Technical editing of research reports in biomedical journals

  • Review
  • Methodology




Most journals try to improve their articles by technical editing processes such as proof-reading, editing to conform to 'house styles', grammatical conventions and checking accuracy of cited references. 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. This is an update of a Cochrane methodology review first published in 2003.


To assess the effects of technical editing on research reports in peer-reviewed biomedical journals, and to assess the level of accuracy of references to these reports.

Search methods

We searched The Cochrane Library Issue 2, 2007; MEDLINE (last searched July 2006); EMBASE (last searched June 2007) 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, as well as studies of reference accuracy.

Data collection and analysis

Two review authors independently assessed each study against the selection criteria and assessed the methodological quality of each study. One review author extracted the data, and the second review author repeated this.

Main results

We located 32 studies addressing technical editing and 66 surveys of reference accuracy. Only three of the studies were randomised 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 randomised controlled trial. Structuring generally improved the quality of abstracts, but increased their length. The reference accuracy studies showed a median citation error rate of 38% 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. A substantial number of references in biomedical articles are cited or quoted inaccurately.




大部分的雜誌在論文出版前﹐會嘗試以技術編輯(Technical editing)的程序如校對、潤稿使之符合雜誌寫作風格、文法及核對引用文獻的正確性,以改善論文品質。儘管在技術編輯上投入相當可觀的資源,我們仍不知道這些努力對改善生物醫學論文的可近性及用途是否有幫助。本篇是2003年Cochrane methodology review首度刊出的文章的更新版。




搜尋Cochrane Library Issue 2, 2007、MEDLINE (至 2006年7月)、EMBASE (至 2007年6月) ﹐以及相關文章內列舉之參考文獻。我們也搜尋網路﹐聯繫此領域的專家學者。






與技術編輯及參考文獻正確性相關的調查研究﹐分別找到了32篇66篇。只有3篇研究是隨機對照試驗。有兩篇研究顯示,在論文被接受到出版之間未被詳述的一套編輯過程,提高論文的可讀性。另兩篇研究顯示此過程可提高論文的品質。另一篇研究顯示較嚴格的編輯過程利弊參半。更密集的編輯過程可減少摘要及引述文獻的錯誤。有一篇研究顯示,如果提供作者指引﹐能夠提高論文的研究倫理水準;另兩篇顯示可減少引用文獻的錯誤:但有一篇隨機對照試驗顯示﹐對摘要出現的品質沒有影響。依固定的格式撰寫摘要﹐雖然能改善品質﹐但會增加篇幅。研究參考文獻正確性的結果顯示﹐引用文獻發生錯誤比率(citation error)的中位數為38%,引述文獻發生錯誤的比率(quotation error)的中位數為20%。





此翻譯計畫由臺灣國家衛生研究院(National Health Research Institutes, Taiwan)統籌。



Plain language summary

Technical editing of articles before they are published in medical journals.

Most journals try to improve articles before publication by editing them to make them fit a 'house-style', and by other processes such as proof-reading. We refer to all these processes as technical editing. We identified 32 studies of the effects of technical editing from a systematic review. There is some evidence that the overall 'package' of technical editing raises the quality of articles (suggested by 'before-and-after' studies) and that structuring abstracts makes them more useful, although longer. However, there has been little rigorous research to show which processes can improve accuracy or readability the most, or if any have harmful effects or disadvantages.

Over one third of references cited in articles in medical journals have some inaccuracies and one-fifth of quotations to references in these articles are not accurate