Staying Up to Date with Global Health Research
In our new series on global health research, Vashti introduces us to how and why we should stay up to date with global health research. Read her piece below and then browse more Books and Films.
Why keep up to date with the global health ‘literature’?
Being aware of the latest published research allows you to make evidence-based decisions in your respective global health field, be it diagnostic approaches or policy implementation. It is also excellent for professional development and improves your ability to think critically and ask new questions. The first step is to identify the areas of literature relevant to you, either professionally or personally, and note down relevant keywords. Then decide what source of literature best suits your needs, and how you are going to access it.
What are the different sources and ways to access global health research?
There are a variety of ways you can access global health research, ranging from the comprehensive original research paper to the paraphrased version in a newspaper or blog. Your choice often depends on the requirements of your profession, your interest in the topic, and the goal of your readings. Here is a simplistic way to look at the different ‘types’ of literature:
- Primary literature refers to original research articles, written by the individuals that undertake the studies, and then publish the findings in relevant journals. The format will include a brief introduction that highlights the study aims, followed by the methods used and results gathered, and finally, a discussion on the interpretation and possible applications of the results. Additionally, for major studies, an expert may add an editorial to explain its significance to a wider audience. Primary articles and editorials would be useful to you if you work or study in the area or related fields, or are interested in the details of the research process.
- Reviews refer to articles that summarise the findings of original research articles from a specific area, and publish it in a relevant journal. They are written by an expert in the field and clarify the current understanding in the area, explain new findings, and highlight key knowledge gaps. Reviews are useful if you are starting in a new field, or are interested in a similar field of work.
- Blogs and podcasts summarise major research highlights from specific fields or interview researchers to learn more about their findings and the research process. This relatively modern approach gives you different perspectives to the primary research, and is an easy way to keep up to date with your interests. Examples include podcast from LSTMH and a PLOS blog – Speaking of Medicine.
- News sources, mainly the ‘Science’ or a ‘Health’ section, will highlight new studies relevant to the general public. These are written by journalists and often accompanied by interviews with the researchers or individuals. They are a good source for findings outside your field. An example is NPR: Global Health.
What are some important considerations when reading?
Reading a source of information with purpose, and asking how it is relevant to you is a useful way to approach an article. There are some other questions you may consider:
- What were the main questions of the study and do the researchers answer it?
- Who are the results applicable to? Are they general or only applicable to a certain population/age group/geographic location?
- Who wrote the article? Are they a specialist in the area, do they have a conflict of interest through association or funding sources?
- Is it peer reviewed? (This can be found on the Journal’s information webpage. Peer review refers to the process where other colleagues in the field read the article and agree with the interpretation of the results.)
- Is this article Open Access? Whether an article is Open Access or not does not reflect the quality of the research, however it is an important consideration if you, or a colleague you want to share it with, does not have subscription. Open Access articles can be accessed by anyone, anywhere, through the internet, and without a pay-wall (i.e. unrestricted access; see An introduction to Open Access).
How to be aware when new articles are published?
Fortunately, there are ways that you can get automatically notified about new research. If you are interested in a specific field, you could set up keyword alerts; when a new article that contains those keywords is published, you will receive an email link. You can set up these alerts for specific primary article databases (e.g. PubMed) or more generally (Google alerts). Ensure that you set up a combination of keywords to strengthen each search, and avoid an overflowing inbox!
If you are interested in a specific journal and its themes, then you can set up email alerts so that with each new issue of the journal, the table of contents (TOC) is emailed to you, and you can browse through and decide which primary articles to read. Similarly, if you are interested in a specific blog or podcast, you could sign up to their individual subscriptions or use an RSS reader that will aggregate the material for you (useful introduction here). And lastly, some journals, researchers, bloggers, etc. will have Twitter accounts and you could follow them and be updated with new work.