Failure to report complete and important information regarding the design and conduct of a clinical experimental or observational study decreases the informative value and usefulness of a publication.1,2 To try to overcome this significant problem, guidelines have been developed which aim to help authors of research articles to report their findings clearly and completely. One of the first guidelines which was developed was the CONsolidated Standards Of Reporting Trials (CONSORT) statement for the reporting of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) which has been endorsed by many scientific journals. Since then, other guidelines have been, and continue to be, established and promoted to improve the completeness of reporting of various study designs.
The Enhancing the QUAlity and Transparency Of health Research (EQUATOR) network (http://www.equator-network.org/home/) has been working very hard to improve the quality of research reporting. This international initiative, which brings together researchers, peer-reviewers, journal editors and guideline developers, has emerged following the work initiated by the CONSORT group. From 2006, EQUATOR has centralised most of what has been achieved around the theme of ‘good and transparent research reporting’. The EQUATOR website has become an extraordinary source of precious information for researchers, peer-reviewers and journal editors. We can only encourage authors who wish to publish their work in the European Journal of Anaesthesiology to spend some time on the EQUATOR website to grasp an idea of the extent of the educational material which is now (freely) available.
Almost everything you need to know about the adequate reporting of a research article may be found through the EQUATOR network. However, to remain practical and oriented towards the European Journal of Anaesthesiology, we shall briefly describe a few guidelines which focus on the design of articles that are most commonly published in the journal.
In a previous Editorial, we described the adherence of our authors to the CONSORT statement.3 We screened all the issues of the European Journal of Anaesthesiology from January 2010 to December 2010 and found 129 original research articles, 50 of which (39%) were RCTs. Only 12 of the 50 RCTs (24%) reported at least 50% of the CONSORT items which led us to conclude that there was room for improvement.3
For the purpose of the present essay, we broaden the issue of adequate data reporting to all 129 original research articles. In addition to the 50 RCTs, there were 26 (20.1%) cohort studies, 21 (16.3%) animal studies and nine (7.0%) surveys; the remaining 23 reports (17.8%) included studies on diagnostic accuracy, cross-sectional and case–control trials, case series and systematic reviews with or without meta-analyses (Table 1).
Specific reporting guidelines are available for each of these study designs (Table 2).4–6 These can be summarised briefly as follows.
The reporting guideline for RCTs is the CONSORT statement, an evidence-based, 25-item set of recommendations which are summarised in a ‘checklist’, with instructions on how to draw a flow diagram. Each item of the CONSORT statement is described clearly, with helpful examples in an ‘Explanation and Elaboration’ document which is freely accessible online (http://www.consort-statement.org/consort-statement/). The main CONSORT statement provides advice for the reporting of a standard two-group, parallel, randomised study design. Extensions to the CONSORT statement are available for slightly different designs such as cluster or equivalence designs and for trials reporting on non-pharmacological interventions, or on harm. An extension also exists regarding what to include in an abstract.7 The CONSORT statement changes as new evidence emerges; the last version to date is CONSORT 2010. We encourage authors of RCTs to consult the CONSORT website for up-to-date information.
The recommended reporting guideline for cohort studies is the STrengthening the Reporting of OBservational studies in Epidemiology (STROBE) statement. This 22-item list is available on http://www.strobe-statement.org/. STROBE provides checklists for two additional major observational study designs, the case–control and cross-sectional design, and a checklist for the reporting of conference abstracts. Although some overlap exists between these different reporting guidelines, some issues are very specific to a given study architecture. These checklists are updated regularly in response to new emerging evidence as well as comments and critiques from users. The STROBE statement has been endorsed by a growing number of journals and is available from the website in many languages including Chinese, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, Persian and Portuguese.
