The BMJ starts 2009 with new ways to publish research. Sheila Hollinghurst, Paul Little, and their colleagues have worked with us to abridge the economic evaluation1 of their recent randomised controlled trial of the Alexander technique for chronic back pain.2 The full text open access article has already been published on bmj.com, with a video in which the authors discuss the concept, interventions, and interpretation of their work (also available on the BMJ’s YouTube channel3). Now we are publishing the abridged version in the print journal,4 with a commentary in our weekly BMJ podcast.5
We are calling the new abridged print format for research articles BMJ pico. It is essentially an extended abstract, similar to those published in ACP Journal Club and the BMJ Group’s evidence based journals. The abstract gives the research question, study design, and findings, along with details of funding and competing interests. We chose the term “pico” because it means small (10−12 in SI units) and is also the name of the widely used critical appraisal tool PICO (population, intervention or exposure, comparison, outcomes), which this new format echoes.
We have been abridging research articles for the print BMJ for nearly 10 years using a process called ELPS (electronic long, paper short),6 which has had mostly positive reactions from readers and authors.7 8 We believe that BMJ pico is an improvement on this format, and we will be inviting all authors of accepted research articles to use it.
Authors will dictate the content for BMJ pico—they will produce the short versions themselves using templates that we have developed with experts. BMJ pico will allow us to fit more research papers into each print issue, thus offering speedier print publication while saving paper and freeing up resources we would rather spend on improving our services to authors and readers. If we took this approach for all research articles it would mean that authors would not need to work on two long versions of their papers (even the “paper short” version is often several thousand words long), and print readers wouldn’t confuse what they read in print with the full version, as sometimes happens now with ELPS. They should also find it easier to quickly grasp the design and key results of a study and decide whether they would like to read it in full on bmj.com.
Why are we taking this further step now? Firstly, because we are receiving and publishing more research—last year the BMJ’s acceptance rate for original research articles rose from 2% to over 6%—and we want to publish it as quickly and usefully as possible. Secondly, because we believe research belongs online. Many important journals have no print editions, and both authors and readers are now used to the idea of online only publication.
Both online and print versions of the BMJ are going from strength to strength, with readership and usage growing steadily. They serve different functions. We want print readers to notice and appreciate research articles, but we know from regular surveys that readership of research in print is lower than for other sections of the journal and much lower than it is online. We also know that some print readers already go to bmj.com when they need the full research article, and we hope that BMJ pico will encourage more of them to do this. We hope that authors of research papers will be pleased that their articles are reaching a wide international clinical audience through open access, with many extra features including online appendices and other extras, videos, and podcasts, while allowing users to make PowerPoint slides from figures, save articles into online folders and social bookmarking websites, and send rapid responses.9
Alongside this first BMJ pico we are also publishing a Short Cuts summary of the study.10 Please tell us your views—as authors and readers—of both versions, by sending rapid responses about them to doi:10.1136/bmj.a2946. Which did you prefer to read? Which better conveys both the message and the science? Which would you prefer if you were an author of the study? And, more fundamentally, do you think the BMJ would be right to publish only an abstract or a Short Cuts summary of research articles in the print journal and publish the full text online only?
When we launched ELPS in 1999 one reader said “This could go either way. Scaling a mountain and opening the route to others, or landing in the frozen heights.”11 We aim to keep climbing and opening routes to better communication of science, and we have many plans for enhancing—with your help—the ways that the BMJ handles and publishes research.
Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a3123
Competing interests: None declared.
Provenance and peer review: Commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.