The Draft Final Research Report (DFRR) is a detailed report of all work completed as part of the PCORI-funded contract. The report is organized like a journal article but longer (up to 15,000 words not including abstract, tables, figures, or references) and more detailed. The required sections of the report are summarized below. Authors should use the most recent version of the DFRR Instructions for Awardees for thorough information.

Major Sections of the DFRR


The abstract is organized by Background, Objective, Methods, Results, Conclusions, and Limitations. It can be up to 750 words. Include statistical results from primary analyses.


The Background should explain the evidence gap that led to this study. It should provide evidence through existing systematic reviews or the author’s review of existing research if no formal systematic reviews exist. At the end of the Background, authors should include the Aims and Hypotheses.

PCORI Peer Reviewer Jeffrey Oliver, MBA says that including patients in the peer-review process can benefit researchers by helping them focus on getting the end user of the research to see and understand their study’s findings.

Patient and Stakeholder Engagement

This section should describe how patient and stakeholder partners contributed to the design, implementation, and interpretation of the study. It should include the types of engagement and frequency of meetings, as well as some specific examples of how patient and stakeholder engagement affected the decisions made in the study.


The Methods should be described in detail, using the DFRR Instructions to Awardees and Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials (CONSORT) guidelines for reporting study methods. At the end of the Methods, the authors include a section describing any changes made to the original study protocol.


The Results also should be presented based on CONSORT guidelines. Most importantly, authors should present the preplanned analyses of the primary outcomes first, followed by secondary and exploratory analyses. Any post hoc or additional analyses should come last and be indicated as post hoc.


The Discussion section should start with a summary of the results and describe the relationship of the study’s results to existing research. By law, the DFRR is required to include sections in the Discussion on Study Limitations and Subgroup Considerations. Finally, the authors should consider potential for future research in their Discussion.


The Conclusion section is about a half-page high-level summary of the study, with a few sentences on the implications for clinical care, if appropriate.

What Else Is in the DFRR:

  • References
  • Publications from the study
  • Acknowledgments
  • Any appendices referenced in the text

Recommended Text for PCORnet Related Studies:

Research studies using PCORnet®, the National Patient-Centered Clinical Research Network, to collect data should expect to provide a description of the PCORnet data structure in their DFRRs. Authors should not assume that peer reviewers are familiar with PCORnet, its goals or its infrastructure.

Authors can use the text provided here and cite this URL for the text:

The DFRR is submitted for peer review along with four separate required attachments:

Reminders to Avoid Common Pitfalls

Review the recommendations from one of PCORI’s associate editors in this webinar from 2019.

  • Start early! Peer review takes place after the study is complete and your research is working on other projects. Complete as much of the DFRR as possible while the study team is intact. Everything up to the Results section can be written in the year before the study closes.
  • Make sure that your report meets the current PCORI Methodology Standards.
  • Be sure to use CONSORT or other relevant accepted reporting guidelines to present your methods and findings.

Hanan Aboumatar, MD, MPH, shares some advice for researchers who are starting the PCORI Peer Review process.

  • Be sure to describe and report on all aims and outcomes that you prespecified. If you changed your analyses, be sure you described how and why. Include measures of precision, including the 95% Confidence Interval for mean effect size.
  • Structure the report so that it follows an understandable narrative flow. That may mean structuring the Methods and Results by study aim rather than having all methods first then all results.
  • Review your statistical plan to make sure you are reflecting PCORI Methodology Standards for data analysis, especially those related to accounting for missing data. Be prepared to explain your reasoning if your analytic strategy differs from the PCORI Standards.
  • Do not overstate the clinical significance of your results. If the primary outcome does not show a significant difference between study groups, acknowledge that any statistically significant secondary outcomes cannot be considered definitive.

Posted: March 8, 2019; Updated: January 15, 2021

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