8.10 How studies are reported
Most studies are reported using a similar format or structure.
This involves five main sections:
Background – the context for the study – what is already known about this area of research and why the study is being run.
Method – the study design – what exactly was studied and how it was preformed.
Results – what was seen or demonstrated.
Discussion – this can include a discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of the study: cautions about interpretation, what could have been done better, and the implications for clinical practice, treatment guidelines or for further research.
Conclusion – the final summary results – what was learned and how it can affect care. Sometimes researchers jump from their results to conclusions that are not supported by their evidence. This is important to look out for.
A study abstract is a reduced summary of the main points of a study and is usually limited to around 500 words. There is not usually enough information in the abstract to be able to discuss the quality and significance of the findings.
A poster is a presentation at a medical conference that includes more details than the abstract.
A peer-reviewed publication is a most detailed presentation of a study, where other experts in the field have examined the methods, results, and conclusions in order to verify that the study was conducted properly and that the results stand up to scrutiny.
Peer-reviewed publication takes time. Many studies presented at conferences are never followed through to publication.
Study results vs real life
Results seen in a study are often different to the results you would expect to see routinely in a clinic after a drug has been approved.
Results are often better, because people in studies may be more organised and committed to treatment, and because they receive more care and time at the hospital.
Conflicts of interest
When looking at a study it is important to look at the authors, where they work and if they have a conflict of interest and whether this is declared.
Last updated: 21 July 2009.