Missing data: a systematic review of how they are reported and handled

Epidemiology. 2012 Sep;23(5):729-32. doi: 10.1097/EDE.0b013e3182576cdb.


Background: The objectives of this systematic review are to examine how researchers report missing data in questionnaires and to provide an overview of current methods for dealing with missing data.

Methods: We included 262 studies published in 2010 in 3 leading epidemiologic journals. Information was extracted on how missing data were reported, types of missing, and methods for dealing with missing data.

Results: Seventy-eight percent of the studies lacked clear information about the measurement instruments. Missing data in multi-item instruments were not handled differently from other missing data. Complete-case analysis was most frequently reported (81% of the studies), and the selectivity of missing data was seldom examined.

Conclusions: Although there are specific methods for handling missing data in item scores and in total scores of multi-item instruments, these are seldom applied. Researchers mainly use complete-case analysis for both types of missing, which may seriously bias the study results.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Bias*
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical*
  • Epidemiologic Research Design*
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Regression Analysis
  • Research Report*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires*