In my last editorial I started a conversation about maximizing your scientific reading.1 I hope we can agree that one challenge the busy veterinary practitioner faces today is staying current in the literature. Finding the time to read and keep our scientific knowledge current isn’t always easy. In my previous editorial, I suggested techniques for how I “pre-screen” or prioritize an article to read and I would like to continue with that theme.1
Once I have decided to dive into the body of an article, I then go through a mental check list of what type of information the paper will provide. I quickly check the manuscript genre and read the introduction and aim(s) of the study – for the purposes of this editorial, a study could refer to any of the genres typically published by the Journal of Swine Health and Production (JSHAP). Understanding the genre of the manuscript is important to help you critically review and utilize the information. If you need a refresher on manuscript genres and how they each contribute to the literature, I encourage you to re-visit my previous editorial titled “Manuscript genres.”2 Once I know the genre, I move to the introduction section and look for the date when the work was conducted. In general, there is a delay in publication during the peer-review process, and there also can be a delay in submitting papers to journals from the time the work was completed. Understanding when the research was conducted and when the article was submitted, as well as the time of final acceptance by the journal, is a good way to affix a timeline to the information and subsequently understand how current the information may be. I discussed publication timelines in more detail in my editorial titled “The peer-review process.”3
In simple terms, the introduction should tell you why the authors did the research. The primary research question or problem should be clearly stated and an outline of theoretical issues and supporting knowledge should be presented to support the research question, eg, while it may be clear to some people, the authors should state why the topic is so important to research in the first place. Additionally, the introduction should provide an indication of what gap of knowledge the current research will aim to fill. If I have difficulty finding this information I may just stop reading here. If the objectives or aims are not clearly stated, then it is difficult for a reader to critique the information that follows and hence difficult to know how it may apply to you in practice or other work.
The materials and methods section is next. In general this section should provide enough information to allow the research to be replicated. There should be a clear description of the methods used from subject (eg, pig) selection, tests applied (eg, diagnostic tests), to statistical methods used to evaluate the data. The subjects (pigs) should be described in detail, as well as housing and environmental conditions. An indication of how the subjects were selected should be provided. Probability sampling or random selection of subjects is often cited as preferred because random sampling helps to minimize selection bias.4 This is important because the aim of true random selection is to give each pig or farm an equal opportunity to be selected for a study. Yet, in reality, true random sampling can be very challenging in veterinary medicine. Not every farm will want to or be able to participate, not every pig will be available to participate (ie, difficult to catch or find), and not every person will want to participate. On pig farms it can be far more time consuming to individually identify a herd of nursery pigs in order to provide a list from which pigs can be randomly selected. Another reason why random sampling is important is that most statistical procedures apply to random samples.4 Most statisticians would argue that this is most important, as otherwise our statistical tests are difficult to impossible to interpret.
In JSHAP as well as many other journals, an ethical statement is usually provided as part of the materials and methods section. There should be some mention of animal use approvals or human ethics approvals obtained that will ensure that the confidentiality of participants is maintained and describe how data will be stored securely. This statement also helps to assure that animals were used and treated in a humane manner.
Keep an eye out for the next issue for the continuing conversation on maximizing your reading.
1. O’Sullivan T. Maximize your reading – topics, titles, and abstracts [editorial]. J Swine Health Prod. 2015;23:9.
2. O’Sullivan T. Manuscript genres [editorial]. J Swine Health Prod. 2013;21:183.
3. O’Sullivan T. The peer-review process [editorial]. J Swine Health Prod. 2013;21:299.
4. Dohoo I, Martin W, Stryhn H. Sampling. In: Veterinary Epidemiologic Research. 2nd ed. Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada: VER Inc. 2009:33–55.
Terri O’Sullivan, DVM, PhD Executive Editor