Graphical displays play a pivotal role in understanding data sets and disseminating results. For meta-analysis, they are instrumental in presenting findings from multiple studies. This report presents guidance to authors wishing to submit graphical displays as part of their meta-analysis to a clinical cardiology journal, such as Heart.
When using graphical displays for meta-analysis, we recommend the following:
Use a flow diagram to describe the number of studies returned from the initial search, the inclusion/exclusion criteria applied and the final number of studies used in the meta-analysis.
Present results from the meta-analysis using a figure that incorporates a forest plot and underlying (tabulated) statistics, including test for heterogeneity.
Use displays such as funnel plot (minimum 10 studies) and Galbraith plot to visually present distribution of effect sizes or associations in order to evaluate small-study effects and publication bias).
For meta-regression, the bubble plot is a useful display for assessing associations by study-level factors.
Final checks on graphs, such as appropriate use of axis scale, line pattern, text size and graph resolution, should always be performed.
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