Synthesis and analysis

The synthesis of qualitative research findings can be done in a variety of ways. The terms used in the literature can be a little confusing so you need to read the labels with a bit of flexibility. There are some overviews of the various options, for example,

Snilstveit, B., Oliver, S., & Vojtkova, M. (2012). Narrative approaches to systematic review and synthesis of evidence for international development policy and practice. Journal of Development Effectiveness, 4(3), 409-429. doi:10.1080/19439342.2012.710641

Examples of an approach will almost always contain an explanation of the process and its advantages and limitations due to the fact that this type of research is still developing. These examples will help illustrate some of the common approaches.

The ways in which synthesis and analysis operates when reviewing papers is not a great deal different to the methods you might use in working with primary data. Here are some notes that list some suggestions.

Thematic synthesis
As the name suggests, this approach identifies themes in the published literature and parallels the commonly used approach is case study research of identifying and characterising themes.

Thomas, J., & Harden, A. (2008). Methods for the thematic synthesis of qualitative research in systematic reviews. BMC Medical Research Methodology, 8(1), 45. doi:10.1186/1471-2288-8-45

In the introduction to the Noblit and Hare book (see below), the editors write:

Meta-ethnography is about the comparative textual analysis of published field studies. The authors argue that there are at least three ways to order a set of ethnographies. First, ethnographies can be combined such that one study can be presented in terms of another. Second, ethnographies can be set against one another such that the grounds for one study's refutation of another become visible. Third, ethnographics can be tied to one another by noting just how one study informs and goes beyond another.

Some samples:
Williamson, L. M., Parkes, A., Wight, D., Petticrew, M., & Hart, G. J. (2009). Limits to modern contraceptive use among young women in developing countries: a systematic review of qualitative research. Reproductive Health, 6(1), 3. doi:10.1186/1742-4755-6-3

Neal-Jackson, A. (2018). A Meta-Ethnographic Review of the Experiences of African American Girls and Young Women in K–12 Education. Review of Educational Research, 1-39. doi:10.3102/0034654318760785

Neal-Jackson draws on Noblit, G. W., & Hare, R. D. (1988). Meta-ethnography: synthesizing qualitative studies (Vol. 11). London; Newbury Park, CA: SAGE. There is an ecopy of the book in the library, sections of which can be downloaded.

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