The final product:
This is where the authors draw their findings together, refer back to earlier research that might support, or sometimes differ from, what they have found. There should be discussion about what the researchers think the results demonstrate, referring to strengths and weaknesses of the study design and conduct. This is also the place where the researchers point out any potential sources of bias, or where things did not go quite as they planned as well as findings that were not quite what they were expecting. In drawing conclusions from their findings it is usual for this to be linked to current practice and, usually, the need for more research.
Other aspects (washing up!)
With regard to the purpose of the research, especially where it involves testing a product that is of commercial interest, it is important to be clear about any outside sponsorship and if this is the case the authors should declare this. There should also be confirmation of approval by an appropriate body that oversees ethical consideration which must be obtained where the research in any way, involves human subjects.
If you take the model above, then even with very little knowledge of the intricacies of research, you should be able to work your way through a paper, obtain information and be able to ascertain how well, or otherwise, the report of the research undertaken has met its original aim.
Being able to critique a research article is an important part of your assignment as it shows the process of analytical thought which is so important when applying information from one sphere (ie an experiment) and its relationship to another (clinical care). This also means that you have demonstrated an understanding of the research, its good and bad points and how these might be assessed in terms of quality of evidence.
Not all studies will be based on the ‘cake recipe’ method given above as where they involve aspects of social rather than medical science, different frameworks apply. Studies that are more about observation of human activities and those which attempt to capture psychological effects arising from care involve a form of approach generally referred to as ‘qualitative research’. This is less concerned with the collection of categories and numbers but seeks more to identify themes and common understandings between groups. There are several approaches to qualitative research, one of which is called ‘ethnography’ which seeks to understand the world as it is captured at that time, with no attempt made to explain or alter it. Another approach is described as ‘grounded theory’ where information is obtained and applied to theories in order to offer some form of explanation in relation to the topic being studied. These are complex issues not easily described in a short piece such as this. What is important is to note that qualitative research is increasingly being recognised as providing evidence with regard to care experiences and outcomes and as such it is important that the conduct of this form of research is as rigorous as that set out for quantitative studies. There is increasing interest in developing more specific guidelines that incorporate these approaches in order to have a structure that offers validity of the findings in terms of what is called ‘trustworthiness’, in other words, underpins the likelihood of them being true (Walsh & Downe 2005).
Trying to capture all you need to know about research in a short article like this is not feasible, but if you are familiar with the reviews of research presented in the MIDIRS Midwifery Digest and Essentially MIDIRS, you will be able to apply some of this information to those reviews which will give you greater insight and understanding about the process of critiquing as well as its presentation.
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Rees C (2007). A retrospective: Jennifer Sleep’s classic research study on the use of episiotomy in labour. MIDIRS Midwifery Digest 17(3):319-22.
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Wickham S (2011). Exploring expert opinion Essentially MIDIRS 2(9):50-1.
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Rees C (2009). A simple guide to critiquing research articles. MIDIRS Podcast. www.midirs.org.
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Wickham S (2006). Appraising research into childbirth: an interactive workbook. Edinburgh: Elsevier.