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We present use of a simple formula to calculate the number of pairwise comparisons of interventions within a single trial or network meta-analyses. We used the data from our previous network meta-analysis to build a study-based register and enumerated the direct pairwise comparisons from the trials therein. We then compared this with the number of comparisons predicted by use of the formula and finally with the reported number of comparisons (indirect or direct) within the network meta-analysis. A total of 133 trials of 8 interventions were selected which included 163 comparisons. The network of these showed 16 unique direct comparisons. The formula predicted an expected 28 indirect or direct comparisons and this is the number that were indeed reported. The formula produces an accurate enumeration of the potential comparisons within a single trial or network meta-analysis. Its use could help transparency of reporting should a shortfall occur between comparisons actually used and the potential total.

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