|The purpose of this guide is to connect you with useful information and resources for embarking on a systematic review or other type of synthesis. Information about conducting traditional literature reviews (that do not follow a research methodology) can be found here.|
Content on this guide can be reused and adapted under the BY-NC-SA Creative Commons license.
The terms synthesis and research review are often used interchangeably. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research defines synthesis as
“[T]he contextualization and integration of research findings of individual research studies within the larger body of knowledge on the topic.”
A synthesis must be reproducible and transparent in its methods and may synthesize qualitative or quantitative results.
When systematic reviews were the first type of synthesis to appear in the health care literature back in the 1970s, the main objective was to synthesize quantitative research studies. Limitations of traditional (quantitative) systematic reviews and meta-analyses led to the adaptation of syntheses to include:
While many syntheses begin with a clear question, their methodologies and the types of research evidence synthesized to answer the question can be quite different. Check out the "What Review is Right for You?" tool from the Knowledge Translation Program (see more information here).
To help determine the most appropriate type of synthesis for your research question and purpose, you may find it helpful to consult the following articles.
Overview of 12 knowledge synthesis methods that go beyond the traditional systematic review (Kaster et al., 2016):
Fig. 1. Conceptual algorithm to optimize selection of a knowledge synthesis method for answering a research question.
What kind of systematic review should I conduct? A proposed typology and guidance for systematic reviewers in the medical and health sciences (Munn et al., 2018):
Table 1: Types of reviews.
Kastner, M., Antony, J., Soobiah, C., Straus, S. E., & Tricco, A. C. (2016). Conceptual recommendations for selecting the most appropriate knowledge synthesis method to answer research questions related to complex evidence. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 73, 43-49.
Mays, N., Roberts, E., & Popay, J. (2001). Synthesising research evidence. Studying the Organisation and Delivery of Health Services: Research Methods, 188-220.
Moher D., Stewart L. & Shekelle P. (2015). All in the family: systematic reviews, rapid reviews, scoping reviews, realist reviews, and more. Syst Rev, 4(1):1-2.
Munn, Z., Stern, C., Aromataris, E., Lockwood, C., & Jordan, Z. (2018). What kind of systematic review should I conduct? A proposed typology and guidance for systematic reviewers in the medical and health sciences. BMC medical research methodology, 18(1), 5.
Sutton, A., Clowes, M., Preston, L., & Booth, A. (2019). Meeting the review family: exploring review types and associated information retrieval requirements. Health Information & Libraries Journal, 36(3), 202-222.