Reporting quality of social and psychological intervention trials: a systematic review of reporting guidelines and trial publications

PLoS One. 2013 May 29;8(5):e65442. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0065442. Print 2013.


Background: Previous reviews show that reporting guidelines have improved the quality of trial reports in medicine, yet existing guidelines may not be fully suited for social and psychological intervention trials.

Objective/design: We conducted a two-part study that reviewed (1) reporting guidelines for and (2) the reporting quality of social and psychological intervention trials.

Data sources: (1) To identify reporting guidelines, we systematically searched multiple electronic databases and reporting guideline registries. (2) To identify trials, we hand-searched 40 journals with the 10 highest impact factors in clinical psychology, criminology, education, and social work. ELIGIBILITY: (1) Reporting guidelines consisted of articles introducing a checklist of reporting standards relevant to social and psychological intervention trials. (2) Trials reported randomised experiments of complex interventions with psychological, social, or health outcomes.

Results: (1) We identified 19 reporting guidelines that yielded 147 reporting standards relevant to social and psychological interventions. Social and behavioural science guidelines included 89 standards not found in CONSORT guidelines. However, CONSORT guidelines used more recommended techniques for development and dissemination compared to other guidelines. (2) Our review of trials (n = 239) revealed that many standards were poorly reported, such as identification as a randomised trial in titles (20% reported the information) and abstracts (55%); information about blinding (15%), sequence generation (23%), and allocation concealment (17%); and details about actual delivery of experimental (43%) and control interventions (34%), participant uptake (25%), and service environment (28%). Only 11 of 40 journals referenced reporting guidelines in "Instructions to Authors."

Conclusion: Existing reporting guidelines have important limitations in content, development, and/or dissemination. Important details are routinely missing from trial publications; most leading journals in social and behavioural sciences do not ask authors to follow reporting standards. Findings demonstrate a need to develop a CONSORT extension with updated standards for social and psychological intervention trials.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Research
  • Guidelines as Topic / standards
  • Humans
  • Information Dissemination / methods
  • Mental Disorders / therapy*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic*
  • Research Design
  • Research Report / standards*
  • Social Adjustment*

Grant support

SG holds a linked Clarendon Fund-Green Templeton College Annual Fund Scholarship to support his studies and research. EMW and PM have accepted a grant (no reference number assigned at time of submission) from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC; to develop a CONSORT extension for complex psychological and social interventions. GJMT holds a Marshall Scholarship to support his studies and research. The authors thank the Centre for Evidence Based Intervention (Oxford), the Centre for Outcomes Research and Effectiveness (UCL), and the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health (NCCMH) for internal support. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.