Registered Reports

What are Registered Reports?

Registered Reports are an article type divided into two published parts- a study protocol and a research article. The study protocol is reviewed prior to the data being collected and the research being carried out.

a timeline showing the stages of publishing a registered report

Fig. 77 Image from Centre for Open Science- https://www.cos.io/initiatives/registered-reports

For the first stage of registered reports, researchers detail their proposed methods, hypotheses and analyses in a published study protocol. This is then peer reviewed, allowing authors to refine their methodology from reviewer feedback if needed. The protocol is then provisionally accepted, meaning it will be published by the journal if the authors conduct the experiment in accordance with their approved protocol. The authors then carry out their registered methodology for their study.

Once the study is complete, authors write and publish a research article, which includes results and interpretations. This is also peer reviewed.

Registered reports are a form of pre-registration, which you can read more about here.

Around 300 journals publish the registered report format. You can find a full list here.

Why write a Registered Report?

Registered reports began in psychology, but this format has now spread and can be used in any field.

The idea behind the registered report format is to encourage best practices by putting the importance of the methodology and research question first. By pre-registering your planned method and analyses, this eliminates questionable research practices such as selective reporting of results, including low statistical power, p-hacking and HARKing. It also allows you to get useful feedback and improve on your study design.

A huge benefit of publishing a registered report is avoiding publication bias. It can be difficult to publish negative or ‘less novel’ results in journals. The registered report format means that when you have your protocol approved, your research article is provisionally accepted for publication and will be published regardless of whether you get negative results or not.

This frees up researchers to be rewarded for simply doing good and transparent science without having to sell an impactful story about their research.

Registered reports are also a useful format for researchers who want to carry out replication studies and other novel, resource-intensive projects that may otherwise be too risky to attempt where successful publication is contingent on the results. More info can be found in this Royal Society blog on registered reports.

How do you write a Registered Report?

You will write your registered report in two parts.

For a stage 1 study protocol, you should write about background of your research question, motivations, hypotheses and your planned methods. This can include your experimental procedures, analysis pipeline, and statistical analysis. You may also want to include any pilot data or experiments that you’ve undertaken so far.

After you’ve carried out your investigations, you should prepare your stage 2 research article. This should include the introduction and methods from your original stage 1 article with the addition of your results and discussion. You should include the outcome of all the analyses you outlined in your stage 1 protocol. If you undertook any further analyses that you didn’t outline in your protocol then you should report these too with clear justification and methodological details.

How do you review a Registered Report?

You can find general guidance on how to peer review a paper in our peer review chapter here.

For registered reports specifically, they are reviewed twice. This happens once at stage 1 (study protocol) and again at stage 2 (research article). Journals try and ensure the reviewers are the same for both stages, but if this is not possible then they will ensure the new reviewer is aware of the stage 1 protocol when they review.

It may be useful to focus on the following for review stage 1 and stage 2 papers- adapted from F1000Research’s guidance:

Stage 1 Study Protocol:

  • Is the rationale for, and objectives of, the study clearly described?

  • Is the study design appropriate for the research question (including statistical power analysis, where appropriate)?

  • Have the authors pre-specified sufficient outcome-neutral tests for ensuring that the results obtained can test the stated hypotheses, including positive controls and quality checks?

Stage 2 Research Article:

  • Are the data able to test the authors’ proposed hypotheses by satisfying the approved outcome-neutral conditions (such as quality checks, positive controls)?

  • Are the introduction, rationale and stated hypotheses the same as the approved Stage 1 submission?

  • Did the authors adhere precisely to the registered experimental procedures? If not, has an explanation been provided regarding any change?

  • Are any unregistered post hoc analyses added by the authors justified, methodologically sound and informative?

  • Are sufficient details of the methods and analysis (such as statistical) provided to allow replication by others?