Guest blog by Dr. Tara Cox
Professor, Marine Sciences, Savannah State University
IBC diagnosis, October 2021

As a scientist and an IBC survivor, I have realized that I read scientific articles differently than most people. Over 30 years of being a scientist, I have learned to hone in on what the main point of the article is and whether it is relevant to me. In talking to other women with breast cancer, and more specifically, IBC, I have realized it can be hard to sort through all the information out there. In addition, it can be terrifying, and thus hard to get past, the first few sentences of a research article on IBC, because they all start with the “dismal” statistics of IBC. But, those are the old story and not the hopeful part of these studies. So, I wrote up this guide to how to “read” a scientific article, so you don’t get bogged down in the bad news and all the details.

Reading a scientific article is not like reading a book or even a news story. You don’t read left to right, first to last. First some tips on how to “read” a scientific article to get the main points. And then a more in-depth description of what each part contains and some tips in skimming those.

  • The abstract is a summary of the article – you can read it, but if you do, jump to the last couple of sentences to get the big take-home message of the study.
  • Skip the introduction – this is all the PAST information. It will usually start with all the past statistics, and it will likely seem scary for IBC. You might want to jump to the last paragraph, which should explain what this specific study did.
  • Skip the methods – you will be bored out of your mind and not understand most of them.
  • Maybe look at the figures – these are graphics explaining the major results. Sometimes these are decipherable.
  • Read the first and last paragraphs of the Discussion – that is where the meat is. That is where they will summarize the major findings.

More tips on the different sections:

Abstract – this is a summary of the entire paper. Thus, the first few sentences will justify the study. For IBC specifically, they will likely quote dire statistics to make sure that readers understand how vital it is to pay attention. To really understand the major take-aways of the study, jump to the end and read the last 2-3 sentences.

Introduction – This is all the background information needed for the study. So, just like in the abstract, the point is to convince the reader it is a necessary study. And, it is full of the “old” data. For IBC studies, the first paragraph is usually full of the dire statistics we all know about IBC. But, doctors and other researchers may not be as familiar with them, so it is important to have those in there. SKIP THIS – this is the depressing part. The Introduction justifies the study and usually ends with a paragraph explaining the objectives of the study. If you read any of the Introduction, read this last paragraph.

Methods – These are all the details of how they did the study. You can always skim these if you have questions. For example, if it is a general breast cancer study, you might want to skim the methods to see how many IBC patients were included in the study and if they were analyzed separately.

Results – these will be REALLY hard to follow, so just look at the figures and tables (and their captions). Ideally, these will tell the story of the data.

Discussion – THIS is where the meat of the paper is. The first paragraph often states the major findings. The last paragraph often states the future (e.g., can the findings lead to better treatments). I often go here FIRST.

I hope this helps get you started on sorting through the maze of information that is IBC. You don’t have to read all the latest scientific articles, but it sure does help you have informed conversations with your team of health providers.

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