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The volume of medical literature is growing at a rate that renders decision-making difficult without specialized summary tools. Systematic reviews and meta-analyses are important research instruments used to condense and clarify a broad scope of information into manageable summaries. When used effectively, these reports can pool cumulative data across primary studies, formulate clinical guidelines, and guide future research endeavors. However, errors in study design can result in ineffective or misleading analyses. This article presents the appropriate uses for systematic review and meta-analysis by introducing a framework for creating summary studies, and supplying specific examples of pitfalls in study design and execution.