Assessing and presenting summaries of evidence in Cochrane Reviews.

Miranda W. Langendam, Elie A. Akl, Philipp Dahm, Paul Glasziou, Gordon Guyatt, Holger J. Schünemann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

212 Scopus citations


Cochrane Reviews are intended to help providers, practitioners and patients make informed decisions about health care. The goal of the Cochrane Applicability and Recommendation Methods Group (ARMG) is to develop approaches, strategies and guidance that facilitate the uptake of information from Cochrane Reviews and their use by a wide audience with specific focus on developers of recommendations and on healthcare decision makers. This paper is part of a series highlighting developments in systematic review methodology in the 20 years since the establishment of The Cochrane Collaboration, and its aim is to present current work and highlight future developments in assessing and presenting summaries of evidence, with special focus on Summary of Findings (SoF) tables and Plain Language Summaries.A SoF table provides a concise and transparent summary of the key findings of a review in a tabular format. Several studies have shown that SoF tables improve accessibility and understanding of Cochrane Reviews.The ARMG and GRADE Working Group are working on further development of the SoF tables, for example by evaluating the degree of acceptable flexibility beyond standard presentation of SoF tables, developing SoF tables for diagnostic test accuracy reviews and interactive SoF tables (iSoF).The plain language summary (PLS) is the other main building block for dissemination of review results to end-users. The PLS aims to summarize the results of a review in such a way that health care consumers can readily understand them. Current efforts include the development of a standardized language to describe statistical results, based on effect size and quality of supporting evidence.Producing high quality PLS and SoF tables and making them compatible and linked would make it easier to produce dissemination products targeting different audiences (for example, providers, health policy makers, guideline developers).Current issues of debate include optimal presentation formats of SoF tables, the training required to produce SoF tables, and the extent to which the authors of Cochrane Reviews should provide explicit guidance to target audiences of patients, clinicians and policy-makers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number81
Pages (from-to)81
Number of pages1
JournalSystematic reviews
StatePublished - 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Currently, the ARMG and GRADE Working Group are working on further development of the SoF tables in two research projects. One research project, funded by Cochrane Methods Innovation Fund, evaluates the degree of acceptable flexibility beyond standard presentation of SoF tables. This evaluation includes investigating which alternative columns are acceptable to decision makers and should be included as alternatives in SoF tables, for example, the addition of risk differences and number needed to treat instead of the currently used columns of assumed and corresponding risk. This evaluation will also include development of descriptions for outcomes that could not be pooled, which columns can be collapsed and which comparisons should be described in the primary SoF tables. The second aim of the project is to provide guidance on the standardization of comments and footnotes for SoF tables, with a focus on the explanations for downgrading and upgrading the quality of a body of evidence. The third aim is to develop guidance on what information to include in SoF tables in diagnostic test accuracy reviews. The results of this work, expected at the end of 2013, will be integrated in updated training material to provide optimal guidance to reviewer authors and users of reviews.

Funding Information:
Supported by the Cochrane Methods Innovation Fund (MIF), the groups are currently working on alternative formats for the SoF tables.


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