Characteristics and Opportunities for Improvement of Methods Guidance Published in General and Methodology-Focused Medical Journals

Julian Hirt,1,2 Hannah Ewald,3 Daeria O. Lawson,4 Lars G. Hemkens,1,5,6 Matthias Briel,1,4 Stefan Schandelmaier1,4


To systematically assess the characteristics and current practice of developing methods guidance for health researchers and explore opportunities for improvement.


A systematic survey of methods-guidance articles published in general and methodology-focused, high-impact medical journals indexed in MEDLINE in 2020 was performed. Articles that explicitly stated the objective to provide methods guidance for health research were eligible. Characteristics related to findability, methods for guidance development, and transparency were extracted.


A total of 105 guidance articles published in 12 different journals were included. Few articles had a structured abstract (44 [42%]) or were indexed with Medical Subject Headings (40 [38%]) or author keywords (18 [17%]) related to guidance. Of the 105 guidance articles, less than half reported any methods for development (44 [42%]), most frequently stakeholder involvement (30 [28%]), systematic review of the methodological literature (21 [20%]), or consensus process (21 [20%]). Use of explicit methods for development differed between reporting guidelines (13 of 13 [100%] reported a development process) and other types of methods guidance (ie, guidance for planning, conduct, analysis, interpretation, or quality assessment: 31 of 92 articles [34%] reported a development process). Transparency was limited, with few guidance articles describing the authors’ expertise (23 [22%]). Conflicts of interest, if reported (36 [34%]), were frequently unclear.


Most methods-guidance articles published in 2020 were difficult to find in MEDLINE, were developed with unclear methods, and lacked transparency regarding the authors’ expertise and conflicts of interest. For health researchers, those limitations implied important barriers to the uptake of methods guidance. To improve findability, we developed the new open-access Library of Guidance for Health Scientists (LIGHTS; https://lights.science). More research is required to inform methods for guidance development and transparency considerations.

1Department of Clinical Research, University Hospital Basel, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland, s.schandelmaier@gmail.com; 2International Graduate Academy, Institute for Health and Nursing Science, Medical Faculty, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Halle (Saale), Germany; 3University Medical Library, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland; 4Department of Health Research Methods, Evidence, and Impact, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada; 5Meta-Research Innovation Center Berlin (METRIC-B), Berlin Institute of Health, Berlin, Germany; 6Meta-Research Innovation Center at Stanford (METRICS), Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA

Conflict of Interest Disclosures

None reported.


This work was supported by grant 190566 from the Swiss National Science Foundation and grant 3MS1043 from the University of Basel.

Role of the Funder/Sponsor

The funders had no role in the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; preparation, review, or approval of the abstract; and decision to submit the abstract for presentation.

Additional Information

Julian Hirt is a co–corresponding author.