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Why Reporting Matters

According to Iain Chalmers, one of the founders of the Cochrane Collaboration, “Failure to publish an adequate account of a well-designed clinical trial is a form of scientific misconduct that can lead those caring for patients to make inappropriate treatment decisions.”  In addition, last year The Lancet produced a very informative five part series on Research: increasing value, reducing waste. In the article on addressing inaccessible research, they stated, “Protocols, full study reports, and participant-level datasets are rarely available, and journal reports are available for only half of all studies and are plagued by selective reporting of methods and results. Furthermore, information provided in study protocols and reports varies in quality and is often incomplete. When full information about studies is inaccessible, billions of dollars in investment are wasted, bias is introduced, and research and care of patients are detrimentally affected.”

For research to be useful it needs to be communicated properly to scientists and others who use the results. This reporting is done through research papers, written by scientists, or by various forms of media that convey scientific results to broader audiences. Meta-researchers are developing standards for reporting results and experimenting with new means to improve communication to scientists, policy makers, patients, and the general public.  To promote the highest possible research standards, journals are increasingly asking researchers to follow reporting guidelines when writing up their studies. Several organizations including the EQUATOR Network are working to help researchers find the right guidelines for a number of study types. Their website provides free access to resources and includes a comprehensive collection of reporting guidelines (currently listing in excess of 280 different reporting guidelines) that cover a variety of study types and medical specialities. The EQUATOR Library for Health Research Reporting is a terrific resource for authors of research articles, journal editors, peer reviewers and reporting guideline developers. The library contains an updated collection of guidelines and policy documents related to health research reporting.

By improving the quality and transparency of reporting in scientific journals and beyond, a robust and rigorous evidence base can lead to better treatment options and medical outcomes for patients.