I enjoyed reviewing the results of the AASV survey that were circulated on the AASV List-serve in November 2014. And I was pleased to read that 96% of the respondents read the Journal of Swine Health and Production. The journal contains a wealth of current information, and the journal’s peer-reviewed publications play an important role in continuing education for busy veterinarians. I can appreciate that, for the busy person, who is trying to keep up with practice responsibilities, continuing education activities, family, and other things that take us away from reading current publications, it can be difficult to keep up. I would like to spend time over the next few editorials to discuss some methods for critically reviewing the scientific literature and maximizing the information you can get out of your readings. I hope that most of my suggestions can help you as the reader of scientific articles, as well as point out some important things to authors to help them get their information to their target audience.
As veterinarians, it is often difficult to find time to keep up with the scientific literature, and I envy the people who seem to have exceptional time-management skills to do so. I often find myself wishing that I had time to keep up with my readings, but unfortunately my reading list seems to be getting longer instead of shorter. So when I do finally find some time to read, I often find myself prioritizing the articles that I choose to read. Most often my decision is based on what is happening in my schedule at the moment, for example, PED research. But sometimes an article catches my eye that seems interesting, unique, or perhaps reminds me that I need to brush up on a certain area. So my choice of topic is usually dependent on what is going on in my life at the moment, such as current industry issues, disease outbreaks, etc.
When selecting a paper to read, I start with the title. I know this seems trivial and obvious to mention, but the title is critical to catching my attention. A title should be succinct and reflect what the paper is about, so it is an important component of the paper that I use when screening my reading selections. If the title is too long, I easily get distracted and bored. Perhaps I miss some important information by using this technique, but that is how my brain prioritizes my reading. Then I move on to the abstract. The abstract should contain a handy summary of information in the paper and highlight what the paper will discuss, including a brief overview of the results and conclusions. If the abstract is not detailed enough, then I may not read further into the article. If the abstract contains information that is not aligned with the title, then I usually do not read on. This is my screening process to see if the article indeed contains information I am interested in reading further. As a generalization, I find that abstracts may sometimes be biased towards highlighting the important or exciting aspect of the paper. But by reading the abstract, I can hopefully also identify if the information is poorly presented, poorly analysed, or biased in other ways. If the abstract meets all my criteria, I move on to read the rest of the article.
Then I find myself looking for the source of the article. The source can also give me clues as to the potential value and applicability the information may have to my interests. As I have discussed in other editorials, the peer-review process is an important part of the publication of scientific literature and instills rigor into the process.1 Hence, I do tend to lean towards reading peer-reviewed articles. However, other sources of information, such as non-peer reviewed publications and conference proceedings, do certainly contain valuable information and encourage me to further seek out some peer-reviewed literature to support it.
So by now you are probably thinking that Terri has only read the title and the abstract and glanced at the source of the information. From my wordy description, it may seem that this took a long time. I went through this process with an article to see how long it took me with my stopwatch handy: 1 minute! In my next editorial, I will spend some time discussing authors and introductions and how to further maximize your reading time.
1. O’Sullivan T. The peer-review process [editorial]. J Swine Health Prod. 2013;21:299.
Terri O’Sullivan, DVM, PhD Executive Editor