Preregistration and registered reports in the scientific process: what are the key facts you need to know?
Preregistration and registered reports share the common goal of making research projects publicly accessible prior to data collection in order to boost transparency. The two approaches differ in certain respects:
- Preregistration is the practice of registering a research project without a peer review. The project is made publicly accessible through an online platform.
- In contrast, a registered report is a two-stage process in which the methods and proposed analyses are preregistered and peer-reviewed prior to data collection. In the first step, the project is submitted to a journal for peer review, including a description of the current state of the research and the methodology. Registered reports that are approved following peer review are issued an in principle acceptance (IPA). The data is then collected and analysed and the results are written up ready to be submitted for another peer review. This second review is solely focused on determining the extent to which the methodology described in the first submission has been applied and, in the event of deviations, ascertaining whether these are adequately justified; it also examines whether the interpretation of the results is coherent and consistent. By this point, publication is generally assured, though it is still possible that a submission may be rejected at this stage.
Purpose and objectives
There are a number of reasons for preregistering research studies. Firstly, early documentation of research projects in the spirit of open science helps to prevent the same work from being done twice. Secondly, the act of creating a clear distinction between the processes of generating a hypothesis, collecting data and evaluating that data fosters greater transparency and credibility.
It also prevents researchers from adjusting their hypothesis to match their findings (hypothesizing after the results are known, or HARKing) or from selecting data until non-significant results become significant (P-hacking). The overall aim is to improve reproducibility and replicability.
Preregistration of research studies also paves the way for publishing significantly more research results and data, even from studies in which the hypotheses could not be corroborated or whose results were equivocal.
How to preregister research studies
Various platforms are available for preregistration, including:
These websites also include templates and examples.
A dedicated online registry is also available for preregistering scientific studies involving animals:
Germany offers a central register for registering clinical trials in the field of medicine:
The Center for Open Science website includes a list of journals that publish registered reports or are planning to do so in the future.
Center for Open Science – Registered Reports, click the “Participating Journals” button to see the list.
Although the topic of preregistration is well established in the medical community, other scientific fields are only just starting to adopt this approach, so there is often a lack of uniform standards. A number of key points are still under discussion, including how detailed the specifications should be for project descriptions, how to register studies that are not hypothesis-driven or that are of a more explorative nature, and how to decide the extent to which deviations from the original analysis plan are acceptable and how these should be documented.
Should registration be obligatory in the life sciences?
Preregistration of studies is mandatory in certain contexts, particularly in the field of medicine. Some countries, academic journals and research funding bodies have developed corresponding requirements for clinical trials in these areas.
We recommend checking in advance whether your project is subject to mandatory registration and/or under which conditions registration may be required. A good place to start is the German Clinical Trials Register (DRKS) or the website of the World Health Organisation. Preregistration is mandatory in certain circumstances, for example if the study involves test subjects.
Important note: The information and links provided here do not represent any form of binding legal advice. They are solely intended to provide an initial basis to help get you on the right track. ZB MED – Information Centre for Life Sciences has carefully checked the information included in the list of FAQs. However, we are unable to accept any liability whatsoever for any errors it may contain. Unless indicated otherwise, any statements concerning individual statutory norms or regulations refer to German law (FAQ updated 10/2021).
Reich, J. (2021). Preregistration and registered reports. Educational Psychologist, 56(2), 101-109.
Nosek, B. A. et al. (2018). The preregistration revolution. PNAS, 115(11), 2600-2606.
Open Science Framework - Registries
Animal Study Registry
German Clinical Trials Register (DRKS)
Center for Open Science – Registered Reports
World Health Organization WHO