Examining data visualisation formats used within Cochrane’s qualitative evidence reviews
Systematic reviews are intended to inform professional discussion and lay person healthcare decisions. Presenting review findings visually in tables and graphs is useful to clearly and concisely deliver information and identify patterns. Cochrane recommends the use of visual tools such as matrix and logic models for the integration of qualitative review findings with related Cochrane intervention reviews. However, it is unclear how often such visualisation formats are used in practice.
Objectives: To examine the formats used by Cochrane to visually present results of systematic reviews of qualitative studies to help inform evidence users.
Methods: Qualitative evidence reviews were searched via The Cochrane Library using the ‘qualitative review type’ tag and a ‘qualitative research’ MeSH term search. Owing to a limited search burden, two reviewers independently screened full texts of all records. Reviewers then extracted and assessed relevant characteristics including the year, topic, qualitative analysis approach, and the types and frequency of data visualisation methods used to depict review findings.
Results: The search yielded 24 Cochrane reviews, spanning from 2013 to 2023. All 24 reviews were eligible for inclusion; 20 were qualitative evidence syntheses, and 4 reviews synthesised both qualitative and quantitative evidence. Summary or study-level tables were the most common method of presentation of qualitative findings (22/24 reviews); of these, six reviews used solely tables. Two additional reviews used tables to present quantitative findings only. Logic model diagrams or matrix models were used in 5/24 reviews (1-12 uses per review) and in 12/24 reviews (1-2 uses per review), respectively. Whereas most matrix models were tables, they were labelled as figures in 3/12 reviews. Five reviews utilised infographics, four of which used them to depict a conceptual framework developed from the review findings. A minority of reviews provided a rationale for not considering certain data visualisation formats.
Conclusions: Different visual formats are used to present qualitative review findings, with tables and matrix models being most common. However, logic models and infographics are under-utilised. In line with existing research, greater utilisation of different visualisation formats beyond summary tables to present qualitative data is recommended. Patient, public, and/or healthcare consumer involvement: None.