Press release

New guide seeks to improve research reporting and make treatments easier to use

A group of healthcare experts drawn from institutions around the world has developed a checklist and guide that could improve care of patients by improving the way interventions are described in research papers.

The new guide, published last week in the British Medical Journal, will address the problem that many interventions - from surgery to rehabilitation to patient education - are so poorly described in the medical literature that they are difficult for clinicians to use in practice. The Template for Intervention Description and Replication (TIDieR) checklist and guide identifies 12 criteria to improve the completeness of reporting of interventions in research papers. Developed by a 16-member panel from leading universities in the UK, Australia, France and Canada, the TIDieR guide is accompanied in the BMJ by an explanation and elaboration of each item and examples of good reporting.

Associate Professor Tammy Hoffmann of Bond University, Australia, who along with her colleague Professor Paul Glasziou was one of the paper's lead authors, commented: “The evaluation of interventions to help patients is a major research activity, yet the quality of descriptions in publications remains remarkably poor.”

In previous research, the two authors found that only 39% of the 137 interventions they reviewed were properly described either in the research paper or in any references, appendices or websites. When researchers were asked to provide missing details, they were often unable to do so.

Co-author Professor Mary Dixon-Woods of the University of Leicester’s Department of Health Sciences, whose contribution to TIDieR’s development was supported by the Wellcome Trust, says: “This is a major problem for clinicians, researchers and, most of all, patients. Often key features, such as how long the treatment lasts, the way it is delivered, and how progress is monitored, are missing or poorly described.”

The 12 items on the TIDieR checklist include: the name of the intervention, the way it works, what materials and procedures were used, who provided the intervention, how, where and when it took place, how much in terms of duration and number of sessions, how well it was planned, how well it was delivered, and any tailoring and modifications that were necessary.

Recognising that tight word limits in academic journals often restrict reporting of interventions, TIDieR encourages authors to use multiple formats (such as websites and videos linked to the papers) to help fully describe the intervention and to provide details of the location of any additional resources.

Professor Glasziou says: “Unlike the secret remedies of the 19th century - when clinicians and consumers were kept in the dark about what ingredients were used - the current incomplete descriptions of interventions are more likely to arise due to poor communication and lack of awareness of the matter among authors and lack of attention by reviewers and editors.

“It was clear that comprehensive guidance was needed, along with robust ways to implement the guidance. TIDieR is designed to be used to improve how interventions are reported in journals and make it easier for authors to provide an account of their intervention, for reviewers and editors to assess the descriptions, and for readers to use the information.”

Associate Professor Hoffmann sums it up: “TIDieR should be the researchers' guide, the editors' checklist, and the readers’ friend. Most of all, it will help patients to receive interventions that have been tried and tested and shown to work.”