Objective: To identify characteristics of submitted manuscripts that are associated with acceptance for publication by major biomedical journals.
Design, setting and participants: A prospective cohort study of manuscripts reporting original research submitted to three major biomedical journals (BMJ and the Lancet [UK] and Annals of Internal Medicine [USA]) between January and April 2003 and between November 2003 and February 2004. Case reports on single patients were excluded.
Main outcome measures: Publication outcome, methodological quality, predictors of publication.
Results: Of 1107 manuscripts enrolled in the study, 68 (6%) were accepted, 777 (70%) were rejected outright, and 262 (24%) were rejected after peer review. Higher methodological quality scores were associated with an increased chance of acceptance (odds ratio [OR], 1.39 per 0.1 point increase in quality score; 95% CI, 1.16-1.67; P < 0.001), after controlling for study design and journal. In a multivariate logistic regression model, manuscripts were more likely to be published if they reported a randomised controlled trial (RCT) (OR, 2.40; 95% CI, 1.21-4.80); used descriptive or qualitative analytical methods (OR, 2.85; 95% CI, 1.51-5.37); disclosed any funding source (OR, 1.90; 95% CI, 1.01-3.60); or had a corresponding author living in the same country as that of the publishing journal (OR, 1.99; 95% CI, 1.14-3.46). There was a non-significant trend towards manuscripts with larger sample size (>/= 73) being published (OR, 2.01; 95% CI, 0.94-4.32). After adjustment for other study characteristics, having statistically significant results did not improve the chance of a study being published (OR, 0.83; 95% CI, 0.34-1.96).
Conclusions: Submitted manuscripts are more likely to be published if they have high methodological quality, RCT study design, descriptive or qualitative analytical methods and disclosure of any funding source, and if the corresponding author lives in the same country as that of the publishing journal. Larger sample size may also increase the chance of acceptance for publication.