A scoping review of comparisons between abstracts and full reports in primary biomedical research
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BACKGROUND: Evidence shows that research abstracts are commonly inconsistent with their corresponding full reports, and may mislead readers. In this scoping review, which is part of our series on the state of reporting of primary biomedical research, we summarized the evidence from systematic reviews and surveys, to investigate the current state of inconsistent abstract reporting, and to evaluate factors associated with improved reporting by comparing abstracts and their full reports. METHODS: We searched EMBASE, Web of Science, MEDLINE, and CINAHL from January 1st 1996 to September 30th 2016 to retrieve eligible systematic reviews and surveys. Our primary outcome was the level of inconsistency between abstracts and corresponding full reports, which was expressed as a percentage (with a lower percentage indicating better reporting) or categorized rating (such as major/minor difference, high/medium/low inconsistency), as reported by the authors. We used medians and interquartile ranges to describe the level of inconsistency across studies. No quantitative syntheses were conducted. Data from the included systematic reviews or surveys was summarized qualitatively. RESULTS: Seventeen studies that addressed this topic were included. The level of inconsistency was reported to have a median of 39% (interquartile range: 14% - 54%), and to range from 4% to 78%. In some studies that separated major from minor inconsistency, the level of major inconsistency ranged from 5% to 45% (median: 19%, interquartile range: 7% - 31%), which included discrepancies in specifying the study design or sample size, designating a primary outcome measure, presenting main results, and drawing a conclusion. A longer time interval between conference abstracts and the publication of full reports was found to be the only factor which was marginally or significantly associated with increased likelihood of reporting inconsistencies. CONCLUSIONS: This scoping review revealed that abstracts are frequently inconsistent with full reports, and efforts are needed to improve the consistency of abstract reporting in the primary biomedical community.
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