How to Read a Scientific Study

scientific study guide

This guide has been reposted with permission from Examine.com

Why learn to read a scientific study?

Marketing claims backed by “scientific evidence” pervade the health and fitness industry. Supplement manufacturers sell compounds like green coffee extract (on which there is barely any human research) as if their effects were as well-established as those of creatine (on which there are hundreds of human trials). Sometimes, following the paper trail of a marketing claim does lead to a real, published study — but not all studies are created equal. To avoid wasting money on ineffective products, you need to be able to assess different aspects of a study, such as its credibility, its applicability, and the clinical relevance of the effects reported.

Poorly conducted trials can lead to exceptional results. It is usually best to wait and see if those results can be replicated before drawing a conclusion.

To understand a study, as well as how it relates to previous research on the topic, you need to read more than just the abstract. Context is critically important when discussing new research, which is why abstracts are often misleading.

Types of Studies

There exist numerous types of studies. This guide was designed to help you better understand all of them, with a special emphasis on experimental research.

Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials are commonly seen as the gold standard of biomedical research. In such trials, the participants are randomly assigned to either an intervention group (which will receive the intervention) or a control group (which will receive a placebo), and neither they nor the researchers running the experiment know which participants belong to which group.

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