You Can Read—and Understand—Research Two grad students offer tips for successfully delving into the sometimes-mysterious world of reading research studies. Student's Say
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Student's Say  |   April 01, 2016
You Can Read—and Understand—Research
Author Notes
  • Katrina Killian, BPhil, is a first-year graduate student in speech-language pathology at the University of Pittsburgh. She is the Region 1 councilor for the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association and an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 2, Neurophysiology and Neurogenic Speech and Language Disorders; 13, Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders (Dysphagia); and 14, Cultural and Linguistic Diversity. Her undergraduate thesis examined the perception of sound source location when interaural cues were conflicting. trinak925@gmail.com
    Katrina Killian, BPhil, is a first-year graduate student in speech-language pathology at the University of Pittsburgh. She is the Region 1 councilor for the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association and an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 2, Neurophysiology and Neurogenic Speech and Language Disorders; 13, Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders (Dysphagia); and 14, Cultural and Linguistic Diversity. Her undergraduate thesis examined the perception of sound source location when interaural cues were conflicting. trinak925@gmail.com×
  • Emily Goldberg, BPhil, a first-year graduate student in speech-language pathology at the University of Pittsburgh, plans to work with adults in the acute care or rehabilitation settings. Her undergraduate thesis assessed the American Sign Language version of the Computerized Revised Token Test (CRTT). Her master’s thesis is also related to American Sign Language. ebg9@pitt.edu
    Emily Goldberg, BPhil, a first-year graduate student in speech-language pathology at the University of Pittsburgh, plans to work with adults in the acute care or rehabilitation settings. Her undergraduate thesis assessed the American Sign Language version of the Computerized Revised Token Test (CRTT). Her master’s thesis is also related to American Sign Language. ebg9@pitt.edu×
Article Information
Cultural & Linguistic Diversity / Research Issues, Methods & Evidence-Based Practice / Professional Issues & Training / Student's Say
Student's Say   |   April 01, 2016
You Can Read—and Understand—Research
The ASHA Leader, April 2016, Vol. 21, 42-43. doi:10.1044/leader.SSAY.21042016.42
The ASHA Leader, April 2016, Vol. 21, 42-43. doi:10.1044/leader.SSAY.21042016.42
Research.
Often, all it takes is for someone to whisper the word “research” and everyone around shudders. Some students think that research is conducted by elusive individuals tucked away in the dark corners of a communication sciences and disorders “Area 51,” communicating with the outside world only via published research articles. They think research articles are written in an untranslatable form of hieroglyphics clear only to those in the know.
We have delved into this elusive culture by conducting undergraduate and graduate theses and have found some ways to make reading and understanding research studies a little less bewildering.

Emily Goldberg (left) and Trina Killian are graduate students at the University of Pittsburgh.

Emily Goldberg (left) and Trina Killian are graduate students at the University of Pittsburgh.

Emily Goldberg (left) and Trina Killian are graduate students at the University of Pittsburgh.

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At first glance
When you first open up a research article, you want to look at the big picture and key points:
  • Identify the independent and dependent variables in the study so that you know exactly what you are looking for when you interpret the results.

  • Keep in mind the authors’ aims and objectives, as they will guide your attention as you read.

  • Always look into the affiliation of the authors. If, for example, they work for a company generating research on one of its own products, this is useful information and might warrant some caution.

  • Try to find the main results for each objective.

Moving on
After you’ve had some time to figure out the overall layout of the study, you’ll be equipped to pull out the details. Here are some tricks we find helpful:
  • Reread the introduction and objectives. Does the introduction show which gaps in the literature will be filled by the current study?

  • Delve into the methods section and figure out the number of participants (typically the higher the better!), if there was a control group (were they matched to the study group by age, disorder or gender?), and how the participants were tested (tests used, pre- or post-test design?).

  • Smile when you see the words “blinding,” “randomized” or “fidelity,” as this design has potential to yield strong evidence.

  • Look at the graphs and statistical analyses to identify significant outcomes.

Although some results may appear to be significantly different than chance, they might actually represent small differences that that may have questionable clinical significance.

Summarizing
After you understand the general background and the details, look over the study for any potential critiques. This step is important: Although some results may appear to be significantly different than chance, they might actually represent small differences that may have questionable clinical significance. Sometimes study authors calculate the MCID (minimal clinically important difference), which is the smallest change in a treatment outcome that a patient, student or client would identify as important.
Now you’re ready to summarize the study. You might want to keep these tips in mind:
  • When you read the methods section, write your thoughts and questions in the margins. If you are not confident in the methods, you can’t be confident in the conclusions.

  • In the results, note when post-hoc analyses were run, what for and why.

  • If there are no limitations listed in the discussion section or if the interpretation of the results doesn’t add up to the researchers’ goal, then there might be reason for skepticism.

Although reading research may seem terrifying and overwhelming at first, tackling the article little bits at a time can help you break the “secret code” and determine the significance and validity of the results. By layering the information, you can identify the study’s strengths and weaknesses and gain an in-depth appreciation for the information.

Emily Goldberg (left) and Trina Killian are graduate students at the University of Pittsburgh.

Emily Goldberg (left) and Trina Killian are graduate students at the University of Pittsburgh.

Emily Goldberg (left) and Trina Killian are graduate students at the University of Pittsburgh.

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April 2016
Volume 21, Issue 4