Editors’ Perspectives on Adding a Results Table and Limitations Section to Medical Journal Abstracts: A Qualitative Study

Steven Woloshin,1,2 Rebecca J. Williams,2 Lisa Bero2,3


To assess editors’ experience with and openness to refining journal article abstracts by adding a results table and a limitations header to improve abstract readability and informational content.1-3


General medical journals were selected based on journal impact factor rankings: all top 10 ranked journals and 5 among those ranked in the third quartile, published in English, with multiple issues per year, and using a structured abstract. Only one journal from the JAMA Network was selected. Semistructured interviews were conducted with the editor recommended by the journal’s editor in chief. The study ethics approval (exemption) was provided by Dartmouth.


Eleven of the 15 invited journals participated (9 from the top 10 and 2 of 5 from the third quartile by impact factor). Interviews were conducted with 4 editors in chief, 3 executive editors, and 4 other editor types by S.W. on a web conferencing platform (1 editor responded in writing) from February 4 to March 4, 2022, and lasted 15 to 20 minutes. Calls were recorded and autotranscribed. All study authors reviewed the full interview transcripts, R.J.W. summarized key themes from transcripts, and all authors reached consensus on abstract results tables key themes (Table 56). One journal had experience publishing abstract results tables. There was strong interest in a limitations header and few concerns about it having any potential harms.


These findings provide preliminary support for a trial evaluating the addition of results tables and limitations to abstracts. Limitations of this study are that it may not be representative of all journals and interviews did not include abstract readers or authors.


1. Bauchner H, Henry R, Golub RM. The restructuring of structured abstracts: adding a table in the results section. JAMA. 2013;309(5):491-492. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.76

2. Ertl N, Gazette K. A new way of documenting scientific data from medical publications. Karger Gaz. 1969;20(27):1-3.

3. Haynes RB, Mulrow CD, Huth EJ, Altman DG, Gardner MJ. More informative abstracts revisited: a progress report. Ann Intern Med. 1990;113(1):69-76. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-113-1-69

1Center for Medicine and the Media, The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, Lebanon, NH, USA, steven.woloshin@dartmouth.edu; 2The Lisa Schwartz Foundation for Truth in Medicine; 3Center for Bioethics and Humanities, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, Aurora, CO, USA

Conflict of Interest Disclosures

Steven Woloshin serves on the Cochrane Collaboration and the JAMA Internal Medicine editorial boards. Lisa Bero is Senior Research Integrity Editor, Cochrane, and serves on the Cochrane Editorial Board; an academic editor, Meta-Research, PLoS Biology; and a member of the Peer Review Congress Advisory Board but was not involved in the review or decision for this abstract. No other disclosures were reported.


This paper is dedicated to the memory of Lisa Schwartz, MD, MS, our remarkable partner, colleague, and friend whose work inspired this project. The authors thank the journal editors and staff who participated in interviews.