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The term ‘Pilot Study’ is misused in veterinary medicine: a critical assessment
  1. Mark Rishniw1,2 and
  2. Maurice Edward White3
  1. 1 Clinical Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, USA
  2. 2 Veterinary Information Network, Davis, California, USA
  3. 3 Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Mark Rishniw; mr89{at}


Authors commonly use the term ‘Pilot Study’ in the veterinary literature. The term has a specific definition in medical literature, but is not defined in veterinary literature. Therefore, we sought to examine the frequency of the use of the term and the characteristics of studies using the term in the article title, and derive the intended meaning of the term. We identified all articles in veterinary literature using the term in the article title between 2008 and 2017. We then examined specific characteristics of articles published between 2008 and 2012. We found use of the term is increasing (P<0.0001). Of articles using the term between 2008 and 2012, only 20 per cent led to a larger, more comprehensive verifying study. Most garnered few citations, but 75 per cent were cited in review articles. Pilot studies had a median sample size of 10 subjects. We found comparable studies for each pilot study that did not incorporate the term into their titles. None of the authors of any of the pilot studies defined the term or explained why their study was termed a ‘pilot study’. Journals and authors used the term haphazardly. Our findings indicate that the term ‘Pilot Study’ is meaningless because it meets no specific, consistently adhered-to criteria. We believe that authors use the term as a means of ‘Deficiency signaling’ to editors, reviewers and readers. We recommend that authors and journals abandon the term in veterinary literature because it serves no purpose, is not used consistently and might harm veterinary medicine.

  • preliminary
  • exploratory
  • sample size
  • study power
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  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement All data relevant to the study are included in the article.

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