The EQUATOR Network (Enhancing the QUAlity and Transparency Of health Research) is an international initiative set up to help improve the reliability and value of health literature by promoting responsible reporting of health research [4
Appendix 2 summarizes the major goals of the EQUATOR Network. The main focus is on dissemination of the basic principles of responsible research reporting and the wider implementation of reporting guidelines. The EQUATOR website provides an up to date centralized resource for: researchers writing up their studies (notably guidance on reporting, scientific writing, ethical conduct in research and publication); for peer reviewers assessing research manuscripts; for editors who wish to implement policies to aid accurate and transparent research reporting in their journals; and also for scientists wishing to develop further high quality reporting guidelines http://www.equator-network.org/
. Recently, we published an overview of our online resources and a summary of available guidelines to allow better dissemination of this information [20
]. Every 3 months we issue an online newsletter highlighting new reporting guidelines and other information relevant to responsible reporting. Our website statistics indicate a steadily growing global interest in these resources.
EQUATOR workshops developed by our team support the use of resources available on our website. They focus on journal editors as 'quality gatekeepers' but also on young researchers and research students in order to introduce good research reporting habits early in their scientific careers [27
]. The work of journal editors and peer reviewers is difficult and an improvement in the quality of submitted manuscripts would ease the peer review process and reduce the number of problems that currently elude editorial and peer review checks [6
The EQUATOR programme is very young and there are important areas of work that we still need to tackle. These include:
• Strengthening the methodology for the development and assessment of reporting guidelines
• Investigating the barriers and facilitators of reporting guideline use
• Increasing the awareness of the EQUATOR Network and the available resources worldwide and supporting the implementation of activities leading to better reporting of health research
It would be valuable to have generic reporting guidelines for all the main study types. These could then be implemented in specific areas of health research methodology and, if necessary, extended to, for example, address issues specific to clinical specialties. Harmonizing terminology, definitions of outcome measures and adverse effects seems to be next logical step to allowing better comparison across studies [28
]. Well developed reporting guidelines have the potential to improve the clarity, completeness and transparency of research publications. Such publications can help us to gain the maximum value from funded research and may save lives and reduce the burden of illness on patients and costs to the healthcare system. Clearly, the reporting guidelines themselves must be robustly developed and should observe the same good reporting principles when presenting recommendations to their potential users. Drawing on our experience in the development of many reporting guidelines, members of the EQUATOR team recently published 'Guidance for Developers of Health Research Reporting Guidelines' [18
We plan also to develop a reporting guideline assessment tool, similar in principle to the AGREE Instrument for clinical practice guidelines [31
]. Our systematic review [17
] revealed important differences among the available guidelines. An evaluation of reporting guidelines in relation to identified criteria of importance would help journal editors to choose the most suitable guidelines for their journal and to request an appropriate level of compliance.
The EQUATOR team is investigating the factors that prevent or facilitate the use of reporting guidelines; this work will be very helpful in formulating a strategy for better dissemination and routine implementation of the guidelines in practice. Meanwhile, we offer some advice and practical tips on how to promote accurate and transparent reporting and the wider use of reporting guidelines. Appendix 3 provides a summary; more details are on the EQUATOR website.
The way that readers seek, access and read articles has also changed. Readers are more likely to search for a specific article rather than browse through journal issues. They read more articles per year but spend less time on individual articles [1
]. Readers do not have the time to try to work out what happened in a study and they should not have to. Authors must recognize the importance of clarity, structured format, logical flow of information and the key elements that should be reported; they should make it easy for readers to find the important information in their article. Peer reviewers should also take account of these principles when reviewing a manuscript.
It is important to increase awareness of the current poor level of reporting in the health research literature. Poor reporting may generally reflect an author's insufficient knowledge of good reporting practices and the reader's needs rather than deliberate attempts to mislead the readership. Whatever the reasons, it needs to be widely acknowledged that poor reporting is unacceptable. In this regard, we hope to assist by achieving increased awareness of the EQUATOR programme and our accumulated resources worldwide.