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Open Access Highly Accessed Correspondence

Systematically reviewing and synthesizing evidence from conversation analytic and related discursive research to inform healthcare communication practice and policy: an illustrated guide

Ruth H Parry1* and Victoria Land2

Author affiliations

1 Sue Ryder Centre for the Study of Supportive, Palliative and End of Life Care, University of Nottingham, Queens Medical Centre, Nottingham, NG7 2HA, UK

2 Independent Researcher, York, UK

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Citation and License

BMC Medical Research Methodology 2013, 13:69  doi:10.1186/1471-2288-13-69

Published: 30 May 2013



Healthcare delivery is largely accomplished in and through conversations between people, and healthcare quality and effectiveness depend enormously upon the communication practices employed within these conversations. An important body of evidence about these practices has been generated by conversation analysis and related discourse analytic approaches, but there has been very little systematic reviewing of this evidence.


We developed an approach to reviewing evidence from conversation analytic and related discursive research through the following procedures:

• reviewing existing systematic review methods and our own prior experience of applying these

• clarifying distinctive features of conversation analytic and related discursive work which must be taken into account when reviewing

• holding discussions within a review advisory team that included members with expertise in healthcare research, conversation analytic research, and systematic reviewing

• attempting and then refining procedures through conducting an actual review which examined evidence about how people talk about difficult future issues including illness progression and dying


We produced a step-by-step guide which we describe here in terms of eight stages, and which we illustrate from our ‘Review of Future Talk’. The guide incorporates both established procedures for systematic reviewing, and new techniques designed for working with conversation analytic evidence.


The guide is designed to inform systematic reviews of conversation analytic and related discursive evidence on specific domains and topics. Whilst we designed it for reviews that aim at informing healthcare practice and policy, it is flexible and could be used for reviews with other aims, for instance those aiming to underpin research programmes and projects. We advocate systematically reviewing conversation analytic and related discursive findings using this approach in order to translate them into a form that is credible and useful to healthcare practitioners, educators and policy-makers.

Systematic review; Conversation analysis; Discourse analysis; Healthcare; Quality appraisal; Methodology