Target and actual sample sizes for studies from two trial registries from 1999 to 2020: an observational study

Adrian Gerard Barnett*, Paul Glasziou

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Objectives To investigate differences between target and actual sample sizes, and what study characteristics were associated with sample sizes. Design Observational study. Setting The large trial registries of (starting in 1999) and ANZCTR (starting in 2005) through to 2021. Participants Over 280 000 interventional studies excluding studies that were withheld, terminated for safety reasons or were expanded access. Main outcome measures The actual and target sample sizes, and the within-study ratio of the actual to target sample size. Results Most studies were small: the median actual sample sizes in the two databases were 60 and 52. There was a decrease over time in the target sample size of 9%-10% per 5 years, and a larger decrease of 18%-21% per 5 years for the actual sample size. The actual-to-target sample size ratio was 4.1% lower per 5 years, meaning more studies (on average) failed to hit their target sample size. Conclusion Registered studies are more often under-recruited than over-recruited and worryingly both target and actual sample sizes appear to have decreased over time, as has the within-study gap between the target and actual sample size. Declining sample sizes and ongoing concerns about underpowered studies mean more research is needed into barriers and facilitators for improving recruitment and accessing data.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere053377
Number of pages13
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


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