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Systematic Reviews & Evidence Synthesis Methods



Once you have completed your analysis, you will want to both summarize and synthesize those results. You may have a qualitative synthesis, a quantitative synthesis, or both.

Qualitative Synthesis

In a qualitative synthesis, you describe for readers how the pieces of your work fit together. You will summarize, compare, and contrast the characteristics and findings, exploring the relationships between them. Further, you will discuss the relevance and applicability of the evidence to your research question. You will also analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the body of evidence. Focus on where the gaps are in the evidence and provide recommendations for further research.

Quantitative Synthesis

Whether or not your Systematic Review includes a full meta-analysis, there is typically some element of data analysis. The quantitative synthesis combines and analyzes the evidence using statistical techniques. This includes comparing methodological similarities and differences and potentially the quality of the studies conducted.

Summarizing vs. Synthesizing

In a systematic review, researchers do more than summarize findings from identified articles. You will synthesize the information you want to include.

While a summary is a way of concisely relating important themes and elements from a larger work or works in a condensed form, a synthesis takes the information from a variety of works and combines them together to create something new.


"The goal of a systematic synthesis of qualitative research is to integrate or compare the results across studies in order to increase understanding of a particular phenomenon, not to add studies together. Typically the aim is to identify broader themes or new theories – qualitative syntheses usually result in a narrative summary of cross-cutting or emerging themes or constructs, and/or conceptual models."

Denner, J., Marsh, E. & Campe, S. (2017). Approaches to reviewing research in education. In D. Wyse, N. Selwyn, & E. Smith (Eds.), The BERA/SAGE Handbook of educational research (Vol. 2, pp. 143-164). doi: 10.4135/9781473983953.n7

Learn More

Data synthesis (Collaboration for Environmental Evidence Guidebook)

Interpreting findings and and reporting conduct (Collaboration for Environmental Evidence Guidebook)

Interpreting results and drawing conclusions (Cochrane Handbook, Chapter 15)

Guidance on the conduct of narrative synthesis in systematic reviews (ESRC Methods Programme)

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