Understanding Clinical Papers

December 1, 2001

Applied Clinical Trials

Volume 8, Issue 12

David Bowers, Allan House, and David Owens, School of Medicine, University of Leeds, UK

David Bowers, Allan House, and David Owens, School of Medicine, University of Leeds, UK (John Wiley & Sons, West Sussex, 2001), 202 pages, ISBN 0-471-48976-X, 19.99 or $35.00.

This book was written for health care professionals seeking to understand clinical research literature. It is written for clinicians who need to read and interpret clinical papers, clinicians involved in research, people involved in the education and training of clinicians, and students who may one day need to read or write a clinical paper.

The volume is packed with information. This is both a strength and a weakness. On the plus side is all the detail that breaks down scientific terms and analytical tools in such a way that even a novice to the field of clinical trials can understand them. But it is dense. At times it seems like there is too much information, and readers may wonder how they are going to make sense of it all. Dividing the books 30 chapters into seven parts helps to organize the wealth of information.

The first part is designed to help readers learn who wrote a research paper and discover the authors objectives. Succeeding parts include discussions of descriptive, analytic, and intervention studies; the research subjects involved in a study; different types of data; how to interpret a research papers results; how and why different statistical tests are used and what a reader might infer from that information; and, finally, how authors use tables, pictures, and text to inform the reader about what theyve done.

The main weakness, however, is that the authors break their own rules. Although they devote the first chapter of the book to helping readers learn about authors qualifications, nowhere do the authors give us such information about themselves. We know only their names and the university for which they work, nothing else. The lack of a bibliography listing other sources about how to write or understand clinical papers also undermines the works authority. I want to know where this information comes from. And, if it is based solely on the authors experience and expertise, then I want to know what qualifies them as experts.

Having said that, I want to stress that this book is an excellent review of the components of a clinical paper and a worthwhile reference work.

Jeremiah Kerber is the assistant editor of Applied Clinical Trials.