Readers’ editor: International research

David Payne The BMJ wants its research papers to help doctors make better decisions, which is why they are open access and free to view.

But to deliver on the pledge our research also needs to be scientifically valid, clinically relevant, widely read and cited, and appeal to international readers. Each year we get more than 3000 submissions, but we usually only accept 2 to 5%.

Sara Schroter has run the BMJ’s in-house research programme since 2001. Her latest report is an audit of papers submitted and published between 2004 and 2012. It tracks a range of indicators. These help us to see if our published research is being accessed on and cited, and what proportion is getting picked up by secondary sources like Evidence Updates, Journal Watch, Evidence Based Medicine Journal, etc.

Sara’s report compares study designs, turnaround times, total number of online accesses in the first three months of publication, and rapid responses. She also looks at which papers get picked up by secondary sources, and the impact of a paper when its findings get included in a press release.

It also contains a location analysis, based on the country of the corresponding author listed on the paper. But because many research papers have numerous authors and often from several countries, it’s hard to draw firm conclusions.

On average, our research papers published in 2012 were accessed over 7000 times in the first three months of publication.  The number of accesses refer to the total number of accesses on to the PDF, full text, or abstract.  In 2012, over 30% of our research papers were picked up in Evidence Updates and Journal Watch General Medicine, further increasing their visibility on other platforms.

The table below shows the top accessed BMJ papers over a nine year period. The number of citations relate to the year of publication, and in the subsequent two years.



Total accesses in first 3 months of publication

Aggregate citations (year of publication plus 2 years)

Mortality in relation to smoking: 50 years’ observations on male British doctors Location of corresponding author: UKYear of publication: 2004

R Doll, R Peto, et al



Risk of myocardial infarction in patients taking cyclo-oxygenase-2 inhibitors or conventional non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs: population based nested case-control analysis Location of corresponding author: UKYear of publication:2005

Julia Hippisley-Cox, Carol Coupland



Googling for a diagnosis—use of Google as a diagnostic aid: internet based study Location of corresponding author: AustraliaYear of publication:2006

Hangwi Tang, Jennifer Hwee Kwoon Ng



Long term effects of dietary sodium reduction on cardiovascular disease outcomes: observational follow-up of the trials of hypertension prevention (TOHP)  Location of corresponding author: USYear of publication:2007

Nancy R Cook, Jeffrey A Cutler, Eva Obarzanek,et al



Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: longitudinal analysis over 20 years in the Framingham Heart Study Location of corresponding author: USYear of publication:2008

James H Fowler, Nicholas A Christakis



Self administered cognitive screening test (TYM) for detection of Alzheimer’s disease: cross sectional study Location of corresponding author: UKYear of publication:2009

Jeremy Brown, George Pengas, Kate Dawson, et al



Effect of calcium supplements on risk of myocardial infarction and cardiovascular events: meta-analysis Location of corresponding author: AustrlaiaYear of publication:2010

Mark J Bolland, Alison Avenell, John A Baron, et al



Chocolate consumption and cardiometabolic disorders: systematic review and meta-analysis Location of corresponding author: UKYear of publication:

Adriana Buitrago-Lopez, Jean Sanderson, Laura Johnson, et al


Low carbohydrate-high protein diet and incidence of cardiovascular diseases in Swedish women: prospective cohort study Location of corresponding author: USYear of publication:2012

Pagona Lagiou, Sven Sandin, Marie Lof, et al


With the exception of 2007, when we published a high proportion of papers from the UK, the percentage of papers published from the UK is on a downward trend (just under 40% in 2012) with increasing proportions from elsewhere in Europe and North America. In 2012, we published almost as many papers from mainland Europe as the UK.

When a paper gets press released, on average it gets more citations, and more accesses on, than those that were not press released.  However, this may be a function of the type of papers that get press released!

We have been working on improving our processing time and in 2012 our median interval in days between provisional acceptance and online publication was just 44 days (LQ 33, /UQ 66) without stopping the clock when authors were handling proofs and final revisions.

 David Payne is readers’ editor and editor of