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Meta-synthesis method for qualitative research: a literature review


  • Denis Walsh MA PGDipEd RM RGN DPSM,

  • Soo Downe BA MSc PhD RM

Denis Walsh,
Department of Midwifery,
Faculty of Health,
University of Central Lancashire,
Preston PR1 2HE,


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.