A search of the Web of Science database found that in 2008 there were 13,590 papers published in peer reviewed journals or at conferences on the topic “HIV”. Many smaller, independent pieces of research were also published that year in the form of reports or conference abstracts (grey literature). With so much research about HIV how do we assess which findings are relevant to our everyday work? When we read a paper or report, how do we judge whether we should immediately incorporate the study results into our work plans or wait for more evidence? This NAHIP toolkit describes how to critique a paper and provides a step-by-step guide to assessing the quality and reliability of peer reviewed and grey literature about HIV and AIDS.
1. Where was the article published?
Peer review is a well-accepted indicator of quality scholarship. Authors submit their papers to a journal to be reviewed by other researchers or practitioners (peers) in their field. Articles are only accepted by peer reviewed journals if they meet expected standards.
Journal popularity and/or importance can be judged by “impact factor”, that is a measure of how many times a journal’s articles are quoted over a three year period. The higher the impact factor the more selective the journal editors are about which manuscripts they accept. Generic medical publications (e.g. The Lancet) tend to have a higher impact factor; articles about HIV and AIDS that appear in these journals are thought to be of the highest scientific value. Box 1. shows journals that publish articles about sexual health and their respective impact factors.
Research published as grey literature is often specialised and only applicable to small populations. This does not mean the findings are not valuable or reliable, however an especially critical eye should be cast over the research as it has often not been judged by recognised experts in the field. 2. Who wrote the paper?
It might be helpful to establish whether the author is well known for his/her work. A good reputation is important and experienced, well known researchers are unlikely to put their name to research that might damage their professional standing. NAHIP Toolkit_part9.indd 1
Box 1. Sexual health-related peer reviewed jounals and their 2008 Impact Factor
Ethnicity & Health
International Journal of STD & AIDS
AIDS Care-Psychological And SocioMedical aspects of AIDS / HIV
AIDS Education and Prevention
AIDS Patient Care and STDS
Social Science & Medicine
Sexually Transmitted Infections
AIDS & Behavior
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Journal of Epidemiology and
JAIDS-Journal Of Acquired Immune
Journal of Sexual Medicine
International Journal Of
British Medical Journal
New England Journal of Medicine
3. What is the relevance to prevention?
Having read the paper, it is important to first understand its relevance to HIV prevention and ask what the study adds to the established knowledge base. Perhaps this study builds on the work of others by using more rigorous methods. Maybe it provides new insight into risk behaviour or highlights the effectiveness of a new prevention intervention. If it is hard to understand