Short steps to reading a paper part 13: The results
So you have worked your way through the introduction and complexities of the method. Now you are ready for the results. I look for these points when I read the results of a study.
I always hope that the results are clear and understandable. As a result, I look for explicit statements of the findings and simple tables. I usually look for the following.
Things to look for?
- Is the presentation of the results clear, and do the authors stress the essential findings?
- Is the outcome that they present first the primary outcome, or have they led with one of the secondary outcomes? Authors sometimes do this when the secondary outcomes reveal differences. When you see this, you should concentrate on the primary outcome results.
- Do they present data on only a few outcomes? This is good practice because this suggests that the study is focussed. You should be deeply suspicious of massive data tables reporting many cephalometric variables with multiple statistical tests. This simple represents data trawling and again suggests a lack of focus and potentially superfluous findings.
- The authors should present data that includes 95% confidence intervals. This information lets you work out your level of confidence in the data.
- Look to see if the tables and text include p values and not merely state NS etc. This simple step allows you to decide on the probability of the findings.
- Do the authors state whether their findings are clinically significant? We can decide if this is the case for most of the orthodontic outcomes. However, I certainly cannot assess this for some of the airway, breathing and sleep disorder results published. For all, I know they are numbers without meaning.
If you look for these six factors in the results, you can easily judge whether the results are important or relevant to your clinical decision making.
Emeritus Professor of Orthodontics, University of Manchester, UK.