The Animal in Research: Reporting In Vivo Experiments (ARRIVE) guideline focuses on specific ethical and technical problems encountered in animal research. Obviously, this guideline addresses issues which are quite different from guidelines dealing with clinical research, such as the description of housing, type of cage, number of animals per cage and husbandry conditions. It is summarised as a 20-item checklist and is freely accessible online from the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research in the UK (http://www.nc3rs.org.uk/page.asp?id=1357). This website also provides interesting information regarding different aspects of animal research (systematic reviews, experimental designs, pilot studies). In addition to the ARRIVE guidelines, the Gold Standard Publication Checklist (GSPC) for animal research has been published,4 together with a Commentary in the British Journal of Pharmacology.8 GSPC provides an even more detailed checklist of what should be included in reports of animal research with the aim of standardising data reporting in order to facilitate systematic reviews and meta-analyses in this area. Both guidelines pay particular attention to the need for justification of the use of animals for research.
Interesting guidelines for the conduct and implementation of survey research were published in 2003,5 and more recently by the Canadian Medical Association in 2008.6 Although these articles do not focus exclusively on data reporting, the first provides an 18-item checklist of key points which need to be covered when reporting a survey. Some of these items are very specific to this study design, such as ‘how many and what type of attempts were made to contact subjects?’ or ‘what was the response rate?’.
Other study designs published in the European Journal of Anaesthesiology in 2010 for which specific reporting guidelines exist included studies of diagnostic accuracy (STAndard for the Reporting of Diagnostic accuracy studies, STARD; http://www.stard-statement.org/), systematic reviews and meta-analyses (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta-Analyses, PRISMA; http://www.prisma-statement.org/) and further observational studies which are covered by STROBE as discussed above. All these guidelines, as well as many others, may be found through the EQUATOR website (http://www.equator-network.org/home/).
The aim of this short essay is to remind readers, authors and peer-reviewers of the European Journal of Anaesthesiology that guidelines for data reporting are available. Events are moving fast in this area and we strongly encourage authors who are planning to submit a research article to the journal to spend some time visiting the EQUATOR website for recent updates and, most of all, to use these guidelines when writing their manuscripts. We also strongly encourage peer-reviewers to use these guidelines when reviewing research articles for us in order to help authors to complete missing, potentially important, information and, thus, to improve the quality and completeness of data reporting.
Critics may argue that the strict and standardised formatting of research articles will eventually kill the creativity of authors. However, we do not believe that a research article is the appropriate place to express ‘creativity’ which should be left to authors of Editorials, Commentaries, Letters to the Editor or perhaps narrative, conventional, non-systematic reviews. When it comes to the reporting of a scientific experiment, performed in humans or animals, we need clarity, completeness and transparency to ensure that the methods are reproducible and that the reported data are informative, valid and useful for clinical decision making. This is why guidelines on adequate data reporting have been created and made available. Use them.
Assistance with the Editorial: none declared.
Sources of funding: none declared.
Conflicts of interest: none declared.
NE and MRT are Editors of the European Journal of Anaesthesiology.
Comment from the Editor: This article was checked and accepted by the Editors, but was not sent for external peer-review.
1. Kilkenny C, Browne WJ, Cuthill IC, et al. Improving bioscience research reporting: the ARRIVE guidelines for reporting animal research. PLoS Biol
2. Simera I, Altman DG. Writing a research article that is ‘fit for purpose’: EQUATOR Network and reporting guidelines. Evid Based Med
3. Elia N, Tramèr MR. Adherence to guidelines for improved quality of data reporting: where are we today? Eur J Anaesthesiol
4. Hooijmans CR, Leenaars M, Ritskes-Hoitinga M. A gold standard publication checklist to improve the quality of animal studies, to fully integrate the three Rs and to make systematic reviews more feasible. Altern Lab Anim
5. Kelley K, Clark B, Brown V, Sitzia J. Good practice in the conduct and reporting of survey research. Int J Qual Health Care
6. Burns KE, Duffett M, Kho ME, et al. A guide for the design and conduct of self-administered surveys of clinicians. CMAJ
7. von Elm E. Writing the abstract: completeness and accuracy matter. Eur J Anaesthesiol
8. Hooijmans CR, de Vries R, Leenaars M, et al. Improving planning, design, reporting and scientific quality of animal experiments by using the gold standard publication checklist, in addition to the ARRIVE guidelines. Br J Pharmacol