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Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses: Home

This guide is designed to help novice and experienced review teams navigate the systematic review and/or meta-analysis process

Welcome! This guide is designed to help novice and experienced review teams navigate the systematic review and/or meta-analysis process.

Guide Sections - Table of Contents

If you're new to this methodology, check out the video and resources below. Each tab above contains more detail about the respective topic.

Table of Contents for this Guide

Get Started | Reporting guidelines and methodological guidance, team formation, finding existing reviews.

Define Scope | Formation of a clear research question and eligibility criteria; contains subpage for exploratory searching.

Protocol | Introduction to protocol purpose, development, registration.

Comprehensive Search | Contains subpages where to search, how to search, grey literature, and errata/retractions.

Eligibility Screening | Title and abstract screening, full-text review, interrater reliability, and resolving disagreements.

Critical Appraisal | Risk of bias assessment purpose, tools, and presentation.

Data Extraction | Data extraction execution, and presentation.

Synthesis & Discussion | Qualitative synthesis, meta-analysis, and discussion

Assess Certainty | Assessing certainty of evidence using formal methods.

Share & Archive | Repositories to share supplemental material.

Help & Training | Evidence Synthesis Services support and events; additional support outside of the VT Libraries; contains subpage tools.

What is a systematic review and/or meta-analysis?

A review of a clearly formulated question that uses systematic and explicit methods to identify, select, and critically appraise relevant research, and to collect and analyse data from the studies that are included in the review. Statistical methods (meta-analysis) may or may not be used to analyse and summarise the results of the included studies.

Cochrane Collaboration Definition


Considerations before you start

Is this the best approach to answer your research question? (e.g., do you need a comprehensive, critically appraised set of evidence?)

Has the review already been done or is a review currentlyDecorative underway? (no need to duplicate if a review exists or is in-progress) 

Do you have the resource capacity? (e.g., a team of 3 or more people, time to commit to a months or years long review?)

Check out the "What Type of Review is Right for You?" decision tree from Cornell University for additional considerations!

If a systematic review and/or meta-analysis is not the best option, you may consider alternative evidence synthesis approaches!


Cornerstones of the Systematic Review and/or Meta-Analysis

Illustration of the cornerstones of systematic reviews. Cornerstones are: (1) applicability or having an answerable question that is important to your field of research, (2) reduction of bias or taking a multifaceted approach to reducing the risk of bias in synthesized materials, as well as the review process itself, altering results, (3) the consideration of all available evidence, and (4) replicability or reproducibility of all of the stages of your review.

According to Wormald & Evans (2018), the systematic review differs from a subjective, traditional literature review approach in that: 

A systematic review is a reproducible piece of observational research and should have a protocol that sets out explicitly objective methods for the conduct of the review, particularly focusing on the control of error, both from bias and the reduction of random error through meta-analysis. Especially important in a systematic review is the objective, methodologically sound and reproducible retrieval of the evidence strategies devised by a trained and experienced information scientist.

Note: This site will continue to evolve and develop through community driven collaboration with information retrieval and evidence synthesis experts across many disciplines. If you've found a broken link or have suggestions for the guide, please reach out to

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