Background: Lately, the number of systematic reviews published has increased substantially. Many systematic reviews exclude trials published in languages other than English. However, there is little empirical evidence to support this action. We looked for differences in the completeness of reporting between trials published in other languages and those published in English, to see whether the exclusion of trials published in other languages is justified.
Methods: We compared completeness of reporting, design characteristics, and analytical approaches of 133 randomised controlled trials (RCTs) published in English between 1989 and 1994 and 96 published in French, German, Italian, or Spanish during the same time. RCTs were identified by hand searching of journals (seven in English and six in the other languages).
Findings: We found no significant differences between trials published in English and other-language trials for any single item in the completeness of reporting scale (randomisation, double-blinding, withdrawals), or for the overall score (percentage of maximum possible score 51.0% for trials in English, 46.2% for trials in other languages; 95% CI for difference -1.1 to 10.5). Other-language trials were more likely than English-language trials to have adult participants, to use two or more interventions, and to compare two or more active treatments without an untreated control group. Trials in other languages were less likely to report a clearly prespecified primary outcome or any rationale for sample size estimation.
Interpretation: These results provide evidence for inclusion of all trial reports, irrespective of the language in which they are published, in systematic reviews. Their inclusion is likely to increase precision and may reduce systematic errors. We hope that our findings will prove useful to those developing guidelines and policies for the conduct of reporting of systematic reviews.