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Evidence Synthesis

This guide provides an introduction to evidence synthesis as it is understood in evidence-based practice. clinical research and healthcare policy arenas.

Qualitative Evidence Synthesis

A qualitative synthesis is a narrative, textual approach to summarizing, analyzing, and assessing the body of evidence included in your review. It is a necessary part of all systematic reviews, even those with a focus on quantitative data.

Use the qualitative synthesis to:

  • Provide a general summary of the characteristics and findings of the included studies.
  • Analyze the relationships between studies, exploring patterns and investigating heterogeneity.
  • Discuss the applicability of the body of evidence to the review's question within the PICO structure.
  • Explain the meta-analysis (if one is conducted) and interpret and analyze the robustness of its results.
  • Critique the strengths and weaknesses of the body of evidence as a whole, including a cumulative assessment of the risk of bias across studies.
  • Discuss any gaps in the evidence, such as patient populations that have been inadequately studied or for whom results differ.
  • Compare the review's findings with current conventional wisdom when appropriate.

Different methods for qualitative evidence synthesis include:


Narrative synthesis

Meta-ethnography entails reviewing and translating ethnographic interpretations of social explanations of observations made by ethnographers.  It encapsulates Spicer's use of emic/etic observations and analysis, respectively, and synthesizes those interpretations for readers interested in that particular topic or finding. (Noblit & Hare, 2011).

Framework Synthesis

Qualitative Content Analysis

Realist synthesis

Source: Hong, Q. N., Pluye, P., Bujold, M., & Wassef, M. (2017). Convergent and sequential synthesis designs: implications for conducting and reporting systematic reviews of qualitative and quantitative evidence. Systematic Reviews, 6(1), 61. 

Some Examples

Examples of Different Types of Evidence Syntheses 

Hoang, N.-P. T., & Kirby, J. N. (2020). A Meta-ethnography Synthesis of Joint Care Practices between Parents and Grandparents from Asian Cultural Backgrounds: Benefits and Challenges. Journal of Child & Family Studies29(3), 605–619.

Brookfield, S., Fitzgerald, L., Selvey, L., & Maher, L. (2019). Turning points, identity, and social capital: A meta-ethnography of methamphetamine recovery. International Journal of Drug Policy67, 79–90.

Parekh, R., Praetorius, R. T., & Nordberg, A. (2018). Carers’ Experiences in Families Impacted by Huntington’s Disease: A Qualitative Interpretive Meta-SynthesisBritish Journal of Social Work48(3), 675–692.

Duke, T. S. (2011). Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth with disabilities: a meta-synthesisJournal of LGBT Youth8(1), 1–52.

Rees, C. E., Lee, S. L., Huang, E., Denniston, C., Edouard, V., Pope, K., Sutton, K., Waller, S., Ward, B., & Palermo, C. (2020). Supervision training in healthcare: a realist synthesisAdvances in Health Sciences Education25(3), 523–561.

Wiese, A., Kilty, C., & Bennett, D. (2018). Supervised workplace learning in postgraduate training: a realist synthesis. Medical Education52(9), 951–969.

Killackey, T., Peter, E., MacIver, J., & Mohammed, S. (2019). Advance care Planning in Heart Failure: A Narrative synthesis of the Perspectives of Patients, Family Members, and Healthcare Providers. Canadian Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing29(3), 16–25.

Carton, A. M., Cordwell, J., & Steinhardt, K. (2020). A framework synthesis reviewing the impact of neonatal care unit admission on early caregiver–infant relationships. Journal of Advanced Nursing (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.)76(12), 3258–3272.

MUKATTASH, T. L., JARAB, A. S., MUKATTASH, I., NUSAIR, M. B., ABU FARHA, R., BISHARAT, M., & BASHETI, I. A. (2020). Pharmacists’ perception of their role during COVID-19: a qualitative content analysis of posts on Facebook pharmacy groups in Jordan. Pharmacy Practice (1886-3655)18(3), 1–6.

Lewis, G. M., Neville, C., & Ashkanasy, N. M. (2017). Emotional intelligence and affective events in nurse education: A narrative review. Nurse education today53, 34–40.