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Titles versus titles and abstracts for initial screening of articles for systematic reviews

Authors Mateen F, Oh J, Tergas A, Bhayani N, Kamdar B

Received 22 January 2013

Accepted for publication 11 February 2013

Published 15 March 2013 Volume 2013:5(1) Pages 89—95


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single anonymous peer review

Peer reviewer comments 4

Farrah J Mateen,1,2 Jiwon Oh,1,2 Ana I Tergas,1,3 Neil H Bhayani,1,4 Biren B Kamdar1,5

1Bloomberg School of Public Health, 2Department of Neurology, 3Division of Gynecologic Oncology, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, MD, USA; 4Department of Surgery, Howard University Hospital, Washington, DC, USA; 5Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, USA

Background: There is no consensus on whether screening titles alone or titles and abstracts together is the preferable strategy for inclusion of articles in a systematic review.
Methods: Two methods of screening articles for inclusion in a systematic review were compared: titles first versus titles and abstracts simultaneously. Each citation found in MEDLINE or Embase was reviewed by two physician reviewers for prespecified criteria: the citation included (1) primary data; (2) the exposure of interest; and (3) the outcome of interest.
Results: There were 2965 unique citations. The titles first strategy resulted in an immediate rejection of 2558 (86%) of the records after reading the title alone, requiring review of 239 titles and abstracts, and subsequently 176 full text articles. The simultaneous titles and abstracts review led to rejection of 2782 citations (94%) and review of 183 full text articles. Interreviewer agreement to include an article for full text review using the titles-first screening strategy was 89%–94% (kappa = 0.54) and 96%–97% (kappa = 0.56) for titles and abstracts combined. The final systematic review included 13 articles, all of which were identified by both screening strategies (yield 100%, burden 114%). Precision was higher in the titles and abstracts method (7.1% versus 3.2%) but recall was the same (100% versus 100%), leading to a higher F-measure for the titles and abstracts approach (0.1327 versus 0.0619).
Conclusion: Screening via a titles-first approach may be more efficient than screening titles and abstracts together.
Keywords: meta-analysis, research methods, epidemiology, systematic review

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