Top 10 Tips for Undertaking Synthesis Research

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Excerpt

Knowledge in the form of best research evidence is a key component of evidence‐based practice (Sackett, Rosenberg, Gray, Haynes, & Richardson, 1996). However, the voluminous, often unwieldy, body of research in many areas of nursing practice makes it difficult to draw conclusions about what is known. Similar studies may yield conflicting results, and researchers often study similar topics using different theoretical orientations and methods. With over 26 million publications listed in the PubMed database, millions with links to full‐text content, and over 13,000 journals in the Web of Science database (including over 100 nursing journals), the volume of information, even in a focused area of inquiry, can be overwhelming.
Over 30 years ago, in his bestselling book Megatrends, Naisbett (1982) famously stated, “We are drowning in information, but starved for knowledge” (p.17). His observation captures what many of us experience when faced with trying to make sense of a particular body of literature. The dramatic growth of research makes the need for synthesis more pressing than ever. For both clinicians committed to evidence‐based practice and researchers wanting to build on and extend the current body of knowledge, synthesizing research provides a powerful tool for determining what we know. Yet, synthesizing the research can be a challenging undertaking.
Recognizing the importance of synthesis, researchers have directed increased attention to developing and refining synthesis methods. As a result, multiple options are available for anyone proposing to undertake a synthesis project. Kearney (2016) addressed the importance of novice review authors being exposed to literature reviews that “serve as examples to support well‐substantiated, nuanced claims about the state of the science” (p. 6), and in Table 1 we provide citations for strong examples of different types of reviews. Despite the many excellent resources available to support synthesis research, undertaking a research synthesis can be daunting. The increasing sophistication of methods and guidelines has contributed to the scope and quality of the work being done but at the same time poses new challenges.
While there are numerous synthesis methods, the steps of the process are similar. In this guest editorial, we draw on our experiences conducting synthesis research and differentiating the various synthesis approaches to offer our top 10 tips for undertaking a synthesis study. In Table 2 we provide further elaboration on the tips by identifying some key questions that need to be addressed during the review process.
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