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      Worked examples of alternative methods for the synthesis of qualitative and quantitative research in systematic reviews

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          Abstract

          Background

          The inclusion of qualitative studies in systematic reviews poses methodological challenges. This paper presents worked examples of two methods of data synthesis (textual narrative and thematic), used in relation to one review, with the aim of enabling researchers to consider the strength of different approaches.

          Methods

          A systematic review of lay perspectives of infant size and growth was conducted, locating 19 studies (including both qualitative and quantitative). The data extracted from these were synthesised using both a textual narrative and a thematic synthesis.

          Results

          The processes of both methods are presented, showing a stepwise progression to the final synthesis. Both methods led us to similar conclusions about lay views toward infant size and growth. Differences between methods lie in the way they dealt with study quality and heterogeneity.

          Conclusion

          On the basis of the work reported here, we consider textual narrative and thematic synthesis have strengths and weaknesses in relation to different research questions. Thematic synthesis holds most potential for hypothesis generation, but may obscure heterogeneity and quality appraisal. Textual narrative synthesis is better able to describe the scope of existing research and account for the strength of evidence, but is less good at identifying commonality.

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          Most cited references 39

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          Rationale and standards for the systematic review of qualitative literature in health services research.

          Despite growing recognition of the need for qualitative methods in health services research, there have been few attempts to define quality standards for assessing the results. This article acknowledges the desirability of a plurality of standards. However, it is argued that three interrelated criteria can be identified as the foundation of good qualitative health research: interpretation of subjective meaning, description of social context, and attention to lay knowledge. These criteria can be examined in relation to different dimensions of any research report, including theoretical basis, sampling strategy, scope of data collection, description of data collected, and concern with generalizability or typicality. But if the concern is with the appropriateness of care and with understanding the factors that shape lay and clinical behavior, then these criteria must form the basis of a hierarchy of qualitative research evidence.
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            Finding qualitative research: an evaluation of search strategies

            Background Qualitative research makes an important contribution to our understanding of health and healthcare. However, qualitative evidence can be difficult to search for and identify, and the effectiveness of different types of search strategies is unknown. Methods Three search strategies for qualitative research in the example area of support for breast-feeding were evaluated using six electronic bibliographic databases. The strategies were based on using thesaurus terms, free-text terms and broad-based terms. These strategies were combined with recognised search terms for support for breast-feeding previously used in a Cochrane review. For each strategy, we evaluated the recall (potentially relevant records found) and precision (actually relevant records found). Results A total yield of 7420 potentially relevant records was retrieved by the three strategies combined. Of these, 262 were judged relevant. Using one strategy alone would miss relevant records. The broad-based strategy had the highest recall and the thesaurus strategy the highest precision. Precision was generally poor: 96% of records initially identified as potentially relevant were deemed irrelevant. Searching for qualitative research involves trade-offs between recall and precision. Conclusions These findings confirm that strategies that attempt to maximise the number of potentially relevant records found are likely to result in a large number of false positives. The findings also suggest that a range of search terms is required to optimise searching for qualitative evidence. This underlines the problems of current methods for indexing qualitative research in bibliographic databases and indicates where improvements need to be made.
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              Reviews of evidence regarding interventions to reduce tobacco use and exposure to environmental tobacco smoke.

              This report presents the results of systematic reviews of effectiveness, applicability, other effects, economic evaluations, and barriers to use of selected population-based interventions intended to reduce tobacco use and exposure to environmental tobacco smoke. The related systematic reviews are linked by a common conceptual approach. These reviews form the basis of recommendations by the Task Force on Community Preventive Services (TFCPS) regarding the use of these selected interventions. The TFCPS recommendations are presented on page 67 of this supplement.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                BMC Med Res Methodol
                BMC Medical Research Methodology
                BioMed Central (London )
                1471-2288
                2007
                15 January 2007
                : 7
                : 4
                Affiliations
                [1 ]School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol, 8 Priory Rd, Bristol BS8 1TZ, UK
                [2 ]MRC Environmental Resource Centre, University of Southampton, UK
                [3 ]Child Health Research & Policy Unit, City University, UK
                [4 ]Institute of Child Health, University College London, UK
                Article
                1471-2288-7-4
                10.1186/1471-2288-7-4
                1783856
                17224044
                Copyright © 2007 Lucas et al; 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.

                Categories
                Research Article

                Medicine

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