Short Paper 2: Overview and Purpose

Short Paper 2: Overview and Purpose


Explore the research basis behind public health messages (either good ones or bad ones), and engage with the professional ethical questions surrounding their application.


  • Write a short literature review summarizing the scientific evidence that backs up a public health message or advertisement.
  • Begin by deciding what topic to focus on. The whole paper is built around a public-targeted health claim, where someone or some organization is telling the lay public what to do for their health.
    • You might google search for “your topic” + “public service announcement” or “advertisement” or something like that.
    • Alternative approach: You can focus on messages that come from dubious sources, such as those with a financial conflict of interest, and then evaluate what evidence there is for or against that claim (if there’s very little evidence, that lack of evidence becomes a focus of your paper, but you still need to find sources that discuss something relevant to your topic–if you have questions, ask)
    • Any message, directed at the general public, insinuating something about the determinants of health outcomes, is fair game. For example, a public health message could be “smoking kills” or “eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day” or “ask your doctor about Cymbalta.” It’s easier if the message is focused on an argument about “this causes that”; at least something more specific than “this exists”. It doesn’t make sense to focus on the ice bucket challenge for ALS, because it isn’t telling anyone to do anything except give money to research treatments for ALS. It does make sense  to focus on something specific that is essential to an awareness message, like “women underestimate their risk of heart disease”.
    • You choose the public health message, related to a health issue of interest to you. Look for a situation where some organization is telling people they should do something or watch out for something
  • Then you write a paper that goes over a detailed evaluation of how true is the implicit claim in the public health message and how ethical it is to distribute this health promotion approach to people.
    • Find out what empirical evidence is available to support that claim, or what studies have been done that give the evidence to back up the message that is being spread to the public. You will learn how to search for both primary and secondary research literature on a specific topic.
    • Evaluate ethical concerns related to the public health message. Find a professional ethics article dealing with the public health ethics or clinical ethics related to your health intervention, summarize a key ethical argument related to the dissemination of the intervention you are interested in, and discuss your take on the issues that the professionals have raised.
  • Keep the paper short, ball park 1000 words or so. There’s a lot of challenge in really getting deep into the literature while also not becoming so long-winded that you’re repeating yourself or rambling through things that aren’t relevant to the core goals of the paper.


Note for this assignment: No quotations allowed, except for a one sentence quote of the exact health message. No other quotations or extremely close paraphrasing allowed. Give us your own language. Check your Turnitin upload and rewrite if 6+ word phrases are getting highlighted. Learn from someone else’s paper, digest it, go drink a cup of water and do 5 jumping jacks, then come back to the computer and write without looking. If you do it that way, you’ll be writing in your own voice about something you’ve learned from a source, not trying to force a paraphrase.


Short Paper 2: Required Components-3

Content point value indicating penalty for not completing each section in parentheses.

Summary of the Public Health Message

  • What is the message? Quote or rewrite in your own words. (4)
  • Who endorses it? Name at least one agency or scientific society promoting this message. (2)
    • Examples: Society for Neuroscience, American Heart Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization, private company, or what?
  • Give a detailed (at least 3 sentences per paper) description of at least two peer-reviewed primary research articles that provided key evidence leading to this consensus recommendation. Also cite them in-text. (18)
    • For each study, describe the empirical evidence: who was studied? what was measured? what was the design? what results were found (what was related to what, and how strongly)? when? where?
  • Also digest and summarize key points from two review articles. (18)
    • Identify them as narrative review, systematic review, or meta-analysis, summarize their main conclusions. At least one of these articles should summarize overall how extensive is the research (beyond the couple studies cited above) that has investigated these interventions, and overall how effective the interventions are. Also in these review articles, look for issues such as boundary conditions (it works for some people, but it doesn’t work for everyone–where is the dividing line between who it works for and who it doesn’t?), remaining uncertainty in the literature perhaps about the mechanisms (how the intervention works) or how the intervention could be modified to make it work better. Read what the review articles have to say and summarize in your own words what you’ve learned from them.
    • Consider using PubMed’s features that allow you to filter your search results to only include review articles (after you do a search, to the left of the list of articles with your keywords, you will see a panel that allows you to click Articles of Type: Review; also, if you are looking at a specific article’s info in PubMed you can see a panel to the right of the abstract called Related Articles in PubMed and below that there is a button called See reviews–clicking that will bring up related PubMed citations to secondary literature that is similar to that primary article)
    • Of course cite these articles as you go, as usual.
    • End with an overall evaluation of the quality of evidence behind the health message

Ethical Concerns

  • Next, transition to discussing an ethical concern related to the dissemination of this public health message. Above, the main concern was to find the evidence that either backs up or refutes the public health intervention. Here, the concern is to discuss the good and bad of putting it to use in society.
  • Decide on whether to address a question of
    • equity of access (relevant to therapies or lifestyle interventions that are expensive in terms of time and money, or simply not available in may communities, you could cite thisor other articles like that more specifically tied to your topic)
    • freedom to participate (relevant to mandatory vaccination programs, laws that restrict people’s freedom to choose unhealthy behaviors, or other kinds of coercion by society to make people fit into certain norms–here’s an example)
    • the ethical issues that a clinician offering the intervention may face (for example articles to consider, you could browsehere (Links to an external site.) or read an article like this)
    • also, if you read one of the chapters here, you can find a way to tie these concerns into many topics that you would be interested in
  • Once you’ve found a scholarly article or two related to the ethics of the health intervention you are interested in, either from the links above or found by searching Google Scholar, PubMed, or other relevant academic resources, you dive into summarizing arguments in the professional literature, relating them to the specific claim that you found, and then discussing from your own belief system (combined with what you’ve learned from your reading of the scholarly work), how the ethics of this public health or clinical care issue can be improved.
  • Summarize one or two key ethical arguments from the article(s) you find/cite, and add your personal understanding on the ethical incentives to use or not use the health promoting approach your paper is focusing on. As much as possible, try to focus on the ethical gray areas. For example, in some cases, vaccines are obviously strongly justified, and in some cases the vaccines are obviously strongly unjustified. Discussing those is boring (don’t make me say “duh” too much while I read your paper.) The interesting stuff is the borderline–those situations where there are better arguments on both sides (one side may still be stronger, but if you’re making a pro-vaccine argument, do go a little bit into the discussion on patient freedom and body self-determination, do acknowledge some risk of side effects, etc.)
  • Don’t forget to cite the source.

Reference List (8)

  • Cite 1 website or other popular source that is sharing the public health message that you found being disseminated, 2 primary research articles, and 2 secondary research articles (latter 4 must be indexed in PubMed), and 1 ethics article. At least 5 different scholarly articles must be cited. Additional citations, including those to informative/relevant popular websites, are OK if necessary, but they don’t count toward the 5 required scholarly sources.
  • Use a format you are familiar with (APA, MLA) or useAMA  (Links to an external site.)format with the MS Word Endnotes  (Links to an external site.)  Each reference must be complete, and please include a hyperlink to a stable URL so that we can see what you are citing. Don’t forget the full name of the journal for journal articles.

Short Paper 2: Frequently Asked Questions-3

I am having difficulty distinguishing between narrative reviews, systematic reviews, and meta-analysis. Would you mind taking a look at these two articles and pointing me in some direction? Thanks so much!

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. U.S. National Library of Medicine. August 2012. Retrieved from (Links to an external site.)

Burd, Larry. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. American Journal of Medical Genetics Part C: Seminars in Medical Genetics, May 2004: 127C, 1: 1-2. Retrieved from (Links to an external site.)