Have you ever started working on a systematic review and someone told you to use the PRISMA guidelines? Or maybe you submitted an article to a journal and you were sent a CONSORT checklist? Or maybe you wanted to publish an article on your study and realized you weren’t quite sure how to organize your paper and what to include? Welcome to the world of health research reporting guidelines!
Even as clinical trial methodology became more structured, reporting on trials was still done on an ad hoc basis. Authors chose what to report; editors and reviewers determined if changes should be made and information added or removed, although there was no formal structure imposed on manuscripts. As a result, published medical studies frequently lacked vital methodology information such as recruitment techniques, participant eligibility criteria, measurable outcomes, length of the trial based on the protocol, time to follow-up, and drug dosages used.
As a result, two groups got together to develop the first health research reporting guideline, CONSORT (Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials) in 1996. It has since been revised two times, the latest version being CONSORT 2010. The QUOROM statement (QUality Of Reports Of Meta-analyses), followed shortly after in 1999. QUOROM has since been revised and renamed PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses).
But what exactly are health research reporting guidelines? Essentially, reporting guidelines are study methodology-dependent checklists for reporting health and are designed to enhance the quality and transparency of health research reporting. The checklist provides organizational structure to an article by specifying the elements that should be reported and where each element should be placed. For example, in a drug clinical trial, the methods section should include all of those items listed above (recruitment techniques, participant eligibility criteria, outcomes to be measured, etc.)—and more.
Every health research study methodology has a reporting guideline and many have extensions to incorporate key elements, either by topic (ex. STROBE-NUT for observational nutrition studies) or by study type (ex. TIDieR to incorporate more intervention details).
The EQUATOR Network serves as the clearinghouse for the reporting guidelines and extensions, with 418 reporting guidelines and study extensions for human medical research. The site has tools to help you find the right guideline to use. You can even get guidance on different sections of your report.
Note: If you engage in animal research, check out the Meridian Network for animal research reporting guidelines.
If you have questions about health research reporting guidelines or would like to request a presentation, please contact Helena VonVille.