Evaluating for researchers

You can probably already deduce something about the reliability from the URL and the digital information certificate of a source/website.

URL extension Type of organisation Example Objectivity, reliability
.com Commercial http://www.dokteronline.com ?
.net Network http://www.cancer.net ?
.gov Government (USA) https://www.nlm.nih.gov +
.gov(.be) Government https://www.ehealth.fgov.be +
.edu Educational (USA) http://library.medicine.yale.edu +
.org International non-profit https://nl.wikipedia.org/ +/-
.be / .nl / … Country code https://www.kcgg.be ?

The use of language (e.g. correct, objective language), the proprietor (e.g. University Hospital) and the up-to-dateness will also give you additional insight into the reliability. In any case check whether you can verify the information provided in other reliable sources. The search engine Health on the Net provides sources that conform to the HON label for reliable and qualitative health information for patients and professionals on the Internet.

In a case-control study researchers are dealing with a group of people with a specific disease or outcome that needs investigating (Cases) and a group of people without these characteristics (Controls). The exposure to a possible risk factor is measured and compared in each of these groups. The relative risk of exposure is expressed as an Odds Ratio in a case-control study. Case-control studies are usually performed in etiological research. In the case of rare diseases or diseases that evolve over a long period, researchers can use this study set-up to look into the relationship between risk factors and the emergence of a disease. In a nested case-control study the Cases and Controls are recruited from the population of a cohort study. When, during the course of the study, sufficient patients with a specific disease (Cases) have been identified, people without the disease (Controls) are also searched for in the same cohort. Since some data from Cases and Controls are known (because of data collection in the cohort study), these can be checked for, thus reducing the chance of bias because of known disruptive variables in this set-up.

In a prospective cohort study people who may or may not have been exposed to a risk factor (such as harmful substances or a lifestyle factor) are followed up for a long period of time (usually years). The population being monitored must be free of the outcome being investigated at the beginning of the study, so that the incidence of the outcome can be calculated in the group with exposure and the group without exposure.

A cross-sectional study is a kind of observational study, in which data about risk factors and/or outcomes are collected at a specific time in a population.

Source: Van Driel M. Verklarende woordenlijst voor evidence-based medicine. 2nd revised printing Ghent: Minerva, 2003. Available online.

In a systematic review, you start with a (research) question, and conduct a search for original studies that can provide an answer to this question. The databases and methods of analysis used are referenced in the process. The results and background features of the individual studies that are found are explicitly evaluated and analysed. The standards laid down and described by The Cochrane Collaboration in the Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions are generally regarded as the gold standard for writing a systematic review. Organisations, for example The BEME Collaboration, use this methodology (for systematic reviews).

In a narrative review the author himself makes a selection of the studies to be included and there is not usually a (description of a) search strategy. As a result, the scientific value of a narrative review is limited.

Source: Van Driel M. Verklarende woordenlijst voor evidence-based medicine. 2nd revised printing Ghent: Minerva, 2003. Available online.

A meta-analysis is a systematic review in which the results of a number of comparable clinical studies are pooled and recalculated. This enables the researcher to make a more reliable claim about the effect of an intervention or treatment. Every meta-analysis is in principle preceded by a systematic review.

Source: Van Driel M. Verklarende woordenlijst voor evidence-based medicine. 2nd revised printing Ghent: Minerva, 2003. Available online.

There are various free, internationally accredited and used tools (i.e. Scales and Checklists) for evaluating the quality of clinical studies. The tools are often categorised by study type such as the Cochrane Risk of Bias tool for Randomised Controlled Trials and the ROBINS-I for non-Randomised Controlled Trials (non-RCTs) of interventions.

The Newcastle-Ottawas Scale is a scale that is also recommended by The Cochrane Collaboration for evaluating case-control studies, cohort studies and cross-sectional studies. You can download a pdf of this scale here.

The National Institute of Health (NIH) has developed quality evaluation checklists for certain non-RCT study types (e.g. case-control, cohort and case series) in collaboration with various partners. More information about these tools, their origin and use is available here. SIGN (Intercollegiate Guidelines Network) also makes its tools for quality assessment available free of charge.

In addition to the study type, the type of research question can also be a very decisive and overriding factor when choosing a tool, e.g. QUADAS-2 for diagnostic studies and QUIPS for prognostic studies.

The quality evaluation tool SYRCLE (SYstematic Review Centre for Laboratory animal Experimentation) is based on the Cochrane Risk of Bias tool, but is specifically adapted to aspects that are applicable and relevant for animal experiments.

You can assess the quality of systematic review using AMSTAR (Assessing the Methodological Quality of Systematic reviews).

The AGREE II tool is a general tool for authors and users of guidelines to evaluate the methodological quality of clinical guidelines. The AGREE II checklist is available in different languages, including Dutch and English.

The Review Manager (http://tech.cochrane.org/revman/download) software is used to create and update a Cochrane Systematic review (including the meta-analysis). The Statistics part can also be used separately, for example, to formulate a Forest Plot and carry out a meta-analysis.

The statistics software SPSS and R is available on the Athena platform. If you require statistical support, please contact the Biostatistics department in the faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences.

Within the faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences an e-learning module has been developed on the basics of ‘Qualitative methods’ which can be consulted on the platform Zephyr (in Dutch).

Via the platform Athena you can use the software NVivo.

These two presentations help you to get started:

  • Self-instruction by Sofie Verhaeghe, Ineke van Eechoud en Tina Vandecasteele (based on a presentation by Saskia Decuman) (in Dutch).
  • NVivo workshop by Katrien Verleye (in Dutch).

Similar software are MaxQDA, ATLAS and Dedoose.

If you would like more information or if you have any questions, you can contact our information specialist Nele Pauwels.