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Learn How to Interpret Health Studies

With research studies virtually at our fingertips, sorting through relevant and significant data might seem impossible. Luckily, there are basic tips and explanations to understanding health studies.

Learn How to Interpret Health Studies

Oftentimes, people correlate research as dry and dull. Despite those negative associations, research can actually be remarkable and groundbreaking. Data and conclusions are nonetheless needed to pave the way to future health and medical suggestions and recommendations. Unless you have previous education or a strong interest in statistics, making sense of and understanding health studies can seem like a foreign language. With research studies virtually at our fingertips, sorting through relevant and significant data might seem impossible. Luckily, there are basic tips and explanations to understanding health studies.

How to Understand Medical Studies

Determining Quality and Reputation

The internet can be extremely helpful or not at all. In an ideal situation, search engines pull up reputable information to complement exactly what you are investigating. Unfortunately, there are sites out there who relay erroneous, false information. To dodge quackery and dishonesty, it is important to determine the credibility of the site or look for established, respected journals. The credentials of the authors can also help determine the integrity of the content.

Although older research can have noteworthy conclusions, it is important to try and keep up with the times. When looking for recommendations, be sure to look for the newest research. Since science is always changing, advice is, too. For example, the intake of cholesterol alone was previously thought to raise blood cholesterol levels. It is now known a diet high in saturated fat has more of an impact than the notorious cholesterol-containing egg yolk.

Understanding the Format

Essentially, each study has the same format: an abstract, introduction, methods, results, discussion, and references.


The abstract can be your best friend on a time crunch or with a minimal knowledge of research studies. The brief paragraph can be found conveniently atop of the article. They contain concise key points of the study and identify the take away messages. Additionally, not all research articles are free. The majority of the time, abstracts can be accessed without having to purchase the article itself.


The introduction establishes and aids the entirety of the research and shapes the framework of the study’s need. A literature review helps determine what is already known or unknown about the topic and puts current study into context. A research question is generally identified and predicted, otherwise known as hypothesized.


The methods section identifies how the researcher(s) conducted the study. It identifies the participants (who was involved and how many), materials (what was needed and used for the study such as equipment), and procedures (how the study was conducted and what the subjects did or what was done to them).


The results section is a quantitative compilation of statistical analysis in the form of text, tables, and figures. This section is oftentimes the most discouraging part of the article for individuals lacking statistical experience.

Discussion and Conclusion

The discussion and conclusion are used simultaneously. The discussion is exactly what it sounds to be, the research discussed and put into non-technical terms. It links the results to the soul purpose and objective of the study. Was the question answered? Did the results match the hypothesis? What do the results and conclusions contribute to current and further knowledge? Those are just a few of the questions the discussion and conclusion identify and answer.


The references are oftentimes an overlooked area. However, the acknowledged sources helped formulate the literature review and put the data into application. Utilizing the references can allow for similar information regarding the topic just learned about.

Making Sense of Those Numbers

All of those statistics and numbers in the results section can be quite the confusion. It is important to realize it is okay to not make sense of them. It takes experience running and analyzing statistical tests and time to fully grasp their interpretation. If learning more about statistics is a fulfillment, take time reading the results section and researching aspects that may need a little more clarification. The greater time spent trying to understand the numbers, the easier deciphering through the numbers will come.


When it really comes down to it, interpreting health studies can take some getting used to if you are unexperienced. However, reading the abstract can truly be beneficial before delving into a full-fledged article. Reading the introduction can help set the scene and background of the study’s meaning. If the results section seems too daunting, sift through the discussion and conclusion for statements made about the statistical finding. Do not let the numbers hang you up! Tackle each article one at a time and try to make sense of each before skipping onto the next one.

Furthermore, try to read the articles with a positive attitude, and not thinking of it as a chore. With so much fascinating research and findings, the learning opportunities are endless. Keeping up the new data will not only make reading health and medical studies easier, but allow for further knowledge.

Sarah Asay's Photo
Written By Sarah Asay, RDN. Published on March 11, 2016. Updated on April 01, 2016.


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