Introduction: A standardized abstraction form and procedure was developed to provide consistency, reduce bias, and improve validity and reliability in the Guide to Community Preventive Services: Systematic Reviews and Evidence-Based Recommendations (the Guide).
Data collection instrument: The content of the abstraction form was based on methodologies used in other systematic reviews; reporting standards established by major health and social science journals; the evaluation, statistical and meta-analytic literature; expert opinion and review; and pilot-testing. The form is used to classify and describe key characteristics of the intervention and evaluation (26 questions) and assess the quality of the study's execution (23 questions). Study procedures and results are collected and specific threats to the validity of the study are assessed across six categories (intervention and study descriptions, sampling, measurement, analysis, interpretation of results and other execution issues).
Data collection procedures: Each study is abstracted by two independent reviewers and reconciled by the chapter development team. Reviewers are trained and provided with feedback.
Discussion: What to abstract and how to summarize the data are discretionary choices that influence conclusions drawn on the quality of execution of the study and its effectiveness. The form balances flexibility for the evaluation of papers with different study designs and intervention types with the need to ask specific questions to maximize validity and reliability. It provides a structured format that researchers and others can use to review the content and quality of papers, conduct systematic reviews, or develop manuscripts. A systematic approach to developing and evaluating manuscripts will help to promote overall improvement of the scientific literature.