Title and abstract

1. It is important to identify a trial as randomized, not just to capture the casual reader, but also to ensure the report is classified as a randomized trial when indexed for databases such as MEDLINE. This in turn helps to ensure it can be identified as a randomized trial by those conducting systematic reviews. The word randomized should therefore be included in the title. As a rule, it is best to avoid 'declaratory' titles along the lines of 'x significantly improves survival in y cancer'; the title should describe the trial and not its results.

Abstract: Most journals now state their preferred abstract format covering background, methods, results and conclusions, often with a word limit. Abstracts deserve a great deal of thought and time being spent on them, as many readers will read no further, yet still draw conclusions from what you say in only 2-300 words. The provision of abstracts, but not full text, on many literature search engines increases the chance that a high proportion of those who see the abstract will never see the full paper. It is therefore better to state specific aspects of the results (e.g. the main outcome measure) in some detail, and others sufficiently vaguely that the reader will clearly have to look further to gain the full picture. Avoid statements such as 'there was no difference p = 0.3' in an abstract just as you would in a full report - it is better to give estimates and confidence intervals as well as p-values, or say nothing.

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