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These articles should report original research studies that can improve decision making in medical practice, policy, education, or research and will be understandable by general medical readers.
All research studies published in the BMJ should be morally acceptable, and must follow the World Medical Association's Declaration of Helsinki. To ensure this, we aim to appraise the ethical aspects of any submitted work that involves human participants, whatever descriptive label is given to that work including research, audit, and sometimes debate. This policy also applies on the very rare occasions that we publish work done with animal participants.
To learn more about the kind of research we give priority to, and what services we offer to authors of research, please read this editorial: Why submit your research to the BMJ? You may also want to know more about the BMJ's continuous online publishing model, and read our FAQs about it - for example on how to cite BMJ articles.
We audit the performance of all BMJ research articles, using a wide range of indicators to assess their impact on readers and their dissemination to the wider world.
The full text of every research article published in the BMJ is immediately accessible on bmj.com through open access to everyone at no charge. The full text of all research articles is also sent, without further intervention from the author, to PubMed Central, the National Library of Medicine's full text archive, which makes it fully accessible without delay. This means that the BMJ immediately fulfils the requirements of the US National Institutes of Health, the UK Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, and other funding bodies to make publicly funded research freely available to all.
In accordance with the ICMJE uniform requirements, the BMJ will not consider reports of clinical trials unless they were registered prospectively before recruitment of any participants. This applies to trials which commenced after 1 July 2005: for older trials retrospective registration will be acceptable, but only if completed before submission of the manuscript to the journal.
Eligible trials have been defined by ICMJE since 1 July 2008 as "where human participants are prospectively assigned to one or more health-related interventions [including health services and behavioural interventions] to evaluate the effects on health outcomes", and before that were defined more narrowly as trials "where human participants are prospectively assigned to investigate the cause and effect relationship between a medical intervention and health outcome".
This means that:
The BMJ’s criteria for a suitable public trial registry are: free to access, searchable, and identifies trials with a unique number; registration is free or has minimal cost; registered information is validated; registered entry includes details to identify the trial and investigator and includes the status of the trial; and the research question, methodology, intervention, funding, and sponsorship must all be disclosed at registration.
The BMJ does not consider posting of protocols and results in clinical trial registries to be prior publication.
BMJ policy on drugs and devices trials
We welcome submission of any drug or device trial that asks an original research question that will sufficiently aid doctors' decisions. This is most likely to be a trial that compares a new drug or device (or new regimen/indication) head to head against the best current treatment(s) using clinically valid doses/administration of both study and comparator interventions. Placebo controlled trials often have much more limited relevance to practice than head to head trials and may not sufficiently help BMJ readers' decisions, but we welcome emailed presubmission inquiries about these too.
In addition, we will give greater priority to a drug or device trial if it:
If you are submitting a report of such a clinical trial please follow the guidelines on good publication practice and on properly reporting the role of professional medical writers. Please provide the trial registration details; declare the details of all sources of funding for the study; provide statements of competing interests and contributorship; fully describe the role of the study sponsors; provide a statement on the independence of researchers from funders; and state whether all authors had full access to and can take responsibility for the data and analyses. All of these items are explained in more detail below.
We ask authors to include a data sharing statement at the end of each original research article. The statement should explain which additional data from the study—if any—are available, to whom, and how. Those data could range from additional explanatory material to the complete dataset. People allowed access to the data might range from fellow researchers to everyone. And data might be available only on request, accessible online with a password, or openly accessible to all on the web with a link on bmj.com.
We understand that many authors wish to guard data until they have published all their own papers, and we know that data sharing is hard to do. But we hope that authors will, increasingly, set the data free, perhaps after a set period of personal use.
Abridged research articles
For research articles we routinely post the full, citable, indexed version only on bmj.com, with open access, and prepare an abridged version for publication in the print journal. We believe that a well written short version in the print BMJ can encourage casual readers to read something they might otherwise miss, while the full version on bmj.com allows serious readers the detail they need.
We are currently piloting a new way of abridging research articles for the print BMJ - publishing what is essentially an evidence abstract called BMJ pico - and here are some real examples. We hope that you will want to take part in this pilot if your research article is accepted. This would involve you producing, using a template from us, a succinct evidence abstract of your own article after acceptance. There is no need to prepare a BMJ pico in advance, however - please wait until we have offered to publish your article.
We’re doing this to increase readership of research articles in the print BMJ and to give authors more control over the abridging. If you prefer not to try BMJ pico we will abridge your research article using our ELPS - electronic long, paper short - process.
How to prepare BMJ original research articles (full versions)
Here is all the information you need:
No word limit
We do not set fixed limits for the length of BMJ research articles and can be flexible. Nonetheless, please try to make your article concise and make every word count. Think hard about what really needs to be in the paper to get your message across accurately and what can be left out. You will be prompted to provide the word count for the main text (excluding the abstract, references, tables, boxes, or figures) when you submit your manuscript.
