Technical editing of research reports in biomedical journals

Elizabeth Wager, Philippa Middleton

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

15 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Most journals try to improve their articles by technical editing processes such as proof-reading, editing to conform to 'house styles' and grammatical conventions. Despite the considerable resources devoted to technical editing, we do not know whether it improves the accessibility of biomedical research findings or the utility of articles. Objectives: To assess the effects of technical editing on research reports in peer-reviewed biomedical journals. Search strategy: We searched the Cochrane Library Issue 1, 2001, MEDLINE (last searched February 2000), 12 other databases, handsearched 9 journals and checked relevant articles for further references. We also searched the Internet and contacted researchers and experts in the field. Selection criteria: Prospective or retrospective comparative studies of technical editing processes applied to original research articles in biomedical journals. Data collection and analysis: Two reviewers independently assessed each study against the selection criteria and assessed the methodological quality of each study. One reviewer extracted the data, and the second reviewer repeated this. Main results: We located 18 studies addressing technical editing and 35 surveys of reference accuracy. Only two of the studies were randomized controlled trials. A 'package' of largely unspecified editorial processes applied between acceptance and publication was associated with improved readability in two studies and improved reporting quality in another two studies, while another study showed mixed results after stricter editorial policies were introduced. More intensive editorial processes were associated with fewer errors in abstracts and references. Providing instructions to authors was associated with improved reporting of ethics requirements in one study and fewer errors in references in two studies, but no difference was seen in the quality of abstracts in one randomized controlled trial. Structuring generally improved the quality of abstracts, but increased their length. The reference accuracy studies showed a median citation error rate of 39% and a median quotation error rate of 20%. Authors' conclusions: Surprisingly few studies have evaluated the effects of technical editing rigorously. However there is some evidence that the 'package' of technical editing used by biomedical journals does improve papers.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberMR000002
JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2007


  • Editorial policies
  • Peer review, research [standards]
  • Periodicals as topic [*standards]
  • Publishing [*standards]

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology (medical)

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