The information on this page is pertinent to researchers who are carrying out a qualitative systematic review.
A qualitative systematic review is a review based on a clearly formulated question. It uses systematic and reproducible methods to identify, select and critically appraise all relevant research, and to collect and analyse data from the studies that are included in the review. Qualitative systematic reviews derive data from observation, interviews, or verbal interactions and focus on the meanings and interpretations of the participants.
It is recommended that you check whether a systematic review on your question has already been conducted or is currently being undertaken. Checking existing reviews/protocols ensures that you are not repeating someone else's work. This may also help you in choosing or refining a review topic. Look for existing systematic reviews/protocols in:
The PICO (Patient, Intervention, Comparison, Outcome) framework is commonly used to develop focused clinical questions for quantitative systematic reviews. A modified version, PICo, can be used for qualitative questions.
|Population||What are the characteristics of the patient or population? What is the condition or disease you are interested in?|
|Interest||What is the phenomena of interest? A defined event, activity, experience or process?|
|Context||What is the setting or distinct characteristics?|
Sample topic: What are caregivers' experiences with providing home-based care to patients with HIV/AIDS in Africa?
P - Caregivers providing home-based care to persons with HIV/AIDS
I - Experiences
Co - Africa
Use the following worksheet to create a search strategy:
The SPIDER framework is an alternative search strategy tool (based on PICo) for qualitative/mixed methods research.
Who is the sample or population of interest?
|Phenomenon of Interest||What is the phenomena of interest? A defined event, activity, experience or process?|
|Design||What types of study methods are you interested in?|
|Evaluation||What are the evaluation outcomes? (May be subjective - opinions, feelings etc.)|
|Research type||What type of research are you interested in? Qualitative or mixed method (qualitative & quantitative)?|
Sample topic: What are the experiences of women undergoing IVF treatment?
S - Women
PI - IVF treatment
D - Questionnaire or survey or interview
E - Experiences or views or attitudes or feelings
R - Qualitative or mixed method
SPICE can be used for both qualitative and quantitative studies. SPICE stands for Setting (where?), Perspective (for whom?), Intervention (what?), Comparison (compared with what?) and Evaluation (with what result?).
Sample topic: What are the coping skills of parents of children with autism undergoing behavioural therapy in schools?
S - Schools
P - Parents of children with autism
I - Behavioural therapy
C - None
E - Coping skills
When searching the literature for a qualitative systematic review, the following sources should be considered:
For information on search techniques see How to search.
When undertaking a qualitative systematic review it is recommended to use a search filter.
A filter is a standardised search strategy that is designed to be used in conjunction with a subject search to retrieve valid studies from the (primary) medical or health sciences literature. Filters work in one of two ways by:
Methodological search filters focus on the methods of qualitative research rather than the content. They can be:
Click the tabs in this box to find out how to search with filters in the CINAHL, Medline, PsycINFO and PubMed databases.
Perform a search for your topic then filter the search by selecting either Qualitative - High Sensitivity, Qualitative - High Specificity or Qualitative - Best Balance from the Clinical Queries search option.
Perform a search for your topic then select Additional Limits in the search box. Under Clinical Queries select either Qualitative (maximizes sensitivity), Qualitative (maximizes specificity) or Qualitative (best balance of sensitivity and specificity). Click on Limit A Search to apply the filter to your topic search.
Copy and paste the following search string into PsycINFO and combine with your topic search.
((("semi-structured" or semistructured or unstructured or informal or "in-depth" or indepth or "face-to-face" or structured or guide or guides) adj3 (interview* or discussion* or questionnaire*)).ti,ab,id. or (focus group* or qualitative or ethnograph* or fieldwork or "field work" or "key informant")).ti,ab,id. or exp qualitative research/ or exp interviews/ or exp group discussion/ or qualitative study.md. not "Literature Review".md.
Copy and paste the following search string into PubMed and combine with your topic search.
(((“semi-structured”[TIAB] OR semistructured[TIAB] OR unstructured[TIAB] OR informal[TIAB] OR “in-depth”[TIAB] OR indepth[TIAB] OR “face-to-face”[TIAB] OR structured[TIAB] OR guide[TIAB] OR guides[TIAB]) AND (interview*[TIAB] OR discussion*[TIAB] OR questionnaire*[TIAB])) OR (“focus group”[TIAB] OR “focus groups”[TIAB] OR qualitative[TIAB] OR ethnograph*[TIAB] OR fieldwork[TIAB] OR “field work”[TIAB] OR “key informant”[TIAB])) OR “interviews as topic”[Mesh] OR “focus groups”[Mesh] OR narration[Mesh] OR qualitative research[Mesh] OR "personal narratives as topic"[Mesh]
PubMed Health Services Research Queries
An important aspect of undertaking a systematic review is to provide a clear report of your search strategy. The STARLITE mnemonic may be used to ensure that all essential elements for reporting your literature search are included.
|Type of studies||
|Range of years||
|Inclusion and exclusion||
Appraising qualitative evidence requires an assessment of the quality of the research in relation to the research methodology, methods and analyses used and the interpretation of data. The following checklists are useful critical appraisal tools, each consisting of ten criteria:
The McMaster Critical Review form and guidelines are also useful for qualitative studies: