Liz Wager: Why aren’t researchers told about reporting guidelines?

lizwagerI recently gave a talk about guidelines to a group of postgraduate students at a well known, well resourced, and ancient university. The purpose of my talk was to explain the guidelines governing professional medical writers, as this was a careers day for biomedical researchers, who were considering a move into the world of medical communications.

To get some interaction, I started by asking the audience how many of them had already published their research in a peer reviewed journal. All hands went up—these were mainly postdocs, not people just embarking on a PhD. My next question was: “Did you consult any reporting guidelines?” This generated blank looks, so I rephrased it and asked: “Have any of you heard of any reporting guidelines?” One brave soul said something that was an only slightly garbled version of CONSORT, and somebody else had heard of ICMJE (not exactly reporting guidelines, but close enough). So I told them about CONSORT, STROBE, PRISMA, and the EQUATOR Network.

I then spoke about various guidelines that I didn’t expect them to know about, such as Good Publication Practice (mainly aimed at pharmaceutical companies—see GPP2), and guidelines for medical writers, such as those from the European Medical Writers Association.

I explained that people working on publications (as writers or managers) generally took professionalism seriously, and were expected to keep abreast of a wide range of guidelines. I told them about a recent survey that I’d been involved with. This survey suggested that publications professionals were aware of these guidelines, and that drug companies and communication agencies took them seriously enough to audit compliance with them.

At the end of the talk, there were one or two questions about the role of medical writers, and on the tricky subject of authorship. Then, there was an almost angry outburst from one participant who said: “Why haven’t we been told about these guidelines before?” I couldn’t answer that.

Liz Wager PhD is a freelance medical writer, editor, and trainer. She was the chair of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) (2009-2012).

Competing interests: The author has no further relevant interests to declare.