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This week, as I started to plan some teaching on qualitative systematic reviews, I read a paper by Brookfield and colleagues (2019). It reflects on the state of meta-synthesis, and meta-ethnography in particular, which is one of the earliest ways that was developed to combine knowledge produced by qualitative researchers. In the 30 years since Noblit and Hare (1988) published their book outlining how to perform a meta-ethnography, questions remain (and have multiplied) about creating reviews of qualitative research in a way that makes the end product relevant to policy makers and practitioners. Brookfield et al. (2019) suggest adding a final stage within meta-ethnography (which could be applied to meta-synthesis more generally) that involves transforming conceptual findings into recommendations; this may avoid the view of output from such work being too theoretical or abstract to inform practice, even though it can address issues of relevance to patients, practitioners and policy makers (e.g. by exploring experiences of treatment or living with a condition). Brookfield et al. (2019) also call for more transparency within a publication on processes involved in conducting a synthesis, to make clear how one approach, like meta-ethnography, is distinct from other ways of combining qualitative research (e.g. thematic synthesis, ‘best fit’ framework synthesis or critical interpretive synthesis). The range of approaches to meta-synthesis has proliferated over recent decades; this may leave those new to the field confused about how they differ and how to select a suitable approach.

If you want to learn more about the different ways of conducting a meta-synthesis and key stages involved, strategies for locating qualitative literature, and quality issues associated with these types of review, please visit the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine’s website for more details about our one-day course on 2 July 2019.