The effect direction plot revisited: application of the 2019 Cochrane Handbook guidance on alternative synthesis methods

Michele Hilton Boon, Hilary Thomson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)
42 Downloads (Pure)


Effect direction (evidence to indicate improvement, deterioration, or no change in an outcome) can be used as a standardized metric which enables the synthesis of diverse effect measures in systematic reviews. The effect direction (ED) plot was developed to support the synthesis and visualization of effect direction data. Methods for the ED plot require updating in light of new Cochrane guidance on alternative synthesis methods. To update the ED plot, statistical significance was removed from the algorithm for within-study synthesis and use of a sign test was considered to examine whether patterns of ED across studies could be due to chance alone. The revised methods were applied to an existing Cochrane review of the health impacts of housing improvements. The revised ED plot provides a method of data visualization in synthesis without meta-analysis that incorporates information about study characteristics and study quality, using ED as a common metric, without relying on statistical significance to combine outcomes of single studies. The results of sign tests, when appropriate, suggest caution in over-interpreting apparent patterns in effect direction, especially when the number of included studies is small. The revised ED plot meets the need for alternative methods of synthesis and data visualization when meta-analysis is not possible, enabling a transparent link between the data and conclusions of a systematic review. ED plots may be particularly useful in reviews that incorporate nonrandomized studies, complex systems approaches, and diverse sources of evidence, due to the variety of study designs and outcomes in such reviews.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-33
Number of pages5
JournalResearch synthesis methods
Issue number1
Early online date26 Sep 2020
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jan 2021


  • data visualization
  • effect direction
  • standardized metric
  • synthesis
  • vote counting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


Dive into the research topics of 'The effect direction plot revisited: application of the 2019 Cochrane Handbook guidance on alternative synthesis methods'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this