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Attitudes of editors of core clinical journals about whether systematic reviews are original research: a mixed-methods study
  1. Marina Krnic Martinic1,
  2. Joerg J Meerpohl2,3,
  3. Erik von Elm4,
  4. Florian Herrle5,
  5. Ana Marusic6,
  6. Livia Puljak7
  1. 1Department of Otorhinolaryngology, University Hospital Split, Split, Croatia
  2. 2Institute for Evidence in Medicine, Medical Center - University of Freiburg, Medical Faculty, University of Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany
  3. 3Cochrane Germany, Cochrane Germany Foundation, Freiburg, Germany
  4. 4Cochrane Switzerland, Center for Primary Care and Public Health (Unisanté), University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland
  5. 5Surgical Department, University Medical Centre Mannheim, Mannheim, Germany
  6. 6Department of Research in Biomedicine and Health, University of Split School of Medicine, Split, Croatia
  7. 7Center for Evidence-Based Medicine and Health Care, Catholic University of Croatia, Zagreb, Croatia
  1. Correspondence to Professor Livia Puljak; livia.puljak{at}; livia.puljak{at}


Objectives In 2009, not all journal editors considered systematic reviews (SRs) to be original research studies, and not all PubMed Core Clinical Journals published SRs. The aim of this study was to conduct a new analysis about editors’ opinion regarding SRs as original research.

Design We conducted a survey and qualitative interview study of journal editors.

Participants All editors listed as editor-in chief of 118 PubMed Core Clinical Journals.

Methods We contacted editors via email and asked them whether they considered SRs original research, whether they published SRs in the journal and, if yes, in which section. We searched PubMed for any SRs (or meta-analyses) published in the included journals in 2017; if we did not find any, we hand-searched these journals. Editors were invited to participate in a follow-up qualitative interview study.

Results We received responses from 73 editors representing 72 (62%) journals. Fifty-two (80%) editors considered SRs original research, either for any type of SR (65%) or only for SRs with a meta-analysis (15%) and almost all (91%) of editors published SRs. Compared with the results of the 2009 study of Core Clinical Journals, a similar proportion of editors considered SRs to be original studies (71%), accepted SRs as original on certain condition such as presence of meta-analysis (14%) or published SRs (94%). Interviews with editors showed that they used various criteria to decide whether a SR is original research, including methodology, reproducibility, originality of idea and level of novelty.

Conclusion The majority of editors of core clinical journals consider that SRs are original research. Among editors, there was no uniform approach to defining what makes a SR, or any study, original. This indicates that the concepts of originality of SRs and research are evolving and that this would be a relevant topic for further discussion.

  • systematic reviews
  • editors
  • original research
  • opinions

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  • Contributorship Statement Study design: JJM, EvE, FH, AM, LP. Data collection: MKM, LP. Data analysis: MKM, JJM, EvE, FH, AM, LP. Manuscript writing: JJM, EvE, FH, AM, LP. Approval of the final version of the manuscript: MKM, JJM, EvE, FH, AM, LP. Agree to be accountable for the work: MKM, JJM, EvE, FH, AM, LP.

  • Funding statement This study was conducted as a part of the research grant ‘Professionalism in Health Care’, funded by the Croatian Science Foundation (Grant No. IP-2014-09-7672).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient and public involvement statement Not required.

  • Ethics approval The study protocol was approved by the Ethics Committee of the University of Split School of Medicine. Potential participants received information about the study via an email and they were informed that their response to the email will be considered an informed consent to participate in the survey. Consent for interviews was also obtained via email.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement All data generated within this study are available from the corresponding author on request.

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