Tips for Reading Research Articles

Reading research articles can be challenging if you are not familiar with basic article formats and terms. Knowing how to interpret what an article gives deeper insight and prevents misapplications that can occur if you just read the bottom line. Here are a few tips for reading scholarly sport and exercise journal articles.

The Abstract

After sport scientists conduct a study, they write an article describing it in detail. Before reading research articles in full text, it saves time to read the abstracts--brief, concise summaries of studies. If you're still interested, you can pull up the details. We'll use the Nevada Stretching Study to illustrate the components of the abstract.

1. The purpose of the study--what they were trying to find out. Here you can find the what they were examining and get a good idea about the research design used. The terms parallel the title of the article: Therefore, the purpose of this study was to determine the effects of a practical duration of acute static and ballistic stretching on vertical jump (VJ), lower-extremity power, and quadriceps and hamstring torque.

2. The participants--how many and their basic characteristics tell you how well the findings might relate to you and your sport. In the example, Twenty-four subjects... is brief, so you have to read the article to learn more. Abstracts often include gender, age, athletic status, etc.

3. What they did--this shows the methods they used. The example gives details about the measures and equipment used, as well: ...performed a 5-minute warm-up followed by each of the following three conditions on separate days with order counterbalanced: static stretching, ballistic stretching, or no-stretch control condition.

4. What they found out--After information about gender, they state: The results of this study reveal that static and ballistic stretching did not affect VJ, or torque output for the quadriceps and hamstrings..... with more about the surprising finding, then a practical application.

Here is an abstract for the article, Motivation of Fitness Center Participants Toward Resistance Training by Kathrins and Turbow published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (2010). See if you can identify these components.

Reading Research Articles: The Details

If you decide to read further, you can find important details:

*a summary of the findings of related studies to date--great way to learn what has already been found,

*why they chose to conduct this particular study--what the need was,

*the details of the procedures used to conduct the study-- stretching exercises, duration, rest time, testing equipment. This is good to know because qualities of fitness can be defined and measured in different ways regardless of the terms used,

*details of the statistical analysis--this can be confusing, but look for "significant" findings.

*what the findings mean in light of the body of knowledge--what this "clue" adds and how it fits with what is already known,

*practical applications for exercise and sport are based on the findings and related studies in the field. This doesn't necessarily mean that researchers extend far outside their the field of study to make applications.

It's up to athletes and coaches to decide how trends in multiple studies fit for them and how to use the information to improve in sport performance. For more about reading research articles:

Research Terminology

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