Preregistration of exploratory research: Learning from the golden age of discovery

PLoS Biol. 2020 Mar 26;18(3):e3000690. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3000690. eCollection 2020 Mar.


Preregistration of study protocols and, in particular, Registered Reports are novel publishing formats that are currently gaining substantial traction. Besides rating the research question and soundness of methodology over outstanding significance of the results, they can help with antagonizing inadequate statistical power, selective reporting of results, undisclosed analytic flexibility, as well as publication bias. Preregistration works well when a clear hypothesis, primary outcome, and mode of analysis can be formulated. But is it also applicable and useful in discovery research, which develops theories and hypotheses, measurement techniques, and generates evidence that justifies further research? I will argue that only slight modifications are needed to harness the potential of preregistration and make exploratory research more trustworthy and useful.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Peer Review, Research / standards
  • Publishing / trends*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Research Design / standards*

Grant support

The author received no specific funding for this work.