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Propaganda, defined as encouraging beliefs and actions with the least thought possible (Gambrill, 2009), was the topic of a presentation at the conference on peer review in biomedical publishing (American Medical Association, 2009). Propaganda when used in health science writing includes not defining terms, failure to document sources, and obscuring controversy. At this eye-opening conference, this was my favorite presentation because it related directly to articles in Nursing Research.


Many excellent research reports are weakened by an inadequate presentation of background literature. Propaganda is the problem. Wait a minute, lest I use propaganda to advance my point, I will restate my concern. The way that many authors organize their study reports is problematic.


At Nursing Research, we use the American Psychological Association Publication Manual (American Psychological Association, 2010), but many of our authors are schooled in other style manuals and have become apt students of the CONSORT guidelines (The CONSORT Group, 2010b), which Nursing Research endorses.


Let's take a typical problematic example. When I finish reading the background literature, I say to myself, "I think there is other literature on this topic, there are other studies that do not support these statements or these reported studies are not critically reviewed." In short, analysis of the related literature is lacking and the knowledge gap to be addressed is asserted. That's it! The report contains propaganda.


To help authors craft a more nuanced background literature, we send them this information


The Background should include a discussion of the literature; a scholarly review of the literature establishes the priority of others' work and develops the continuity between earlier work and yours. The Discussion is reserved for evaluation and interpretation of the results. Similarities and differences between your results and the work of others should be used to clarify and confirm your conclusions. Please turn to the Publication Manual for a discussion of the content of parts of a manuscript.


In comparison, the CONSORT statement emphasizes meticulous reporting of design, methods, and analysis and may guide authors to abbreviate the presentation of background literature. For example, "Typically, the introduction consists of free flowing text, in which authors explain the scientific background and rationale for their trial, and its general outline," the CONSORT statement calls for comparisons with related literature in the discussion section (The CONSORT Group, 2010a).


The two approaches have wide acceptance in health science publications. However, in the hands of authors for Nursing Research, an abbreviated background literature section often comes across as propaganda. We urge our authors to abandon propaganda and embrace scholarly analysis of the literature.


Molly C. Dougherty, PhD, RN




University of North Carolina Chapel Hill




American Medical Association. (2009). Sixth International Congress on Peer Review and Biomedical Publication. 2009 program and preliminary abstracts. Retrieved February 25, 2010, from[Context Link]


American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington, DC: Author. [Context Link]


Gambrill, E. (2009). A propaganda index for screening manuscripts and articles [Abstract]. Sixth International Congress on Peer Review and Biomedical Publication, Poster Session Abstracts. Abstract retrieved March 9, 2010, from[Context Link]


The CONSORT Group. (2010a). Background: Item 2a-Scientific background and explanation of rationale. In The CONSORT Group, The CONSORT Statement. Retrieved February 2, 2010, from[Context Link]


The CONSORT Group. (2010b). The CONSORT Statement. Retrieved February 3, 2010, from[Context Link]