The anatomy of an article: Methods and results
Naim Sauaia, MD, PhD – 1983.1
“Everyone is a p-hacker. It’s time to quit denying that we don’t posture our data and results in ways that make them more compelling…However, the more researcher degrees of freedom we engage in, the less certain we can be that our conclusions are warranted.”
Leif Nelson, Assoc. Professor, Univ. California Berkeley, 2005.
In 2012, we proposed an assessment of the evidence level of individual studies (ELIS) meant to facilitate the application of published evidence to the readers’ research agenda and/or patients.2 The ELIS gauges the dimensions of the uncertainty surrounding the results based on an assessment of the study’s quality. The level of evidence does not demerit a study; it simply puts it into perspective and informs the reader about how confident they can be in the conclusions. To assess the quality of the evidence, we must rely on complete reporting. Thus, we followed our ELIS report by a series of articles named “The Anatomy of an Article” to guide authors, reviewers and audiences on the essential elements that must be included into a scientific report. The first article focused on the Discussion and provided a framework with five key segments: (1) statement of up to three major findings, (2) study assessment in the context of current evidence, (3) ELIS (including limitations), (4) study findings’ application (including the Patients, Interventions, Comparator, Outcomes [PICO] framework) and (5) conclusions.3 Next, we focused on the Title, the Abstract and the Introduction sections, for which we proposed a three-step structure: (1) what is known, (2) what is not known, and (3) study objectives.4 The last article of this trilogy is dedicated to the very essence of a research article: the Methods and Results sections. These sections are devoid of passion and personal biases. They should include all the information necessary to reproduce the study (and obtain similar results); assess the ELIS; apply the PICO framework; and interpret the conclusions and limitations.
The EQUATOR network, an international collaboration of experts to improve the transparency of research reporting, contains a continuously updated, comprehensive catalog of reporting standards for different types of study, and the editors of the journal strongly recommend their use.5 The sections below are general recommendations to be used in conjunction with the specific reporting standards.