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Meta-synthesis method for qualitative research: a literature review

Authors

  • 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,
UK.
E-mail: denis.walsh@ntlworld.com

Abstract

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.

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