Pedagogic Journal Club 101

In preparation for a journal club I’m leading shortly, I was reflecting on some generic starter questions which could be applied to reading any paper (this would be true in the context of reading an article on your own as well).

To start with, you can apply the 5W1H approach. In the context of reading a journal article I tend to take these in a non-typical order:

  • Who? Who conducted the research?
  • Where? Was it one institution only or a multi-centre project? UK, USA or elsewhere?
  • What? What, briefly, was the main point of the work [you will look in finer detail later on]?
  • When? Not only when was the work published, but when was the work actually conducted? This is especially pertinent if the article is describing the impact of technical innovations.
  • Why? What are the reasons the authors give for conducting the work? These may be generic and/or driven by particular local developments.
  • How? This is the nitty-gritty and will take on the bulk of a journal club discussion.

As part of the “how” there are additional key questions to bear in mind as you work step-by-step through the paper. These are:

  • What key information are we being presented in this section of the paper?
  • What key information are we *not* being presented in this section of the paper?

In both pedagogic research articles and scientific papers these two questions are particularly valuable when examining information that has been presented in figures and/or tables. Sometimes necessary background details to follow the implication of displayed data have to be found elsewhere in the text, and sometimes they are missing entirely (at which point you need to decide for yourself whether this an accidental or a deliberate omission).

For a journal club specifically you also need to remember that it is intended to be a discussion not a presentation of what you have found; you are the guide as you lead a band of intrepid explorers below the surface of the paper. If the journal club is working well you will come away from the process with additional insights they have made about aspects you missed in the text.

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Getting referencing right: applying the 4 Cs

For a variety of reasons, I have been reflecting on principles that undergird good citation practice. So far I’ve come up with “the 4 Cs guide” (I say I’ve come up with them, as I’ve not done any reading on this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this or something similar has co-evolved elsewhere).

When advising students or colleagues on appropriate organisation of their references at the end of a document, I encourage them to check that they’ve followed the 4 Cs guide:

Correct: Have they cited the correct sources? This might mean drilling back to the first occurrence of an observation (e.g. in the primary literature) rather than a review article. Clearly we don’t want to be encouraging people to cite the original paper if they’ve not read it, but you sometime see statements such as “Smith and Bloggs have shown…” when actually Smith and Bloggs wrote the review in which they discussed the experimental work of Ramone and Farnes-Barnes who made the observation described. Continue reading

  • Awards

    The Power of Comparative Genomics received a Special Commendation

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