Navigating a research article can be challenging if you're not sure where to start. Yet the basic structure is almost always the same. Each article will include:
- an abstract at the beginning that summarizes the study
- an introduction or background section that gives some context for the study and explains the question researchers wanted to ask
- a method section that explains the process of conducting the study and what the researchers did
- a results section that spells out exactly what the researchers found
- and a discussion section that reflects on what the research contributes to the larger understanding of the topic, as well as what new questions are raised
If you're new to reading research or don't have a background in statistics, the introduction and discussion sections may be the best places to start to get a general description of why a research question is important and what the study found. The glossary below may also help you make sense of the jargon often found in research studies.
Recognizing Good Research
It can be hard to know whether an article is based on strong science or just represents someone's opinions. Here are a set of questions to ask as you read new research!
- Who are the authors?
- Are they experts in the field?
- Is the source or publisher well respected?
- Has the paper been peer reviewed?
- Are ethical issues identified and addressed, like financial ties or conflicts of interest?
Assess the research question
- Are the research question(s) and the research aim clearly stated?
- Is the research question clearly linked to the context or background described?
Assess the content
- Is the literature review comprehensive, up to date, and relevant?
- Does the author write from an unbiased viewpoint, and his or her their view based on facts rather than opinions?
- Are the data collection and data analysis methods valid and reliable?
- Does the author have a particular theoretical viewpoint? How does the researcher’s viewpoint influence the work?
- Is the author's argument logically organized and clear to follow?
Assess the outcomes
- What are the key research findings? Do the results answer the research question?
- If statistical analysis is undertaken, are the findings statistically significant?
- For interventions and cohort studies, how long after the treatment did the researchers follow up with the participants? What percent of participants were still available for follow up?
- Are the stated assumptions and limitations of the research credible and comprehensive?
- Are the discussion and conclusion credible and comprehensive?
- How do the findings of this research link to other papers you have read? Does it add a different perspective?
- Are the results generalizable?
Assess the potential for enhancement of your Head Start program
- In what ways are the results relevant to your program and the children and families that you serve?
- If the author is writing from a practice-based perspective, what suggestions do the findings promote for practice?
- How could you share these findings with other Head Start and early child care professionals?
Zardo, P., Pryor, P., (2012) The OHS Professional as a ‘critical consumer’ of research. In (HASPA) Health and Safety Professionals Alliance. The core body of knowledge for generalist OHS professionals. Tullamarine, VIC. Safety Institute of Australia.