You undoubtedly know that most scientific articles about health research have this basic structure: introduction – methods – results – and – discussion, or IMRaD for short. Sometimes the results are placed after the discussion, but otherwise, this order is pretty much it. Of course, you also need a title and an abstract before the introduction and references at the end.

Reporting guidelines

Apart from the basic IMRaD order, you may be unsure of what else needs to go in or would not mind having a practical checklist to remind you. For that purpose, reporting guidelines have been written. For each type of study, a committee with members specialized in that field has established reporting guidelines. As a result, the guidelines are detailed documents describing all items that need to be included in your article. In addition, these guidelines come with handy checklists that you can download and fill in, and sometimes flow diagrams are also required for which examples are provided.

The reporting guidelines will remind you, for instance, to indicate the study design in your title, explain how the study size was arrived at, clearly state the objectives in the introduction, or give reasons for non-participation at each stage.

Which reporting guidelines should you follow? 

For the main study types, the reporting guidelines are on the EQUATOR website.

A selection of the reporting guidelines is in the Table below:

Study typeReporting guidelines to use
Randomised trials  CONSORT  
Observational studies  STROBE  
Systematic reviews  PRISMA  
Study protocols  SPIRIT  
Diagnostic/prognostic studies  STARD or TRIPOD
Case reports  CARE  
Clinical practice guidelines  AGREE or RIGHT  
Qualitative research  SRQR or COREQ
Animal pre-clinical studies  ARRIVE
Quality improvement studies  SQUIRE  
Economic evaluations  CHEERS
Meta-analysis of observational studiesMOOSE
Microarray or sequencing studiesMIAME
Genetic association studySTREGA

The decision tree provided below may help you find the correct guidelines, or you can search for specific guidelines using filters.

EQUATOR network decision tree for reporting guidelines

Journal requirements

Various journals now recommend you to fill in, or require you to submit, one of these specific checklists along with your article. For instance, the publishers Springer, BMJ, Wolters Kluwer, the American Heart Association, BMC, and the JAMA network all at least recommend using reporting guidelines.

Preparing and reporting a study

The reporting guidelines are not only useful when writing a manuscript but can also help you prepare your study. For instance, if you want to perform a systematic review, looking at the PRISMA guidelines before the study will remind you to keep good track of all the databases and other sources searched, as well as keep track of the dates of your searches and any filters used. This will save you a lot of work later, such as having to redo all analyses because you did not note the number of articles excluded at each step.

Another important advantage of using reporting guidelines is that if you have performed a randomized trial and followed the CONSORT guidelines when writing your manuscript, all information is present in the article that is later required to include the article in systematic reviews or meta-analyses.

Have a look at the guidelines that are relevant to your study before you start! If you need more help writing or structuring your article you may want to look at the services I provide.