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Preregistration and Registered Reports

Guidance on study preregistration and Registered Reports.

Preregistration

When you preregister (or create a pre-analysis plan) you specify your research plan and publicly register it in a repository in advance of undertaking your study e.g., the Open Science Framework; see the UKRN primer for a list of repositories by discipline). The preregistration is a time-stamped, read-only plan (see some examples). When this plan is extended and undergoes formal peer review at a journal ahead of the research, it is called a Registered Report. If they meet the required standards, Registered Reports are accepted by the journal before the research is conducted, independent of the results (“in-principle acceptance").

Why preregister?

  • There is inherent flexibility in the process of conducting, analysing and writing up research. So called “researcher degrees of freedom (e.g., decisions about outliers, conducting sub-group analyses, etc) create a garden of forking paths where a series of small decisions can opportunistically influence the research outcome and produce a neater, more publishable but less accurate narrative. Detailing, justifying and declaring your decisions before you begin your research, choosing which path to take before setting out, limits your researcher degrees of freedom, and brings the focus off outcomes and on to the process of research
  • The primary goal of preregistration is to be transparent about your research process, and to avoid poor research practice. Others can compare your preregistered plans to the final study and evaluate the evidential value of the research, particularly in relation to the ability of your analysis plan to falsify predictions and control for type 1 errors (i.e., incorrectly concluding that an effect exists). For more information see Lakens (2019) (PDF)
  • An additional benefit of specifying your research a priori (i.e., independent of the results of the research) is that it encourages you to formulate precise research questions and fine tune your design prior to conducting the study
  • It gives you a time-stamped record of your study plans, allowing you to establish priority of ideas earlier in the research process.

When can you preregister?

  • Before you start data collection, or data synthesis such as a systematic review or meta-analysis
  • When you have been asked to collect more data in peer review
  • Before you begin analysis of an existing data set.

A guide to writing a preregistration

Preregistration involves submitting your study plan to a public repository (e.g., the Open Science Framework; see the UKRN primer for a list of repositories by discipline).

The goal is to create a transparent plan, ahead of beginning your study/accessing existing data. So, your preregistration will include details about the study, hypotheses (if you have them), your design, sampling plan, search strategy (for reviews) variables, exclusion and inclusion criteria, and the analysis plan.

The Open Science Framework offers a number of help guides that walk you through the process from a technical perspective.

Preregistration resources

Registered Reports

The Registered Reports model is an extension of preregistration, and refers to a type of research article. In this format, manuscript writing and review occurs in two stages:

Peer review of the study protocol (including rationale, methods, and analysis plan) occurs before the research is conducted (Chambers, 2019). The decision to publish is made before the study is run and based on the importance of the research question, and the rigour of the methods. Authors receive in-principle acceptance, a commitment from the journal to publish the study irrespective of the results.

With an in-principle acceptance in hand, you can complete your study knowing that it will be published regardless of the results (provided you follow your Stage 1 protocol). Once the study is complete, the Stage 2 manuscript is written and sent for review. At this point, the reviewers check whether you have adhered to your Stage 1 plans, and whether your conclusions reflect the data.

Why publish a Registered Report?

Registered Reports have all the benefits of preregistration plus some additional advantages:

  • By making the publication decision results blind, Registered Reports take the focus off outcome-based decisions and provide a powerful antidote to publication bias (i.e., the bias whereby the outcome of the study influences the decision to publish, typically in favour of significant effects) while freeing authors from the pressure of producing ‘positive’ or novel results (Chambers and Tzavella, 2020)
  • Peer review occurs before the study is run and when those reviews can really improve the quality of the study
  • Publication is guaranteed independent of outcome (as long as you follow your Stage 1 plans)
  • Receiving in-principle acceptance at Stage 1 means that you can add the paper to your CV earlier compared to waiting for a standard paper to be published. This is particularly important for early career researchers (ECRs).

See all theoretical benefits of Registered Reports and preregistration compared to non-preregistered work (PDF).

A guide to writing a Registered Report

Which types of research can be preregistered?

Preregistration can be used for a variety of different research designs and methods, including:

Explore preregistration templates for a range of different types of research.

Do preregistration and Registered Reports work?

Work that is preregistered is not automatically better than work that isn’t. But the fact that the research is transparent is necessarily better in the sense that we can check the quality of the work. There is also a greater probability of errors being detected and corrected. In this way, preregistration works.

In terms of evidence for a more direct effect on research quality, we would look for a lower prevalence of “positive” findings, implying that hypotheses had not been adjusted post hoc to fit the data, and that preregistered studies are a more faithful representation of the research conducted. Initial meta-scientific research suggests that this is the case: The proportion of ‘positive’ results in preregistered psychological research (66%; based on preliminary data), in preregistered clinical trials, and in Registered Reports (PDF) (44%), is lower than that in non-preregistered research (PDF) (96%). 

For preregistration to be truly effective, researchers need to create clear, precise preregistrations and then adhere to their plans. Research looking at (non-reviewed) preregistrations in economics and political science, and psychology suggests that this is not always the case. But checking both the precision of and adherence to the preregistered plan is central to the Registered Reports review process.

Watch a video discussing the effectiveness of preregistration “Preregistration in the Social Sciences Empirical Evidence of its Effectiveness” from Metascience 2021.

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