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PLoS By Category | Recent PLoS Articles
Science Policy

Empty Reviews: A Description and Consideration of Cochrane Systematic Reviews with No Included Studies
Published: Friday, May 04, 2012
Author: Joanne Yaffe et al.

by Joanne Yaffe, Paul Montgomery, Sally Hopewell, Lindsay Dianne Shepard


There is no specific guidance for the reporting of Cochrane systematic reviews that do not have studies eligible for inclusion. As a result, the reporting of these so-called “empty reviews” may vary across reviews. This research explores the incidence of empty systematic reviews in The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (The CDSR) and describes their current characteristics.

Methodology/Principal Findings

Empty reviews within The CDSR as of 15 August 2010 were identified, extracted, and coded for analysis. Review group, original publication year, and time since last update, as well as number of studies listed as excluded, awaiting assessment, or on-going within empty reviews were examined. 376 (8.7%) active reviews in The CDSR reported no included studies. At the time of data collection, 45 (84.9%) of the Cochrane Collaboration's 53 Review Groups sustained at least one empty review, with the number of empty reviews for each of these 45 groups ranging from 1 to 35 (2.2–26.9%). Time since original publication of empty reviews ranged from 0 to 15 years with a mean of 4.2 years (SD?=?3.4). Time since last assessed as up-to-date ranged from 0 to 12 years with a mean of 2.8 years (SD?=?2.2). The number of excluded studies reported in these reviews ranged from 0 to 124, with an average of 9.6 per review (SD?=?14.5). Eighty-eight (23.4%) empty reviews reported no excluded studies, studies awaiting assessment, or on-going studies.


There is a substantial number of empty reviews in The CDSR, and there is some variation in the reporting and updating of empty reviews across Cochrane Review Groups. This variation warrants further analysis, and may indicate a need to develop guidance for the reporting of empty systematic reviews in The CDSR.