Writing your manuscript

Poor quality reporting makes research interpretation problematic and efforts to replicate research very difficult. If research is not reported, or is reported poorly, the time and money spent conducting the research is wasted. It is therefore critical that researchers communicate their results effectively. Regretfully, there is a longstanding problem with poor reporting in biomedical research. This problem was highlighted in a recent Lancet Special Issue entitled ‘Research: Increasing value, reducing waste’.

As you set out to write your manuscript, consider the following recommendations from Bradford Hill with respect to the basic questions all scientific reports of research should answer1:

  1. What questions were addressed and why?
  2. What was done?
  3. What was shown?
  4. What do the findings mean?

While these may seem like simple questions to guide your writing, research shows that at least half of research reports are unusable because of their poor reporting quality2.

When drafting your manuscript, we strongly recommend you visit the EQUATOR Network website and use a relevant reporting guideline. EQUATOR (Enhancing the QUAlity and Transparency Of health Research) is an international network that seeks to tackle issues with poor reporting. Specifically, they aim to improve the reliability of the published biomedical literature through promotion of reporting quality and rigorously developed reporting guidelines. Following reporting guidelines ensures that peer reviewers and future readers have all the necessary information to judge the quality of your research. The EQUATOR Network is supported by numerous organizations and institutions, including COPE (the Committee On Publications Ethics). There is also a range of useful writing tools available via the Equator Website, including examples of good quality reporting.

Try the new EQUATOR wizard: a tool to help authors find the right reporting guidelines. It is quick (less than 3 minutes) and really easy to use. After answering a few questions about your study (multiple choice), the wizard will identify the reporting guidelines most appropriate for your study paradigm, and then will provide you with a link to the appropriate guidelines.

Once your manuscript is published, it may be the subject of post-publication scrutiny. It is therefore important that you ensure that your manuscript can withstand critical appraisal and that the details of your methods and results can easily be discerned. Indeed, this information is relevant to other researchers looking to build upon your work and particularly critical for systematic reviewers.

What are reporting guidelines?

Reporting guidelines are checklists of the key components a paper should report. There are different reporting guidelines for different types of research designs. Currently the EQUATOR Network hosts over 250 reporting guidelines, which are available via a searchable online database. Please contact the Publications Officer if you need help selecting or following a reporting guideline.

Transparency declaration

The BMJ and BMJ Open have implemented a transparency declaration as part of their submission process. Authors are asked to make the following statement:

"The lead author affirms that this manuscript is an honest, accurate, and transparent account of the study being reported; that no important aspects of the study have been omitted; and that any discrepancies from the study as planned (and, if relevant, registered) have been explained.3"

Consider including a transparency pledge in the acknowledgements of your manuscript. Use of reporting guidelines can help ensure that your manuscript has been transparently reported and thus place a degree of assurance in one’s transparency pledge. While BMJ is leading the way in use of this pledge, it is likely that other journals will follow in due course.

If you would like specific advice with respect to writing your manuscript, or how to follow a reporting guideline, please contact the Publications Officer.