads to a reader thinking “I’ve seen that, too!” and before long, care providers can be communicating and sharing ideas for these kinds of oddball situations.

Some journals, like the New England Journal of Medicine present a regular clinical case study in each issue, as sort of a “how would you handle this?” with the resolution as well.

Patient Education materials – Some journals, like the Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health, publish handouts that their subscribers can print out and use in their practice.

Reviews or critiques of other studies – You may see responses to and critiques of studies also published in journals. Sometimes these are short and take the form of a letter to the editor or news brief. Sometimes they are full-fledged articles. It is always a good idea to go back and read the original study yourself and form your own opinion!

Continuing Education modules– Usually connected with a systematic review, practice guideline, or other article, these short quizzes can be returned to the journal or organization for CEUs.

Reports on a conference or meeting – If the journal is published by an organization that holds an annual meeting, they may include information presented at those meetings in the journal. This could be abstracts, papers that were presented, information on how many attended, or a travelogue.

Personal narratives– Occasionally you will find articles describing one person’s experiences in an area related to the journal. You may have a report on one midwife’s efforts to improve neonatal resuscitation training in Africa, or a doctor’s ponderings on the difference between health care now and health care when he began his practice 25 years ago.

While I won’t be going into questions to ask about each of these, I hope that you’ll remember to check your own biases and read them with a critical eye.

1 Comment

Thank you for this list! I thi

September 11, 2015 07:00 AM by Jamie Corbin
Thank you for this list! I think it is so important to understand that not everything found in a journal is "research".

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