Predictors of publication: characteristics of submitted manuscripts associated with acceptance at major biomedical journals

Kirby P Lee, Elizabeth A Boyd, Jayna M Holroyd-Leduc, Peter Bacchetti and Lisa A Bero
Med J Aust 2006; 184 (12): 621-626.


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.

  • Kirby P Lee1
  • Elizabeth A Boyd1
  • Jayna M Holroyd-Leduc2
  • Peter Bacchetti1
  • Lisa A Bero1

  • 1 University of California, San Francisco, Calif, USA.
  • 2 University Health Network, Toronto, and University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada.



We thank the many editors, peer reviewers, and authors for their participation in our study, and Kay Dickersin for advice on study design. Our research was supported by grant #5R01NS044500-02 from the Research Integrity Program, Office of Research Integrity/National Institutes of Health collaboration. The funding source had no role in the study design, data collection, analysis, interpretation or writing of our article.

Competing interests:

None identified.

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