Study protocols are an integral part of medical research. They provide a documented record of a researcher’s plan of action, detailing in advance a study’s rationale, methodology and analyses. Publication of study protocols ensures greater transparency in the research process and protects the wider community against a number of damaging research practices. These include the selective publication of positive results, the selective presentation of data or analyses, the failure to adequately calculate statistical power and the failure to distinguish between hypothesis-generating (exploratory) and hypothesis-testing analyses. Publication of protocols also informs the research community about what research activity is currently being carried out in different fields, preventing unnecessary duplication of work and encouraging collaboration between research groups. The many benefits of publishing study protocols helps to ensure that medical research studies are conducted to the highest standards, leading to a stronger evidence base in medicine and ultimately better healthcare for patients.
BMJ Open is committed to improving standards in medical research by supporting the publication of study protocols. Furthermore, BMJ Open’s Editor-in-Chief, Trish Groves, leads an online eLearning programme, Research to Publication, which includes a free module on how to write and publish a study protocol. The aim of the Research to Publication programme is to equip researchers with the basic skills and knowledge needed to understand research designs, write manuscripts and become published authors.
Successful completion of the study protocol module is formally recognized with a certificate from The BMJ’s Editor-in-Chief. If a researcher completes the module and provides the certificate when they submit their study protocol to BMJ Open, then they will receive a 75% reduction on the Article Publishing Charge upon acceptance of their manuscript for publication (usual protocol APC: £1000). The protocol would need to be submitted to BMJ Open within six months of completion of the module and would need to go through the usual editorial and peer review processes, so we cannot promise acceptance.
We hope this combination of training, certification, and publication support will encourage more researchers to publish their study protocols. Further information about the Research to Publication eLearning programme can be found here.