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From checklists to tools: lowering the barrier to better research reporting

An Editorial in PLOS Medicine in the past week starts by discussing the value in guidelines – such as those from the EQUATOR Network – for ensuring accurate and complete reporting in publications.

Approaches are then discussed that may help to reduce barriers to implementation of reporting guidelines. The article states: “If there is value in reporting guidelines, as we believe there is, how can the barrier to use be reduced so that the outputs of reporting guideline development are not seen as “unenforceable proclamations and checklists”? Education and training is likely to be one component, but substantial inroads might also be made if reporting checklists became integrated within authoring tools. In this area, some interesting work is beginning to be done.”.

The article then goes on to review various tools that are being developed to help authors to implement guidelines in their writing. Interestingly, the Editorial states: “…the EQUATOR Network is working with the start-up company Penelope to develop a web tool that aims to help authors identify relevant reporting guidelines more intuitively. Perhaps more interesting is Penelope’s main product under development, which checks a manuscript automatically for predictable errors and missing information; this includes highlighting potentially relevant checklists but goes further by identifying other commonly missed or incompletely reported pieces of information that are required for publication of a research article, such as citations, tables, and ethics statements, and by even scrutinizing p-values.”.

The article concludes: “So, how many more unenforceable proclamations and checklists do we need? The answer might be that it doesn’t matter how many are generated if reporting guidelines can evolve into genuinely useful and intelligent author aides that become as ubiquitous as citation software.”.


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