Who is in this study, anyway? Guidelines for a useful Table 1

J Clin Epidemiol. 2019 Oct;114:125-132. doi: 10.1016/j.jclinepi.2019.06.011. Epub 2019 Jun 20.


Objective: Epidemiologic and clinical research papers often describe the study sample in the first table. If well-executed, this "Table 1" can illuminate potential threats to internal and external validity. However, little guidance exists on best practices for designing a Table 1, especially for complex study designs and analyses. We aimed to summarize and extend the literature related to reporting descriptive statistics.

Study design and setting: In consultation with existing guidelines, we synthesized and developed reporting recommendations driven by study design and focused on transparency related to potential threats to internal and external validity.

Results: We describe a basic structure for Table 1 and discuss simple modifications in terms of columns, rows, and cells to enhance a reader's ability to judge both internal and external validity. We further highlight several analytic complexities common in epidemiologic research (missing data, sample weights, clustered data, and interaction) and describe possible variations to Table 1 to maintain and add clarity about study validity in light of these issues. We discuss considerations and tradeoffs in Table 1 related to breadth and comprehensiveness vs. parsimony and reader-friendliness.

Conclusion: We anticipate that our work will guide authors considering layouts for Table 1, with attention to the reader's perspective.

Keywords: Clinical research; Descriptive statistics; Epidemiologic methods; External validity; Generalizability; Internal validity; Tables.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Data Analysis*
  • Documentation / methods
  • Documentation / standards*
  • Epidemiologic Research Design
  • Guidelines as Topic*
  • Publishing / standards*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Research Design