Annual Meeting Reports

Improving Your Journal’s Use of Reporting Guidelines

Early in the session, Christine Laine, editor of Annals of Internal Medicine, reminded attendees that “transparent reporting, by itself, does not make good science.” Then why, you might ask, should we pay attention to reporting guidelines? Because it makes good science even better. If a “minimum set of items required for a transparent account of what was done and found in a research study” is provided, other researchers are more able to understand, appraise, and replicate the study. Laine believes that reporting guidelines should be used by researchers to improve the transparency of a study, by peer reviewers to check for adequate reporting, and by editors to ensure adequate and transparent reporting. She likened reporting guidelines to turning on a light before you clean a room: it does not clean the room for you, but it shows you what needs to be cleaned or better organized.

Each type of study has its own set of reporting guidelines and checklists. For example, randomized clinical trials should follow the CONSORT (Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials) statement.1 Finding the guidelines for a particular study type would be tedious if it were not for the EQUATOR (Enhancing the Quality and Transparency of Health Research) Network’s Web site, a one-stop shop for the latest versions of reporting guidelines.2

According to Jason Roberts, executive editor of Headache and senior partner of Origin Editorial, the most common issues with reporting usually are in the methods section; for example, according to a study conducted internally by the editorial office, 50% of rejected manuscripts failed to mention how a study was randomized. He reminded attendees that although reporting guidelines might feel like bureaucratic red tape at first, it is important not to think of them in this way. They should be seen as a benefit to journals (leading to increased quality and consequently boosting readers’ experience, reproducibility, and transparency), to authors (leading to increased quality and chances that a study will be read and cited), and to the literature.

Roberts believes that if journals simply encourage the use of reporting guidelines by putting them in the instructions to authors, the guidelines will not be used; rather, a formal mandate is necessary for adherence. The following eights steps can be used by any journal, in any specialty, to launch a reporting-standards policy: Identify the needs of your journal, select “champions” to support implementation, identify appropriate checklists, determine the level of enforcement, determine the type of implementation (phased, required for one specific study type only; or full launch, required for all study types), write a proposal for implementation, prepare for launch, and launch. A detailed toolkit for implementing a reporting-standards policy can be found on the EQUATOR Network’s Web site.3

In tandem with the launch, it is imperative to promote the policy by educating readers and potential authors and reviewers with an editorial (written by the editorin-chief and journal leaders), e-mail campaign, and inclusion of the policy in the instructions for authors, reviewer guidelines, and journal’s Web site. Finally, be sure to follow up on the success of the policy by collecting and analyzing changes in submissions and adherence to reporting guidelines.

During the question-and-answer portion of the session, attendees learned that journal adherence to reporting guidelines is not being policed, but the use of reporting guidelines is endorsed by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors.4 The EQUATOR Network’s Web site includes templates, letters, instructions, and the like, but it has not yet posted a sample policy. Roberts volunteered to share the session questions and comments with the EQUATOR Network to assist with future improvements of its Web site and practices.

Reportedly, 34 physical-therapy or rehabilitation journals have pledged to require adherence to the CONSORT statement in 2015. Will your journal’s specialty or subspecialty be next?

  1. CONSORT. Transparent reporting of trials. Accessed 19 May 2014.
  2. Equator Network. Enhancing the quality and transparency of health research. Accessed 19 May 2014.
  3. Equator Network. Enhancing the quality and transparency of health research. Toolkits. Accessed 19 May 2014.
  4. International Committee of Medical Journal Editors. Accessed 19 May 2014.