Reviews

Critical reading: making sense of research papers in life sciences and medicine

This text is aimed at those who need to read original research papers in life sciences and medicine and certainly would be an asset to those who need to read quantitative papers in nursing and other healthcare professional research.

A key theme in this text is the notion of ‘active reading’ and training scientists to take a critical stance when reading published works. The book commences with a chapter called ‘The paper trail’, which is concerned with sources of information and finding what you need from these sources. This chapter introduces the reader to a novel style used throughout the text in the form of examples and end- of-chapter exercises. The text is also punctuated with highlighted areas that are key learning points and as summary at the end of each chapter serves as a useful focus on what you should have learnt.

The short chapter on medium and message provides valuable insights into the peer-review process and cautions, though not eliminates, the use of internet-based materials. The text also covers issues such as the scientist as author and discusses the issues of publication bias. Following discussion of the

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A key theme in this text is the notion of ‘active reading’ and training scientists to take a critical stance when reading published works. The book commences with a chapter called ‘The paper trail’, which is concerned with sources of information and finding what you need from these sources. This chapter introduces the reader to a novel style used throughout the text in the form of examples and end- of-chapter exercises. The text is also punctuated with highlighted areas that are key learning points and as summary at the end of each chapter serves as a useful focus on what you should have learnt.

The short chapter on medium and message provides valuable insights into the peer-review process and cautions, though not eliminates, the use of internet-based materials. The text also covers issues such as the scientist as author and discusses the issues of publication bias. Following discussion of the contribution of the abstract and introduction to a paper, the text moves on to the materials and methods, before embarking on an extensive and well- illuminated discussion of quantitative methods.

The text ends with a chapter on ‘thinking science’, and contains a number of extracts from real papers that form the basis of exercises for the reader to perform.

The author is critical of university education in not devoting sufficient time to developing skills in researchers that underpin engagement with research literature in an active, critical and analytical way. There is recognition that a number of universities do offer courses on evidence-based practice and evaluating health research — this book should be a must on the reading list of such courses.

On a final note, the introduction of a modest degree of humour in terms of the pseudonyms given to ‘authors’ and the ongoing frustration of ‘Professor Stickler’ will brighten even the gloomiest day of any researcher.

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