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Systematic Reviews & Other Review Types

What is a Meta-Syntheses?

A meta-synthesis brings together qualitative data to form a new interpretation of the research field.  It helps to generate new theories or an explanatory theory of why the intervention works or not.  It creates a hypothesis for future testing or comparison with trial outcomes.

Meta-syntheses are best designed to re-interpret meaning across many qualitative studies.

(S. Atkins et al (2008)

How a Meta-Syntheses differs from a Systematic Review

Timeframe: 12 months or less. 

Question: "A clearly formulated question helps to set boundaries for the scope and depth of a meta-ethnography" (Atkins S.)

Sources and searches: Not as exhaustive as a systematic review, unless the question requires exhaustive searching.  Can search within a particular setting.  Search specifically for qualitative studies if possible (be careful with search filters).  Search may rely more heavily on inclusion and exclusion criteria.

Selection: Different screening process--includes repeated reading of articles to connect and record concepts or themes. 

Appraisal: Focus is on the translation of studies and then systematically compared or 'translated' within and across studies while retaining the structure of the relationships between central concepts/themes and includes a 'thematic analysis'.

Synthesis: Qualitative Differs from a Meta-Analysis (Quantitative) "The goal is not aggregative in the sense of 'adding studies together' as with a meta-analysis.  On the contrary, it is interpretative in broadening understanding of a particular phenomenon." (Source: Grant et al (2009))

There are 3 types of synthesis that may be used.  A second level of synthesis is possible.

  1. Reciprocal Translation: Concepts in one study can incorporate those of another.
  2. Refutational Translation: Concepts in different studies contradict one another.
  3. Line of Argument Synthesis: Studies identify different aspects of the topic that can be drawn together in a new interpretation.

(France EF, Ring N et al 1988)

Limitations of a Meta-Syntheses

  • Only appropriate for high-quality qualitative studies
  • Can only accommodate a limited number of primary studies
  • Choice of a meta-ethnography may not be confirmed until pool of evidence known
  • Requires significant methodological skill and experience with qualitative methods
  • May take time to engage with the evidence and develop theory
  • Requires further interpretation by policy makers and practitioners

Source: M. Petticrew et al (2013) and Li T. et al (2001)

Other names for a Meta-Syntheses

Meta-synthesis, Meta-ethnography, Qualitative Evidence Synthesis, Qualitative Meta-Synthesis, Meta narrative review (related)

Temple Attribution

Adapted with permission from Temple University Libraries.

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