Why Should Editors Embrace Registered Reports?

September 19, 2019 Elizabeth Moylan

The theme for this year's Peer Review Week is quality, and the Registered Report initiative speaks to just that-with its focus on the importance of a given research question and the quality of the proposed methodology. We launched this initiative at Wiley in 2017,and now 38 journals have adopted Registered Reports. While recognizing established benefits of implementing Registered Reports, we wanted to learn more about the practical experiences of researchers across communities, i.e. from editors who have offered Registered Reports and from authors and reviewers who have experience with the format. We recently completed a survey of editors who have implemented Registered Reports, and you can read our findings here. Nidhi Bansal, Editor-in-Chief of Cancer Reports, shares her views on the survey findings and the Registered Reports initiative below.

Nidhi Bansal

Q. Nidhi, is there anything that particularly stood out for you from the survey findings?

A. One thing that stood out for me was that the reviewers found the review process simple and straightforward. Registered Reports is a new format and the peer review is unconventional in that the Stage 1 is a study protocol without any results. The fact that the reviewers were able to visualize the article and quality based only on the hypothesis and methodology is remarkable. It is a step in the right direction strengthening the foundation that is going to bear the weight of reproducible and valid research Clearly, this resonated well even with the authors, who found the peer review helpful and rewarding. It's encouraging to see that the researchers (sampled here as authors and reviewers) have welcomed this change and are willing to contribute to an initiative that can reshape the future of how research is done and communicated.

Q. Attracting submissions of Registered Reports was a challenge for editors, what has been your experience?

A.That's true. Submissions have not met our expectations but there are many reasons why that's the case. For starters, this is a new article type, still in its infancy. The majority of the researchers, particularly in health and life sciences, are simply not aware of this format. The small group who are aware may not be sure of what the initiative means and have many questions such as—if they publish or register a Stage 1 Registered Report, will the novelty of the research be lost when they apply for funding, or are they missing out an opportunity to publish a potentially ground-breaking study in a high impact journal? These are valid questions. But maybe there is potential for the initiative to be helpful for researchers in improving their grant applications if applying for funding after receiving feedback on the research plan. It’s also worth noting that highly selective journals are also offering Registered Reports and still select based on novelty of the question and rigor of the methodology, independent of the outcomes.

In Cancer Reports we have received only two submissions so far of which one has been published (by Goda et al. 2019). Its been a slow start, but a start nonetheless, as this has been a landmark article for Cancer Reports in more ways than one. Its become a prototype for us in not only establishing the ground rules and format for publishing Registering Reports, but also an opportunity for offering transparent peer review, where peer reviewers signed their reviews which were published as Supporting Information alongside the authors response and the editorial decision from the journal.  

Q. What more can be done to encourage submissions?

A. Registered Reports challenges the status quo and how things are traditionally done in research and publishing. It calls for more transparency, trust, and scientific rigor. More advocacy by researchers, publishers, and funders is required to create awareness and get the word out. Seminars, focus groups, and workshops can help. I also think getting funders behind this initiative is critically important, since many researchers I've talked to are hesitant because they are unsure how their grant application will fare if they have already communicated their idea through a Stage 1 Registered Report. Identifying the need for this article type in different research disciplines is also necessary. You may find that some communities will be more willing to adopt it than others. For, in clinical medicine, it is very common to pre-register clinical trials. I found it easier to explain the Registered Report format to clinicians than researcher. The initiative is still in its infancy and it will take time before the Registered Report will be considered as the preferred format to communicate research, not just by researchers but also journals and funders.

Q. What’s next for Registered Reports at Cancer Reports?

A.The plan is to be patient, persevere,and partner with other Wiley journals and the Center for Open Science (COS) in initiatives that encourage authors to submit Registered Reports, explaining to them the benefits of the Registered Report model, and clarifying any doubts or misperceptions they may have. We are also very interested in incentivizing submissions of Registered Reports, perhaps using badges that are a virtual pin, a credit system perhaps that is recognized by funders? Just a thought.

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Elizabeth Moylan

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