Pilot trials in physical activity journals: a review of reporting and editorial policy

Elsie Horne, Gillian A Lancaster, Rhys Matson, Ashley Cooper, Andy Ness, Sam Leary

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article (Academic Journal)peer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
273 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Since the early 2000s, a number of publications in the medical literature have highlighted inadequacies in the design, conduct and reporting of pilot trials. This work led to two notable publications in 2016: a conceptual framework for defining feasibility studies and an extension to the CONSORT 2010 statement to include pilot trials. It was hoped that these publications would educate researchers, leading to better use of pilot trials and thus more rigorously planned and informed randomised controlled trials. The aim of the present work is to evaluate the impact of these publications in the field of physical activity by reviewing the literature pre- and post-2016. This first article presents the pre-2016 review of the reporting and the current editorial policy applied to pilot trials published in physical activity journals.

Methods: Fourteen physical activity journals were screened for pilot and feasibility studies published between 2012 and 2015. The CONSORT 2010 extension to pilot and feasibility studies was used as a framework to assess the reporting quality of the studies. Editors of the eligible physical activity journals were canvassed regarding their editorial policy for pilot and feasibility studies.

Results: Thirty-one articles across five journals met the eligibility criteria. These articles fell into three distinct categories: trials that were carried out in preparation for a future definitive trial (23%), trials that evaluated the feasibility of a novel intervention but did not explicitly address a future definitive trial (23%) and trials that did not have any clear objectives to address feasibility (55%). Editors from all five journals stated that they generally do not accept pilot trials, and none gave reference to the CONSORT 2010 extension as a guideline for submissions.

Conclusion: The result that over half of the studies did not have feasibility objectives is in line with previous research findings, demonstrating that these findings are not being disseminated effectively to researchers in the field of physical activity. The low standard of reporting across most reviewed articles and the neglect of the extended CONSORT 2010 statement by the journal editors highlight the need to actively disseminate these guidelines to ensure their impact.

Original languageEnglish
Article number125
Number of pages13
JournalPilot and Feasibility Studies
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jul 2018


  • Literature review
  • Pilot trial
  • Feasibility study
  • Physical activity
  • Editorial policy

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