This is an archived version. For the current version, please go to training.cochrane.org/handbook/current.

The **mean difference** (more correctly, ‘difference in means’) is a standard statistic that measures the absolute difference between the mean value in two groups in a clinical trial. It estimates the amount by which the experimental intervention changes the outcome on average compared with the control. It can be used as a summary statistic in meta-analysis when outcome measurements in all studies are made on the same scale.

*Aside: Analyses based on this effect measure have historically been termed weighted mean difference (WMD) analyses in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (CDSR). This name is potentially confusing: although the meta-analysis computes a weighted average of these differences in means, no weighting is involved in calculation of a statistical summary of a single study. Furthermore, all meta-analyses involve a weighted combination of estimates, yet we do not use the word ‘weighted’ when referring to other methods.*