Tools for assessing risk of reporting biases in studies and syntheses of studies: A systematic review

Matthew J. Page*, Joanne E. McKenzie, Julian P.T. Higgins

*Corresponding author for this work

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

176 Citations (Scopus)
426 Downloads (Pure)


Background Several scales, checklists and domain-based tools for assessing risk of reporting biases exist, but it is unclear how much they vary in content and guidance. We conducted a systematic review of the content and measurement properties of such tools. Methods We searched for potentially relevant articles in Ovid MEDLINE, Ovid Embase, Ovid PsycINFO and Google Scholar from inception to February 2017. One author screened all titles, abstracts and full text articles, and collected data on tool characteristics. Results We identified 18 tools that include an assessment of the risk of reporting bias. Tools varied in regard to the type of reporting bias assessed (eg, bias due to selective publication, bias due to selective non-reporting), and the level of assessment (eg, for the study as a whole, a particular result within a study or a particular synthesis of studies). Various criteria are used across tools to designate a synthesis as being at 'high' risk of bias due to selective publication (eg, evidence of funnel plot asymmetry, use of non-comprehensive searches). However, the relative weight assigned to each criterion in the overall judgement is unclear for most of these tools. Tools for assessing risk of bias due to selective non-reporting guide users to assess a study, or an outcome within a study, as 'high' risk of bias if no results are reported for an outcome. However, assessing the corresponding risk of bias in a synthesis that is missing the non-reported outcomes is outside the scope of most of these tools. Inter-rater agreement estimates were available for five tools. Conclusion There are several limitations of existing tools for assessing risk of reporting biases, in terms of their scope, guidance for reaching risk of bias judgements and measurement properties. Development and evaluation of a new, comprehensive tool could help overcome present limitations.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere019703
Number of pages16
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number3
Early online date14 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2018


  • bias (epidemiology)
  • checklist
  • publication bias
  • review literature as topic


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