Study designs in medical research: reporting structures and roles in knowledge-building
Different research questions about causes, diagnosis, treatment, or prognosis of a disease or condition will require different types of study designs. The type of study will also influence the reliability of the answers to the question posed. Studies are designed according to certain rules and reporting should also follow sets of rules and guidelines.
How can knowledge about study designs be helpful to a medical translator or editor? Such knowledge would not only make translating or editing easier, but may also help us help the author improve the original text if we can spot omissions, errors, or inconsistencies in the study reporting and thus draw the author's attention to parts of the manuscript that need to be improved.
In this workshop, we will present some of the main study designs to participants, who will then have the opportunity to assess and improve sample manuscripts according to particular guidelines and general principles for reporting research.
Purposes: To introduce participants to some of the most frequently used study designs in medical research, with emphasis on the observational studies that are so often used by researchers in our context. To explain the concepts and terminology related to these particular study designs. To highlight omissions, errors, and inconsistencies that may be encountered in reporting these studies.
Description: The workshop will present the structure and purpose of several study designs, focusing mostly on cross-sectional studies, case-control studies, and cohort studies. We will then examine manuscripts describing such studies, moving from the overall design to specific terminology and to the presentation of the results of statistical analysis. We will concentrate mostly on the methods or results sections.
Participants will practice recognizing possible errors, inconsistencies, and omissions in study reporting, and discuss what changes can or should be made to improve the manuscript. Although we will not talk about statistical analysis or particular statistical tests, we will look at what measures of effect (e.g., odds ratio, relative risk, prevalence or incidence) can be expected with a particular design and how the most frequently used descriptive statistical measures (e.g., medians or confidence intervals) should be presented.
Structure: The workshop will start with an introduction to concepts that define the highlighted study designs. After the structure of each is presented, the participants will evaluate the methods and/or results sections of a sample manuscript using checklists of relevant reporting guidelines and applying general principles of reporting research. They will also have a task to create a flowchart based on the manuscript at hand. We will address typical errors in terminology and presentation of methods and results as we discuss particular manuscripts.
Who should attend?: Medical translators, medical author's editors, and other language professionals who would like to increase their knowledge of, or skills or confidence in, the appraisal of research papers. -œWordface workers- who are interested in adding value to their work by helping authors improve their medical research reports.
Outcome skills: Participants will become more familiar with concepts in medical research and reporting, as well as particular terminology. They will begin to recognize some of the elements in research reports that leave room for improvement and become more confident in making revision suggestions to authors.
Trisha Greenhalgh's book How to read a paper demystifies the critical appraisal of different study designs in a straight-forward and reader-friendly way. It is based on a series of British Medical Journal articles, which are open access if you're a registered user (also free). Go to this advanced search string to see a list of all titles in the series.
There are also regularly updated guidelines on reporting different types of studies available from the Equator Network. These can be used as aids to ensure that the information provided in a manuscript is complete. They usually contain checklists. You may look at the content of these checklists and compare them (STROBE for observational studies vs. CONSORT for randomized controlled trials). Don't hesitate to try using them while translating or editing a manuscript in order to gain some pre-workshop experience.
About the facilitators:
Ana IvaniÅ¡, MD, is a research fellow at Zagreb University School of Medicine, Zagreb, Croatia, and manuscript editor at the Croatian Medical Journal. She teaches principles of scientific research in medicine and her research interest lies in the field of authorship and research integrity.
Aleksandra MiÅ¡ak, MD, is a freelance translator and author's editor from Zagreb, Croatia, who has also worked with the CMJ. Sasa's paper in Journal of Second Language Writing describes the CMJ's -œauthor-helpful editing- approach from a manuscript editor's point of view: MiÅ¡ak, A., MaruÅ¡ic, M., & MaruÅ¡ic, A. (2005). Manuscript editing as a way of teaching academic writing: Experience from a small scientific journal. Journal of Second Language Writing, 14(2), 122-131. (abstract)