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BMS105/132 Research Skills Guide: Critical appraisal

What is critical appraisal?

Critical appraisal evaluates evidence for its:

  • relevance (are the findings relevant to the patient/population of interest?)
  • validity (e.g. has bias been minimised?)
  • results (what were the findings of the study?)

This is achieved through careful examination and evaluation of the evidence. Take a look at some of the tools/guides available to assist with this process.

Criticial appraisal is an essential skills in Evidence-Based Practice (see the Evidence Based Practice guide for more information).

[Adapted from La Trobe University]

why is critical appraisal important?

Even articles published in peer-reviewed journals may still have issues with methodology, reports or conclusions drawn. Critical appraisal enable assessment of these results, relevance and validity of published papers so that decision can be made about the authority of research and applicabitiy to the local population.

Critical appraisal skills promote understanding of:

  • which treatments or interventions may really work;
  • whether research has been conducted properly and has been reported reliably;
  • which services or treatments are potentially worth funding;
  • whether the benefits of an intervention are likely to outweigh the harms or costs;
  • what to believe when making decisions when there is conflicting research.

[Adapted from CASP]

Where to start

These are some questions you may ask:

  • Look for a research problem (usually in the abstract, title or introduction)
  • What is the purpose? Check the abstract
  • Does it have a bias?
  • What are the authors affiliations?
  • Is it a literature review?
  • Is it a hypothesis or research question?
  • Who funded the research?
  • What is the sample or population interest?
  • What is the type of research or study?
  • Benefits versus harm/costs?
  • Important outcomes/findings?

Introduction to Critical Appraisal

Critical appraisal tools/guides

Checklists assist in learning to critically appraise medical research and are available for a range of study designs.

  • The Critical Appraisal Skills Programme (CASP) is part of Better Value Healthcare, a training organisation led by Professor Sir Muir Gray, and based in Oxford. It is best known for its checklists, a set of eight critical appraisal tools designed to be used when reading research.
  • The OT seeker includes a critical appraisal tutorial from a team of occupational therapists from two major Australian universities.
  • Joanna Briggs Institute (JBI) critical appraisal tools comprise of checklists of questions for use in assessing 13 types of research study (including qualitative research and ramdomised controlled trails).