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Summary of Findings Table in a Systematic Review

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A systematic literature review is considered the gold standard of evidence-based research since it’s one of the most reliable, and objective sources of evidence. It uses explicit, unbiased, and well-documented methods to select, assess, and summarize all the relevant literature related to a specific topic. It can take months or even years to complete. The process of data collection in a systematic review is often followed by a rigorous process that includes a comprehensive synthesis of results in a systematic review. In this way, it provides an answer to the study’s research question. The final report often includes a summary of findings table that presents the main findings of the review in a transparent, understandable, and simple format.

What Is A Summary Of Findings Table?

The Cochrane Review defines the “summary of findings table” as a structured tabular format in which the primary findings of a review, particularly information related to the quality of evidence, the magnitude of the effects of the studied interventions, and the aggregate of available data on the main outcomes, are presented. It includes multiple pieces of data derived from both quantitative and qualitative data analysis in systematic reviews. These include information about the main outcomes, the type and number of studies included, the estimates (both relative and absolute) of the effect or association, and important comments about the review, all written in a plain-language summary so that it’s easily interpreted. It also includes a grade of the quality of evidence; i.e., a rating of its certainty.

Most systematic reviews are expected to have one summary of findings table. But some studies may have multiple, if the review addresses more than one comparison, or deals with substantially different populations that require separate tables. The studies in a table can also be grouped in terms of applied intervention type, type of outcome measure, the type of participants, the study design etc..

How Do You Make A Summary Of Findings Table For A Systematic Review?

Working on a summary of findings table doesn’t just start at the tail-end of a systematic review. It begins even during the planning stages as you develop your research focus and list all the main outcomes that are important in the study. These stages can be made easier by consulting an expert, reviewing your research protocol, and/or employing a literature review software such as DistillerSR to help automatically source, select, and qualify the relevant data. Information collected during preliminary literature can help in structuring how the findings table will present data. The table can also be modified during stages of data extraction, after consultation with a study partner or a peer author.

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What Does A Summary Of Findings Table Include?

A summary of findings table typically includes the following information:

  • A description of the population and setting addressed by the available evidence
  • A description of comparisons addressed in the table, including all interventions
  • A list of the most important outcomes, whether desirable or undesirable (limited to seven)
  • A measure of the burdens of each outcome
  • The magnitude of effect measured for each outcome (both absolute and relative)
  • The participants and studies analyzed for each outcome
  • An assessment of the certainty of the evidence for each outcome (typically using GRADE)
  • Explanations
  • Comments

It’s best to include evidence profiles, i.e. additional tables that support the data in the summary of findings, to which the review may be linked. It also may be neat to have a study descriptor table different from a results table. The study descriptor table shows information about the characteristics of included studies, like study design, study region, participant information, etc. The results table mostly contains outcomes, outcome measures, study results, etc. These can help provide readers with more context about the review, and its conclusions.

Final Takeaway

A summary of findings table is an essential component of a systematic review. This comprehensive synthesis of data analysis provides a simple, and transparent presentation of data, which makes it easier for readers to understand the study, the assessment of its reviewed literature, and the conclusions derived from its methodology. Creating a summary of findings table must be done with care, and often starts as early as the development of the research protocol. Summarizing the data can be exhausting, given that you’ll have to comb through a number of reports to derive your findings. But this task, as well as other labor-intensive stages of a systematic review, can be made seamless, while staying objective and accurate, through a literature review software such as DistillerSR. This technology helps automate the process, leaving you with the energy and resources to work on more qualitative tasks.

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