Aim. This paper discusses the purpose and stages of meta-synthesis and the epistemological status of knowledge generated from the technique. Particular attention is paid to exploring the contested areas of the method that remain.
Background. There is a growing interest in meta-synthesis as a technique for generating new insights and understanding from qualitative health care research. An increasing number of meta-synthesis papers are appearing in the nursing and midwifery literature.
Methods. Literature on the technique of meta-synthesis and examples of meta-synthesis papers were searched and reviewed. A meta-synthesis exercise was undertaken, and this informed reflection and critique of the method.
Findings. Meta-synthesis attempts to integrate results from a number of different but inter-related qualitative studies. The technique has an interpretive, rather than aggregating, intent, in contrast to meta-analysis of quantitative studies. Examples from the literature indicate that some aspects of the technique are not yet fully established.
Conclusion. Despite the contingent nature of evidence gleaned from meta-synthesis and current lack of consensus about some of its aspects, meta-synthesis is an important technique for qualitative researchers and can deepen understanding of the contextual dimensions of health care.