Short steps on how to read a paper. Part 6: In search of the lost hypothesis.
This next post in our series is on the importance of the hypothesis. Both readers and investigators often overlook this. Hence the title of this post is called “in search of the lost hypothesis”.
When you read a paper, you should look for the hypothesis just after the aims and objectives.
In short, the hypothesis should be an unambiguous statement that describes a relationship between two or more the variables that the authors are testing in the paper.
You should look to see if it has the following qualities:
- Clear and specific
- Relevant to the research question
- Be testable. This concept is crucial to your reading of the paper.
In clinical research, authors often state the null hypothesis. The reason for this is statistical tests enable us to accept or reject the null hypothesis. It is helpful to look at some good and poor examples of hypotheses. I want to go back to the aims of a study that I mentioned in my last post. This study was looking at “magic brackets”.
An inadequate hypothesis would be
“Magic brackets are not better than conventional brackets”.
This statement does not satisfy the criteria above.
A better one would be:
“There is no difference in treatment duration in months between magic brackets and conventional brackets when treating 11-16-year-old children”.
As with the aims, authors need to be clear, and this information is essential for the interpretation of their paper. If it is not clear, there is a danger that the report will drift and we will achieve nothing by reading it.
Next week we will look at the dreaded statistics! Padhraig is going to write this one…
Emeritus Professor of Orthodontics, University of Manchester, UK.