Research synthesis is the process of combining the results of multiple primary research studies aimed at testing the same conceptual hypothesis. It may be applied to either quantitative or qualitative research. Its general goals are to make the findings from multiple different studies more generalizable and applicable. It aims to generate new knowledge by combining and comparing the results of multiple studies on a given topic.
Meta-analysis is the preferred technique of quantitative research synthesis in many fields, such as medical science. This technique can sometimes accurately estimate an overall effect, but it may suffer from limitations when there is variation in the included studies with regard to study design, the type of evidence, or other key characteristics. Methods of qualitative research synthesis include narrative synthesis and meta-ethnography. Narrative synthesis allows researchers to address a wide range of questions in their review, while meta-ethnography aims to preserve the cultural context in which the original findings of the included studies were generated. The narrative synthesis approach has attracted criticism because of its potential for bias, with critics highlighting the subjective nature of the use of the method to draw conclusions. There is also evidence that reviews using the narrative synthesis approach often suffer from a lack of transparency.
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