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Meta Analysis vs Systematic Review

Do you need help deciding between a systematic review vs. a meta-analysis? This article is for you.

You may already know that a systematic review and a meta-analysis both use data extracted from past research studies. Both require the systematic search of these studies in academic databases and other sources. Then findings from the identified studies are collated systematically to answer the research question.

A systematic review is a methodical approach to answering a pre-specified research question using data extracted from past studies. It aims to achieve scientific rigor by demonstrating credibility, transparency, and repeatability when addressing a specific research question. On the other hand, a meta-analysis is a statistical method used to pool findings from various studies into a single point of estimate. Therefore, a meta-analysis is used in the results section of a systematic review. Of course, the specific meta-analysis methods used must also be declared in the methods section.

Well, that’s all about a systematic review vs a meta-analysis.

While preparing to write this article, I also gathered some feedback on social media. I wanted to know what people really want to know regarding the difference between a systematic review and a meta-analysis. I came across an interesting question from someone who appears to be a student.

Most commonly asked questions about a meta-analysis vs systematic review

Based on the above post from the r/statistics subreddit on the Reddit platform, let’s answer some of the frequently asked questions.

Systematic Review Vs Meta-Analysis: Which One is Easier To Do?

The student asking the question above was torn between conducting a systematic review and a meta-analysis because they felt it was much easier to conduct a systematic review than a meta-analysis. That’s a purely subjective decision to make. According to Siddaway and colleagues, ‘When the reviewer wishes to bring together many studies that have empirically tested the same hypothesis, a quantitative review is called for.’ How do you interpret the word ‘wishes’ in this context? In my opinion, the authors implied that doing a meta-analysis should be someone’s wish and not compulsory. They went ahead and listed the reasons that should compel someone to do a systematic review, as shown in the screenshot below.

When to conduct a meta-analysis

In our experience, if it is possible to do a meta-analysis, then just do it, even if it means seeking help from a statistician. This is especially important if you want to publish your manuscript in a reputable academic journal.

Are There Statistics Involved in a Systematic Review Without a Meta-Analysis?

No, for a systematic review without a meta-analysis, no statistical analysis is involved. However, if you’re conducting a systematic review of quantitative studies, you will need to interpret statistical findings. That means you cannot escape statistical information in systematic reviews, whether they include a meta-analysis or not. Qualitative systematic reviews use only qualitative studies, hence you may not encounter statistical information anywhere.

Let’s revisit how the systematic review works to support the claim above. Pollock and colleagues summarized it all here: ‘Key stages in the production of systematic reviews include clarification of aims and methods in a protocol, finding relevant research, collecting data, assessing study quality, synthesizing evidence, and interpreting findings.’ Since quantitative research mostly uses statistical techniques, you must have adequate statistical knowledge to successfully conduct such a review. For more information on how a systematic review works, read this article.

Why Is It Important to Conduct a Meta-Analysis?

Are you wondering why conducting a meta-analysis is beneficial? The main reason meta-analyses are important is because they provide a point estimate in research. Many studies have tested the effectiveness of interventions like medication, while others have assessed diagnostic accuracy across different countries and samples. What you may realize is that some studies disagree with others. The estimates of effect size, diagnostic accuracy, or the relationship between variables are never the same between studies. Such uncertainties in research can make it extremely difficult to inform clinical decision-making. A meta-analysis pools these findings into a single point estimate, which is cohesive and can make decision-making much easier. That’s why systematic reviews and meta-analyses are considered the highest level of evidence in healthcare sciences.

The forest plot below shows the summary statistic obtained from integrating findings from seven studies in a meta-analysis conducted by Singh and colleagues. A close look reveals high heterogeneity in the standard mean difference across individual studies. Some studies have negative values, suggesting the intervention may not be effective. A majority have positive values indicating the intervention works in different magnitudes or effect sizes. The meta-analysis assigned weight to each of the seven studies and then provided an overall estimate of the standard mean difference. Thus, this estimate represents the findings of all the studies that have been conducted on that topic, which is of course more powerful.

why it is important to conduct a meta-analysis


A systematic review answers a focused research question by deriving data from past research, whereas a meta-analysis is a statistical method of pooling findings from various studies into a representative point estimate. It does not matter which is easier to conduct between a systematic review and a meta-analysis. Instead, if it is possible to do a meta-analysis, just do it. Even if it means seeking help from a statistician. Systematic reviews and meta-analyses are considered the highest level of evidence in evidence-based practice.

SystematicReviewPro is a systematic review writing service that can save you time conducting a systematic review and meta-analysis. We can produce any type of systematic review publishable in a reputable academic journal. Publishing a systematic review and meta-analysis can boost your academic profile and enhance your job prospects.


  1. Strategies to improve the credibility of meta-analyses in spine surgery: a systematic survey
  2. How to do a systematic review: A best practice guide for conducting and reporting narrative reviews, meta-analyses, and meta-syntheses
  3. Systematic reviews of qualitative evidence
  4. How to do a systematic review
  5. Systematic reviews and meta-analysis: Understanding the best evidence in primary healthcare
  6. Systematic review and meta-analysis of the effectiveness of chatbots on lifestyle behaviours

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