Background: Case reports are frequently published in the health care literature, however advice on preparing such reports using the "instructions to authors" pages of journals is alleged to be limited. However, to our knowledge, this has not been formally evaluated. As roles of case reports may vary according to the case and the clinical specialities, one might expect the advice to authors to vary according to journal clinical grouping.
Methods: We surveyed the current advice available to authors of case reports from 'instructions to authors' pages of a core collection of 249 journals ('Hague' list). These were examined and compared for advice or recommendation on writing case reports. Of these, 163 (65%) published case reports and provided instructions on this publication type. Data were extracted on items of style and content of case reports, using a piloted data extraction form.
Results: Journals that published case reports were grouped into medical (n = 81, 50%), surgical (n = 38, 23%) and generic or multidisciplinary (n = 44, 27%) categories. There was a difference among the medical, surgical and generic or multidisciplinary journals in the maximum number of words and pages allowed but no difference in the number of figures, tables, references, authors, abstract or synopsis, indexing or key words and consent. Additionally, there was no statistically significant difference among the three different categories of journals regarding the content of the case reports.
Conclusions: Of the journals reviewed, we found that 'instructions to authors' pages provided limited and varied information for preparing a case report. There is a need for consensus, and more consistent guidance for authors of case report.