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Know the Science: How To Make Sense of a Scientific Journal Article

The words “Scientific Article” appear at the top of the page, with a fictional title, Clinical Study of Integrative Health Practices, below them. A fictional list of authors, James A. Smith, Ph.D., Karen B. Jones, M.D., Michael C. Helix, Ph.D., M.D., Lauren B. Smartz, Ph.D., R.N., F.N.P., Bryan S. Miller, Ph.D., M.D., appears under the title. The left column shows labeled sections of the journal article: Abstract, Methods, Results, Discussion, Key Words, References. All sections except Key Words are clickable. Gray lines appear in place of the text in each section in the left column and in the entire right column. These words appear at the lower right: Medical Journal Volume 30, Issue 8, August 2022AbstractMethodsResultsDiscussionReferences

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What the study showed.

The data, summaries, and analyses of the study are presented in this section. Tables, graphs, and charts that show the results are often included.

To better understand the results, you can ask these questions:

  • How do these results compare with previous studies?
    • A single study rarely provides a final, definitive answer.
    • Repeating a study using the same methods with different volunteers and investigators helps us know that the results are reliable and valid.
  • What do “statistically significant” and “clinically significant” mean?
    • “Statistically significant” means the differences observed between the groups are real and not likely due to chance.
    • Clinically significant is a measure of the size of the effects observed in the study, which shows the impact of the treatment.
    • A study can find statistically significant differences between two treatment groups, but the differences may be so small that they are not clinically significant in terms of usefulness for patients.
  • Are there potential conflicts of interest?
    • Did the study sponsor or the investigators have any financial or reputational "stake" in the outcome?
    • Most medical journal articles include information about relevant financial relationships.