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BACKGROUND: With the expansion of academic departments, the National Research and Development initiative, and the Culyer report, United Kingdom (UK) general practice research is undergoing a period of investment and change. AIM: To examine the content and methodological quality of UK-published general practice research, and in particular to focus on the quantity and proportion of studies that were of high methodological quality, namely randomized controlled trials (RCTs). METHOD: We manually searched three UK-published journals over a five-year period: the British Journal of General Practice (BJGP), Family Practice, and the British Medical Journal (BMJ), which has a section devoted to general practice research. Studies were classified according to the International Classification of Health Problems of Primary Health Care (ICHPPC-2). RESULTS: Nearly half of published studies in UK primary care journals were concerned with either organization and administration issues in primary care or social problems (509 studies, 48%). Just over half were either qualitative studies or surveys of opinion or attitudes (528 studies, 50%). The overall number of RCTs was low (67 studies, 6%), and the proportion published has not changed over time (chi 2 for trend = 3.79, df = 1, P = 0.051). In contrast to surgical journals, nearly one-fifth of studies in general practice followed a longitudinal design (186 studies, 18%). CONCLUSIONS: The content and design of published general practice research in the UK is varied and broad. The most robust methodological design should be the aim of all prospective researchers in general practice.