Medical Laboratory Sciences: Appraising Research

Guide for information and researching clinical laboratory sciences
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Types of Research

Characteristics of Research




Abstract, concerned with generating new theory and gaining new knowledge for knowledge’s sake.


Manipulation of one variable to see its effect on another variable while controlling for as many other variables as possible.  Subjects randomly assigned to groups.


Performed in the clinical setting where control over variables may be difficult.


Designed to answer a practical question, to help people do their jobs better.


Describing a group, situation or individual to gain knowledge that may be applied to other situations.


Performed in laboratory surroundings that are tightly controlled

Adapted from Blessing. Physician Assistants Guide to Research and Medical Literature. 2006

Types of Scholarly Articles

Characteristics of Articles




Article reporting on the results of one or more studies or experiments, written by the person(s) who conducted the research. This is considered one type of primary source. Look in the title or abstract for words like study, research, measure, subjects, data, effects, survey, clinical trial, or statistical which might indicate empirical research.

Case Study

Detailed account of clinically important cases of common and rare conditions.


Summarizes the findings of others studies or experiments; attempts to identify trends or draw broader conclusions. Scholarly, but not a primary source or research article, however its references to other articles will include primary sources or research articles.  Look for words like systematic review, literature review, review article, etc.

Letters or Communications

Short descriptions of important latest study or research findings which are usually considered urgent for immediate publication. Examples: breakthroughs regarding cures or treatments for previously incurable conditions, or cure for a particular outbreak of disease, like for example swine flu.


Containing or referring to a set of abstract principles related to a specific field of knowledge; characteristically it does not contain original empirical research or present experimental data, although it is scholarly.


Describes technique, work flow, management or human resources issue.

Professional communications, Book reviews, Letters to the Editor

Most scholarly journals publish articles that pertain to the workings of the profession but are not 'scholarly' in nature.

Books about Research

Critical Reading Questions

Questions to ask when reading and interpreting scholarly articles:

  1. What is the quality/purpose of the source (journal) of the article?
  2. Was the article peer reviewed?
  3. Who are the authors and what are their affiliations?
  4. How was the study funded?
  5. What was the problem(s) investigated?
  6. What is purpose of the study?
  7. Who or what constituted the subjects of the study?
  8. Was the study well designed?
  9. What statistical methods were used?
  10. Did the results address the identified problems?
  11. Do the results seem valid?
  12. Are the interpretations of the results consistent with design and analysis?
  13. Are the results consistent with findings from similar studies?
  14. What do the results mean to medicine and health care, to health care workers and patients?
  15. Can the results be applied to your practice or research?

Adapted from Blessing. Physician Assistants Guide to Research and Medical Literature. 2006

How to Appraise Research

How to Critically Appraise Research:

  • Young, Jane M and Michael J Solomon "How to Critically Appraise an Article". Nature Clinical Practice Gastroenterology & Hepatology.  2009;6(2):82-91 (hosted at
    Presents a 10-step guide to critical appraisal that aims to assist clinicians to identify the most relevant high-quality studies available to guide their clinical practice.

Critical Appraisal Worksheets: