Using Papers for meta-analyses and systematic reviews

Meta-analyses and systematic reviews have become an increasingly popular way to review a research area. Traditionally, performing a meta-analyses required the use of a range of applications - An internet browser for search, a filing system to sort your papers for later reference, a word processor or spreadsheet app to make comments on these papers, and a referencing app to make in-text citations and reference lists.

With Papers2 you can now search, sort, read and reference articles all in the one application. To illustrate how well suited Papers is for conducting and writing a meta-analysis we're going to walk through an example meta-analysis examining the impact of panic disorder on heart rate.


One the first tasks for a meta-analysis after a research question has been formulated is the search. Once you have defined your search terms for your meta-analysis you can use search field descriptors to set specific limits on your search. See this tutorial for a refresher on how to use search field descriptors in Papers.

We're interested in looking at the impact of panic disorder on heart rate so we'll use the following search terms, "heart rate[TIAB] panic disorder[TIAB]", which will search for papers which have both 'heart rate' and panic disorder' in in the title and/or the abstract.


Using this search we came up with 120 hits which fulfilled our criteria.

TIP: You may already have some of these papers in your library - Papers2 will notify you know with a small 'tick' next to the title of the paper.


Organising your papers

Import the papers you want to investigate further and organise them into folders. In the example below I've created a 'Heart rate & Panic' folder with a number of nested folders.


I've created an 'Excluded' folder for the papers I'm not going to include as most journals require you document how many papers you didn't include in the final analysis. Because we used a wide search criteria, some animal studies have been included so we would exclude these studies for example.

The 'Further Reading' folder was created to include papers that you want to inspect more carefully to assess their inclusion in the final meta-analysis. Within this folder I've created 'Excluded' and 'Included' folders. I've also created a 'Final Studies' folder for all the papers that will be included in the final analysis.

Making notes on your papers

You can make notes on each of the papers that you're reviewing either in fullscreen mode or in the inspector window, which is demonstrated below.


Now you're ready to perform the statistical analysis. If you're new to meta-analysis here's a list of available statistical software and a review of the more popular meta-analysis applications.

Writing up your meta-analysis

Once you have your final list of papers and you've completed the statistical analysis you can insert in-text citations and reference lists in your manuscript using the 'magic citations' function. See this video for an overview of this feature.