How to Conduct a Meta-Analysis for Research
  • 6-minute read
  • 19th January 2024

How to Conduct a Meta-Analysis for Research

Are you considering conducting a meta-analysis for your research paper? When applied to the right problem, meta-analyses can be useful. In this post, we will discuss what a meta-analysis is, when it’s the appropriate method to use, and how to perform one. Let’s jump in! 

What is a Meta-Analysis?

Meta-analysis is a statistical technique that allows researchers to combine findings from multiple individual studies to reach more reliable and generalizable conclusions. It provides a systematic and objective way of synthesizing the results of different studies on a particular topic. There are several benefits of meta-analyses in academic research:

  • Synthesizing diverse evidence: Meta-analysis allows researchers to synthesize evidence from diverse studies, providing a more comprehensive understanding of a research question.
  • Statistical power enhancement: By pooling data from multiple studies, meta-analysis increases statistical power, enabling researchers to detect effects that may be missed in individual studies with smaller sample sizes.
  • Precision and reliability: Meta-analysis offers a more precise estimate of the true effect size, enhancing the reliability and precision of research findings.

When Should I Conduct a Meta-Analysis?

Although some similarities exist between meta-analyses, literature reviews, and systematic reviews, these methods are distinct, and they serve different purposes. Here’s a breakdown of when to use each.


Meta-analysis is a statistical method that combines and analyzes quantitative data from multiple independent studies to provide an overall estimate of an effect. You should conduct a meta-analysis: 

  • When you want to quantitatively synthesize the results of multiple studies that have measured similar outcomes
  • When there is a sufficient number of studies with compatible data and statistical methods
  • When you’re interested in obtaining a more precise and generalizable estimate of an effect size

Systematic Review

A systematic review is a comprehensive, structured review of existing literature that follows a predefined protocol to identify, select, and critically appraise relevant research studies. You should perform a systematic review: 

  • When you want to provide a comprehensive overview of the existing evidence on a particular research question
  • When you need to assess the quality of available studies and identify gaps or limitations in the literature
  • When a quantitative synthesis (meta-analysis) is not feasible due to variability in study designs or outcomes

Literature Review

A literature review is a broader examination and narrative summary of existing research that may not follow the strict methodology of a systematic review. You should utilize a literature review: 

  • When you want to familiarize yourself with the existing research on a topic without the rigorous methodology required for a systematic review 
  • When you’re exploring a new research area and want to understand the key concepts, theories, and findings 
  • When a more narrative and qualitative synthesis of the literature is sufficient for your purpose

The nature of your research question and the available evidence will guide your choice. If you’re interested in a quantitative summary of results, a meta-analysis might be appropriate. For a comprehensive overview, you could use a systematic review. In many cases, researchers use a combination of these methods. For instance, a systematic review may precede a meta-analysis to identify and evaluate relevant studies before their results are pooled quantitatively. Always consider the specific goals of your research and the nature of the available evidence when deciding which type of data analysis to employ.

Steps to Perform a Meta-Analysis

If you’ve decided that a meta-analysis is the best approach for your research, follow the steps below to guide you through the process.

  1. Define your research question and objective.

Clearly define the research objective of your meta-analysis. Doing this will help you narrow down your search and establish inclusion and exclusion criteria for selecting studies.

     2. Conduct a comprehensive literature search.

Thoroughly search electronic databases, such as PubMed, Google Scholar, or Scopus, to identify all relevant studies on your research question. Use a combination of keywords, subject heading terms, and search strategies to ensure a comprehensive search.

     3. Screen and select studies.

Carefully read the titles and abstracts of the identified studies to determine their relevance to your research question. Exclude studies that do not meet your inclusion criteria. Obtain the full text of potentially relevant studies and assess their eligibility based on predefined criteria.

     4. Extract data from selected studies.

Develop a standardized data extraction form to record relevant information from each selected study. Extract data such as study characteristics, sample size, outcomes, and statistical measures. Doing this ensures consistency and reliability in data extraction.

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      5. Evaluate the study quality and biases.

Assess the quality and risk of bias in each study using established tools, such as the Cochrane Collaboration’s risk-of-bias tool. Consider factors such as study design, sample size, randomization, blinding, and the handling of missing data. This step helps identify potential sources of bias in the included studies.

      6. Perform a statistical analysis.

Choose appropriate statistical methods to combine the results from the selected studies. Commonly used measures include odds ratios, risk ratios, and mean differences. Calculate the effect sizes and their associated confidence intervals. You might consider using statistical software to help you with this step.

       7. Assess heterogeneity.

Assess the heterogeneity of the included studies to determine whether the results can be pooled. Use statistical tests, such as Cochran’s Q test or I2 statistic, to quantify the degree of heterogeneity.

       8. Interpret and report the results.

Interpret the pooled effect size and its confidence interval in light of the research question. Provide a clear summary of the findings, including any limitations or caveats. Use forest plots or other graphical tools to present the results visually. Make sure to adhere to reporting guidelines, such as the PRISMA Statement.

      9. Assess the publication bias.

Publication bias occurs when studies with positive results are more likely to be published, leading to an overestimation of the effect size. Assess the publication bias using methods such as funnel plots, Egger’s test, or the Begg and Mazumdar test. Consider exploring potential publication bias through a sensitivity analysis.

     10. Discuss the implications and limitations.

Finally, discuss the implications of the meta-analysis findings in the context of the existing literature. Identify any limitations or potential biases that may affect the validity of the results. You might also highlight areas for further research or recommendations for practice.


There you have it! Now that we’ve gone over what a meta-analysis is, when to use one in research, and what steps to take to conduct a robust meta-analysis, you’re well prepared to begin your research journey.

Finally, if you’d like any help proofreading your research paper, consider our research paper editing services. You can even try a free sample. Good luck with your meta-analysis!

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