Meta-analyses and Forest plots using a microsoft excel spreadsheet: step-by-step guide focusing on descriptive data analysis

BMC Res Notes. 2012 Jan 20:5:52. doi: 10.1186/1756-0500-5-52.


Background: Meta-analyses are necessary to synthesize data obtained from primary research, and in many situations reviews of observational studies are the only available alternative. General purpose statistical packages can meta-analyze data, but usually require external macros or coding. Commercial specialist software is available, but may be expensive and focused in a particular type of primary data. Most available softwares have limitations in dealing with descriptive data, and the graphical display of summary statistics such as incidence and prevalence is unsatisfactory. Analyses can be conducted using Microsoft Excel, but there was no previous guide available.

Findings: We constructed a step-by-step guide to perform a meta-analysis in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, using either fixed-effect or random-effects models. We have also developed a second spreadsheet capable of producing customized forest plots.

Conclusions: It is possible to conduct a meta-analysis using only Microsoft Excel. More important, to our knowledge this is the first description of a method for producing a statistically adequate but graphically appealing forest plot summarizing descriptive data, using widely available software.