Assessing journal author guidelines for systematic reviews and meta-analyses: findings from an institutional sample




systematic review, meta-analysis, author instructions, journal requirements, research methodology, publishing


Objective: Systematic reviews and meta-analyses (SRs/MAs) are designed to be rigorous research methodologies that synthesize information and inform practice. An increase in their publication runs parallel to quality concerns and a movement toward standards to improve reporting and methodology. With the goal of informing the guidance librarians provide to SR/MA teams, this study assesses online journal author guidelines from an institutional sample to determine whether these author guidelines address SR/MA methodological quality.

Methods: A Web of Science Core Collection (Clarivate) search identified SRs/MAs published in 2014–2019 by authors affiliated with a single institution. The AMSTAR 2 checklist was used to develop an assessment tool of closed questions specific to measures for SR/MA methodological quality in author guidelines, with questions added about author guidelines in general. Multiple reviewers completed the assessment.

Results: The author guidelines of 141 journals were evaluated. Less than 20% addressed at least one of the assessed measures specific to SR/MA methodological quality. There was wide variation in author guidelines between journals from the same publisher apart from the American Medical Association, which consistently offered in-depth author guidelines. Normalized Eigenfactor and Article Influence Scores did not indicate author guideline breadth.

Conclusions: Most author guidelines in the institutional sample did not address SR/MA methodological quality. When consulting with teams embarking on SRs/MAs, librarians should not expect author guidelines to provide details about the requirements of the target journals. Librarians should advise teams to follow established SR/MA standards, contact journal staff, and review SRs/MAs previously published in the journal.


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Original Investigation