Enhancing the QUAlity and Transparency Of health Research

Creating your journal’s reporting guideline policy

Every journal has a different set of needs and its own submission and administrative workflow. You’ll want to develop a reporting guideline policy that works for your journal. We suggest working through these seven steps to develop a coherent policy, working with your editorial team, authors, and reviewers.

1. What are your journal’s needs?

Before developing your reporting guideline policy, take some time to evaluate the state of reporting in your field, to see what you need from your policy. You might like to internally evaluate the quality of reporting in your journal at the moment, to see whether your authors are already using reporting guidelines. You could evaluate the literature on reporting quality in your journal’s speciality. You could also evaluate the reporting guideline policies of other journals in your speciality.

2. Who will champion reporting guidelines at your journal?

Depending on the reporting guideline policy you choose, you may need to educate your editorial team, board members, and authors. Having a core team dedicated to implementing your policy and taking responsibility for education can be very helpful. Your core team could include editorial office staff, editorial board members, authors, reviewers, and the editor-in-chief.

3. Which reporting guidelines will your journal use?

Some journals give authors the freedom to select any appropriate reporting guideline from the EQUATOR Network database. However, the EQUATOR Network database includes every reporting guideline, regardless of how rigorous its development process. Other journals select some key reporting guidelines that cover the majority of their articles to endorse.

If you decide to select a few key guidelines, we suggest the following steps to ensure selecting robust reporting guidelines:

  1. Identify the health research study types published in your journal
  2. Identify a generic reporting guideline for each study type in the EQUATOR Network database. The EQUATOR Wizard may be helpful for this task
  3. Identify any specialty-specific reporting guidelines relevant for your journal in the EQUATOR Network database
  4. For each guideline, check that it was developed transparently and reproducibly.
  5. For each guideline, check that its development included searching for and using existing relevant evidence
  6. For each guideline, check that consensus was used in its development process
  7. For each guideline, check that it has either been evaluated or that an evaluation is planned

4. Policy detail: will you ‘endorse’ or ‘require’ reporting guidelines?

Use this worksheet (Word) to guide a discussion about what your journal’s reporting guideline policy will look like, and whether you want to endorse or require reporting guidelines. We suggest involving authors, reviewers, and editorial board members in this discussion.

We offer tools and support for four major routes for implementation, two that endorse guidelines and two that require them.

You should now have enough information to draft your journal’s reporting guideline policy and sketch out how reporting guidelines will fit into your journal’s workflow.

5. Do you need to get policy approval from your publisher or society?

You could request formal support of your new policy from either your publisher or your sponsoring society before launch. This level of support helps affirm the importance of good reporting for authors. It can also be helpful for editorial teams to have worked through any concerns about submission rates and other issues with publishers/sponsors before launch.

6. Deciding how to launch your policy

If you have chosen an ‘endorse’ policy, you can simply launch your policy and continue to educate authors as you go along. If you have chosen a ‘require’ policy, you may like to first implement a phased launch. You could first require just one reporting guideline, say for randomised controlled trials, and get authors comfortable with this requirement before launching the comprehensive policy. Alternatively, you could first endorse your full set of reporting guidelines and give authors a fixed period, say 1 year, before the guidelines are required.

7. Launch preparations

Once you have agreed on your reporting guideline policy and launch plan, you’ll need to get ready for launch by preparing promotional materials and updating your workflow. We have a collection of tools and templates to help you integrate reporting guidelines into your workflow. We also have suggestions for how you can promote your new policy amongst your readers and authors, using editorials and other tools.

If you have chosen a ‘require’ route, you may also need to develop training for whichever team members will check for guideline compliance.

Adapted from Chapter 29 of Guidelines for Reporting Health Research: A User’s Manual, First Edition. Edited by D Moher, DG Altman, KF Schultz, I Simera, and E Wager. 2014 John Wiley & Sons. Read the full chapter (PDF) and learn more about this textbook.