Research basics

Evaluating Research and Research Reports

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"Clinical studies have shown . . ." is a regularly heard introduction to product pitches.

But is it true?

What if those clinical studies are not reliable?

How do we go about assessing their credibility?

We are bombarded every day with reports on research studies that require a sophisticated level of media literacy to make sense of them. This critical ability requires a general understanding of differences between types and methods. Critical literacy is necessary to evaluate results of research and to evaluate credibility in media reports on research studies.

While types and methods of research tend to grouped under separate categories, when creating a research design, an investigator will select the research methods most suitable for the purposes and stages of the research.

Criteria established for research design, research methods, and procedures for conducting different types of research set the standards for evaluating research. They help us determine whether or not to trust a report of research findings and conclusions. In addition, to ascertain the validity and reliability of the research, the individuals and organizations that produce and/or fund research must be checked for bias and conflict of interest.

It is also critical to determine whether research findings and/or conclusions may be claiming more than research data can support. Media reports of research studies may be informative and even reliable, but they may also be incomplete and/or biased, sometimes for sensational effect.

Recommended Resources

Stuart Firestein - TED Talk - The Pursuit of Ignorance

Harvard Graduate School of Education - "Understanding Research: Ten Tips"

Hartnell College - Tutorial on research design and methods

PR Newswire on controversy surrounding research into cognitive exercises

Scientific American - Absolutely Maybe

YouTube Video - Scientific Method Steps

YouTube Video - The Scientific Method

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