The BMJ Today: Getting to grips with research and research papers

tiago_villanuevaThe BMJ Today blogs this week are all written by research editors, who handle original research manuscripts from submission up to eventual acceptance (even though that only applies to a very small percentage of submitted papers). Many of our authors are practising doctors, as well as highly experienced researchers in top medical research centres who are often world leaders in their specialties.

But Aditya Nanavati, a newly qualified surgeon working in Mumbai, India, argues that medical students in India are missing out by not prioritising research during their studies. In a recent blog, he points out that there are many reasons for this, such as an insufficient awareness of research concepts, a lack of exposure to research, inadequate fluency with the English language, or a lack of funding. He makes very thoughtful suggestions on how to improve the current situation, which include getting up to speed with literature searching, reading, and critical appraisal skills.

Apart from research papers, we also publish “how to” articles that “discuss the nuts and bolts of doing and writing up research,” which are known as research methods and reporting papers (or “RMR”).

This week, we’ve published a RMR paper by a group of researchers belonging to the Transparent Reporting of a multivariable prediction model for Individual Prognosis or Diagnosis (TRIPOD) initiative, which provides recommendations for the reporting of studies developing, validating, or updating a prediction model—whether for diagnostic or prognostic purposes. This will hopefully be an important step towards the improvement of the reporting of prediction model studies.

Nevertheless, we continue to publish far more original research papers than research methods and reporting papers.

Some observational studies, like prospective cohort studies, manage to get all the way to The BMJ’s print pages and website, but it is important to remember that they’re prone to several types of bias, particularly selection bias, information bias, and confounding. A recent endgames statistical question explains bias in observational study designs in a clear and comprehensive manner.

Cohort studies can also be used as a research method to measure overdiagnosis from cancer screening, according to a newly published systematic review of primary research studies of any design that quantified overdiagnosis from screening for nine types of cancer.

Despite certain weaknesses, which have already been partly mentioned above, the authors concluded that well conducted cohort, as well as ecological, studies in multiple settings are the best approach to quantify and monitor overdiagnosis in cancer screening programmes.

The world of research and research publishing is indeed overwhelming, but it is also fascinating, stimulating, and—most importantly—vital to keep helping doctors improve patient care.

Tiago Villanueva is assistant editor, The BMJ.