Systematic Review: a high-level overview of primary research on a particular research question that tries to identify, select, synthesize and appraise all high quality research evidence relevant to that question in order to answer it. – Definition from Cochrane Collaboration http://www.cochrane.org/about-us/evidence-based-health-care
Meta-Analysis: a quantitative statistical analysis of several separate but similar experiments or studies in order to test the pooled data for statistical significance [often found within systematic reviews, but not the same]. – Definition from www.merriam-Webster.com
All meta-analyses should be part of a systematic review, but not all systematic reviews will include a meta-analysis.
Estimated timeline for completing a Cochrane systematic review
1 – 2 Preparation of protocol.
3 – 8 Searches for published and unpublished studies.
2 – 3 Pilot test of eligibility criteria.
3 – 8 Inclusion assessments.
3 Pilot test of ‘Risk of bias’ assessment.
3 – 10 Validity assessments.
3 Pilot test of data collection.
3 – 10 Data collection.
3 – 10 Data entry.
5 – 11 Follow up of missing information.
8 – 10 Analysis.
1 – 11 Preparation of review report.
12 – Keeping the review up-to-date.
Source: Higgins JPT, Green S (editors). Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions Version 5.1.0 [updated March 2011]. The Cochrane Collaboration, 2011. Available from www.cochrane-handbook.org. Courtesy of the University of Maryland HS/HSL.