11. Synthesis: narrative, quantitative and qualitative methods

This session will describe the main principles relating to synthesising study findings in a systematic review. The difference between aggregative and configurative synthetic methods will be explained. Firstly, narrative synthesis will be introduced and explained. Then, quantitative synthesis will be introduced and the main methods used to synthesise quantitative evidence will be detailed, including: meta-analysis, subgroup analysis, meta-regression, and sensitivity analysis. Finally, qualitative synthesis methods will be introduced and the main approaches detailed. Software suitable for these synthesis methods will be described.

Learning objectives:

  • To understand the meaning of narrative, quantitative and qualitative synthesis
  • To appreciate the difference between aggregative and configurative approaches to synthesis
  • To be aware of the main types of quantitative and qualitative synthesis and the ways in which they can be performed
  • To appreciate the need for careful a priori planning of synthesis
  • To understand the importance for careful checking of synthesis activities
  • To understand the need for transparent documentation of any synthesis to allow for verification and replication

To begin, watch the following presentation:

You can find the lecture handouts here.

Next, read the ninth chapter of the guidance from the Collaboration for Environmental Evidence here. We'll revisit sections of the CEE Guidance throughout the course. It focuses on environmental and conservation topics, but is subject agnostic, meaning that it's useful for other disciplines, too. Feel free to focus instead on the Cochrane Guidance if you work with healthcare topics.

Move to the next module!