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Open Access Highly Accessed Debate

Methods for the synthesis of qualitative research: a critical review

Elaine Barnett-Page* and James Thomas

Author Affiliations

Evidence for Policy and Practice Information and Co-ordinating (EPPI-) Centre, Social Science Research Unit, 18 Woburn Square, London WC1H 0NS, UK

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BMC Medical Research Methodology 2009, 9:59  doi:10.1186/1471-2288-9-59

Published: 11 August 2009

Abstract

Background

In recent years, a growing number of methods for synthesising qualitative research have emerged, particularly in relation to health-related research. There is a need for both researchers and commissioners to be able to distinguish between these methods and to select which method is the most appropriate to their situation.

Discussion

A number of methodological and conceptual links between these methods were identified and explored, while contrasting epistemological positions explained differences in approaches to issues such as quality assessment and extent of iteration. Methods broadly fall into 'realist' or 'idealist' epistemologies, which partly accounts for these differences.

Summary

Methods for qualitative synthesis vary across a range of dimensions. Commissioners of qualitative syntheses might wish to consider the kind of product they want and select their method – or type of method – accordingly.