A simple graphic for data visualisation of included studies in broad question systematic reviews or reviews of complex interventions

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Using a simple graphic figure to display characteristics of studies in reviews of complex interventions or reviews with broad questions
Creating succinct and digestible syntheses of data in systematic reviews of complex interventions can be a struggle. Details of the included studies are usually reported in tables and web appendices with additional summary in the text of the paper. It could be beneficial to readers of some reviews, for example those with complex interventions or those with a broad review question, if the characteristics of the studies were presented graphically, so readers could quickly understand the range and variety of included study and type of intervention. This poster presents a method for graphically displaying data through figures prepared for a systematic review on interventions for reducing the effects of financial hardship on mental health.1
I prepared bar charts to display descriptive numerical data e.g. age and duration of unemployment. Square bars were used to represent relative sample size. Pictorial illustrations of study population features were included. These visual elements were assembled and overlaid to create a single figure of the main descriptors of the included studies.
Comparison of data summarised in tables to that in figures for the review on financial hardship
Table Figure
Descriptive data points per study 16 8
Descriptive data points total 176 88
Number of pages 6 1

The new figure illustrated the variability of the studies in terms of participant type, study size and the intervention (Figure 1). For example it was clear there were six interventions and that one, job-club, had been trialed 5 times with large variation in sample size (range 16 – 1771). The figure was published in the journal Psychological Medicine1, entered for a competition on data visualisation and the image was tweeted and retweeted on twitter increasing the altmetrics (Figure 2). A figure to summarise the studies included in a systematic review of interventions for children exposed to domestic violence2 was prepared for use in presentations (Figure 3)2.
While tables with complete details describing the included studies are necessary for the accurate reporting of systematic reviews and to comply with PRISMA reporting guidelines3. Graphical visualization of study data is a useful addition to reviews of complex interventions or with broad inclusion criteria. They can help readers quickly grasp the main elements of the included studies and the image can be tweeted with a link to the paper, to improve dissemination.
1. Moore THM, et al 2016 Interventions to reduce the impact of unemployment and economic hardship on mental health in the general population: a systematic review. Psych Med doi: 10.1017/S0033291716002944
2. Howarth E,et al IMPRoving Outcomes for children exposed to domestic ViolencE (IMPROVE): an evidence synthesis. Public Health Res 2016;4(10)
3. Moher D, Liberati A, Tetzlaf J et al Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses: The PRISMA Statement. PLoS Med 6(7): e1000097. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed1000097
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cochrane Collaboration Symposium for the UK and Ireland
PublisherCochrane Collaboration
Publication statusUnpublished - 2017
EventThe Cochrane Collaboration UK and Ireland Symposium - Keeble College , Oxford, United Kingdom
Duration: 14 Mar 201715 Mar 2017


ConferenceThe Cochrane Collaboration UK and Ireland Symposium
CountryUnited Kingdom

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