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A systematic review of titles and abstracts of experimental studies in medical education: many informative elements missing


David A Cook MD, MHPE, Division of General Internal Medicine, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, 200 First Street SW, Rochester, Minnesota 55905, USA. Tel: 00 1 507 538 0614; Fax: 00 1 507 538 0614; E-mail:


Context  Informative titles and abstracts facilitate reading and searching the literature.

Objective  To evaluate the quality of titles and abstracts of full-length reports of experimental studies in medical education.

Methods  We used a random sample of 110 articles (of 185 eligible articles) describing education experiments. Articles were published in 2003 and 2004 in Academic Medicine, Advances in Health Sciences Education, American Journal of Surgery, Journal of General Internal Medicine, Medical Education and Teaching and Learning in Medicine. Titles were categorised as informative, indicative, neither, or both. Abstracts were evaluated for the presence of a rationale, objective, descriptions of study design, setting, participants, study intervention and comparison group, main outcomes, results and conclusions.

Results  Of the 105 articles suitable for review, 86 (82%) had an indicative title and 10 (10%) had a title that was both indicative and informative. A rationale was present in 66 abstracts (63%), objectives were present in 84 (80%), descriptions of study design in 20 (19%), setting in 29 (28%), and number and stage of training of participants in 42 (40%). The study intervention was defined in 55 (52%) abstracts. Among the 48 studies with a control or comparison group, this group was defined in 21 abstracts (44%). Study outcomes were defined in 64 abstracts (61%). Data were presented in 48 (46%) abstracts. Conclusions were presented in 97 abstracts (92%).

Conclusions  Reports of experimental studies in medical education frequently lack the essential elements of informative titles and abstracts. More informative reporting is needed.