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      Methods for the thematic synthesis of qualitative research in systematic reviews

      research-article
      1 , , 1
      BMC Medical Research Methodology
      BioMed Central

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          Abstract

          Background

          There is a growing recognition of the value of synthesising qualitative research in the evidence base in order to facilitate effective and appropriate health care. In response to this, methods for undertaking these syntheses are currently being developed. Thematic analysis is a method that is often used to analyse data in primary qualitative research. This paper reports on the use of this type of analysis in systematic reviews to bring together and integrate the findings of multiple qualitative studies.

          Methods

          We describe thematic synthesis, outline several steps for its conduct and illustrate the process and outcome of this approach using a completed review of health promotion research. Thematic synthesis has three stages: the coding of text 'line-by-line'; the development of 'descriptive themes'; and the generation of 'analytical themes'. While the development of descriptive themes remains 'close' to the primary studies, the analytical themes represent a stage of interpretation whereby the reviewers 'go beyond' the primary studies and generate new interpretive constructs, explanations or hypotheses. The use of computer software can facilitate this method of synthesis; detailed guidance is given on how this can be achieved.

          Results

          We used thematic synthesis to combine the studies of children's views and identified key themes to explore in the intervention studies. Most interventions were based in school and often combined learning about health benefits with 'hands-on' experience. The studies of children's views suggested that fruit and vegetables should be treated in different ways, and that messages should not focus on health warnings. Interventions that were in line with these suggestions tended to be more effective. Thematic synthesis enabled us to stay 'close' to the results of the primary studies, synthesising them in a transparent way, and facilitating the explicit production of new concepts and hypotheses.

          Conclusion

          We compare thematic synthesis to other methods for the synthesis of qualitative research, discussing issues of context and rigour. Thematic synthesis is presented as a tried and tested method that preserves an explicit and transparent link between conclusions and the text of primary studies; as such it preserves principles that have traditionally been important to systematic reviewing.

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          Most cited references61

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          Systematic reviews in health care: Assessing the quality of controlled clinical trials.

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            Rigour and qualitative research.

            N Mays, C Pope (1995)
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              Quantity and Quality in Social Research

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                Author and article information

                Journal
                BMC Med Res Methodol
                BMC Medical Research Methodology
                BioMed Central
                1471-2288
                2008
                10 July 2008
                : 8
                : 45
                Affiliations
                [1 ]EPPI-Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London, UK
                Article
                1471-2288-8-45
                10.1186/1471-2288-8-45
                2478656
                18616818
                34c2f17e-a419-4a0f-acb1-9f1589cb7d2a
                Copyright © 2008 Thomas and Harden; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

                History
                : 17 April 2008
                : 10 July 2008
                Categories
                Research Article

                Medicine
                Medicine

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