This should give the title of the article, including the study design. Please give for each author his or her name and initials, full address including postal code and one main work position (job title) at the time of writing the paper. We do not need authors’ qualifications. For the corresponding author please provide an email address and the best contact address: this may differ from his or her work address.
Original research articles should follow the IMRaD style (introduction, methods, results and discussion) and should have a structured abstract, a structured discussion, and a succinct introduction that focuses - in no more than three paragraphs - on the background to the research question.
Please ensure that the discussion section of your article comprises no more than five paragraphs and follows this overall structure, although you do not need to signpost these elements with subheadings:
What other information do we need?
Please see our general requirements for all BMJ manuscripts. For original research articles in particular, please note that we need, as appropriate:
In the manuscript:
As supplemental files:
In the cover letter:
Please ensure that the structured abstract is as complete, accurate, and clear as possible—but not unnecessarily long—and has been approved by all authors. We may screen original research articles by reading only the abstract. For randomised controlled trials please provide all the information required for a CONSORT style abstract. Please note the general rules for abstracts in the BMJ:
The first few items (objective, design, setting) may be note-like and need not form full sentences. The results and conclusions sections should be written properly. Do not mix notes and full sentences in one section.
If the standard headings do not suit the type of study, substitute something sensible such as "population" as a heading instead of "participants" in an economics article. Please do not simply delete the heading.
For standard original research articles please provide the following headings and information (for RCTs please add the trial registration details - but there is no need to provide the additional subheadings which are used in the CONSORT statement on abstracts, as long as you include all the required information):
Please note that confidence intervals should be written in the format (15 to 27) within parentheses, using the word "to" rather than a hyphen.
Abstracts for meta-analyses and systematic reviews should have these headings:
Abstracts for qualitative research articles should follow the standard style but may need fewer headings:
Quality improvement reports also have their own style of structured abstract:
“What this paper adds” box
Please produce a box offering a thumbnail sketch of what your article adds to the literature, for readers who would like an overview without reading the whole article It should be divided into two short sections, each with 1-3 short sentences.
section 1: What is already known on this subject
In two or three single sentence bullet points please summarise the state of scientific knowledge on this subject before you did your study and why this study needed to be done. Be clear and specific, not vague.
For example you might say: “Numerous observational studies have suggested that tea drinking may be effective in treating depression, but until now evidence from randomised controlled trials has been lacking/the only randomised controlled trial to date was underpowered/was carried out in an unusual population/did not use internationally accepted outcome measures/used too low a dose of tea.”
or: “Evidence from trials of tea therapy in depression have given conflicting results. Although Sjogren and Smith conducted a systematic review in 1995, a further 15 trials have been carried out since then…”
section 2: What this study adds
In one or two single sentence bullet points give a simple answer to the question “What do we now know as a result of this study that we did not know before?” Be brief, succinct, specific, and accurate. For example: “Our study suggests that tea drinking has no overall benefit in depression”.
You might use the last sentence to summarise any implications for practice, research, policy, or public health. For example, your study might have: asked and answered a new question (one whose relevance has only recently become clear) contradicted a belief, dogma, or previous evidence provided a new perspective on something that is already known in general provided evidence of higher methodological quality for a message which is already known.
Summary statistics to clarify your message
We do want your piece to be easy to read but also want it to be as scientifically accurate as possible. Please include in the results section of your structured abstract (and in the article's results section) the following terms, as appropriate:
For a clinical trial:
For a cohort study:
For a case control study:
For a study of a diagnostic test:
The box stating what is known and what this paper adds (see below) should also reflect accurately the above information. Under what this paper adds please give the one most useful summary statistic eg NNT.
Please do not use the term "negative" to describe studies that have not found statistically significant differences, perhaps because they were too small. There will always be some uncertainty, and we hope you will be as explicit as possible in reporting what you have found in your study. Using wording such as "our results are compatible with a decrease of this much or an increase of this much" or “this study found no effect” is more accurate and helpful to readers than “there was no effect/no difference”. Please use such wording throughout the article, including the structured abstract, and the box stating what the paper adds.
If you are sending us a revised article
Please provide all of the above, as appropriate (if not done earlier), as well as a detailed covering letter explaining how you have responded to editorial and peer review comments and other guidance from the BMJ. All of this should be submitted via your author area at our online editorial office.
We often publish original research articles with an accompanying commentary of up to 500 words and five references, commissioned to help readers interpret the research or place it in context. If we commission a commentary on your article we will send you a copy of it before publication.
If we ask you to write a commentary, please provide in the manuscript a title for your piece; a title page giving your name, position, and contact details including email address; and statements of competing interests and – if appropriate - contributorship and funding. Please say in your covering letter or email which BMJ article you are commenting on and give its BMJ manuscript number.