Topic overview

Whether you’re a health reporting specialist or a general assignment reporter who is just picking up the health beat for the first time, covering a medical study can be a bit daunting. Most reporters got into journalism to nurse a love of words, after all. But reporters who cover medical research need to know as much about math as they do about language and storytelling. Often, the story is in the numbers. Good health reporters are also translators, turning the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research into language that average readers can grasp.

As dry and formal as medical studies may seem, they also have beating hearts. There are the researchers who may spend months or years conducting trials and tabulating and interpreting results to produce the final paper. There are patients who participated in clinical trials. There are the readers who will be affected by the information we communicate.  There are doctors who have to figure out whether or even how to integrate new findings into patient care.

Studies determine how drugs are approved and prescribed. They influence the use of screening tests like mammograms and PSAs. They nudge grocery shoppers to toss something different or more promising into their baskets. They drive the decisions we make.

There’s more evidence to consider than ever before. The National Library of Medicine currently indexes 5629 journals in Medline, its freely accessible database of studies. Those journals generated nearly a million citations in 2011, or about 83,000 studies a month. That’s a nearly a fivefold increase since 1965. Even more studies are presented at medical conferences.

It can feel like a big responsibility, and it is. But it’s also manageable. And dare we say, fun?

A few tools and techniques can help you sharpen your stories, deepen your reporting, and help you ask better questions of the experts you interview.  You’ll learn how to find research trends and hear from experts how to navigate the challenges presented by different kinds of studies.

We also want to hear from you. What do you find most challenging about covering medical research? Let us know how we can help.


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