- Check that there are no post publication amendments published about the study. Search for the study in PubMed, Medline (and other bibliographic databases, as appropriate), the Retraction Watch Database, and PubPeer to clarify if there are any Expressions of Concern, comments, or Letters to the Editor regarding the study, and to confirm that the study has not been retracted. See section 1 Searching for post-publication amendments and consult with an Information Specialist if further assistance is needed with how to do this.
- If an Expression of Concern is identified, the actions outlined in section 2.2 What to do when there is a published Expression of Concern should be followed.
- If the study has been retracted, the actions outlined in section 2.1 What to do when a study is retracted should be followed.
- Check the version of the article on the publisher’s website, for any un-indexed notifications, e.g. ‘Editorial Note’ or links to post-publication amendments that do not (yet) appear on mirror sites/bibliographic databases.
- If information is missing from the report of the included study and/or further information is required to determine whether you have concerns, contact the authors of the study to ask for clarification and/or unpublished information in line with MECIR standard C49. All correspondence must be kept neutral. Do not accuse authors of misconduct, or fabrication or falsification of data.
- Describe your concerns in detail, including the exact method(s) used to determine that there may be a problem with the study, in an email to the Journal Editor using neutral language. You may find that the act of drafting this email crystalizes whether you have significant concern about the study if you are unsure. All language used must be kept neutral and follow the templates provided in section 7.1 Templates for corresponding with Journal Editors and authors. No accusations of scientific misconduct must be made. You should inform the Network Associate Editor, who will refer to the Research Integrity Team, before contacting the journal editor. This allows the Research Integrity team to keep a track of such cases which will inform updates to this guidance. It is the responsibility of the Journal Editor to initiate further investigation (for example contacting the Author’s institution).
- If you are unsure whether you have sufficient concerns about an included study to warrant contacting the Journal Editor, you may wish to consider following some of the steps described in section 7.2 Methods for determining whether you have concerns about a study. Please note however that these methods are all unvalidated, and do not necessarily indicate that a study is untrustworthy. They may, however, help to consolidate, strengthen, or alleviate your concerns about a particular study.