Appraisal of: "Booth A. Searching for qualitative research for inclusion in systematic reviews: a structured methodological review. Syst Rev, 5(1). doi:10.1186/s13643-016-0249-x"

Short description: 

This review provides a systematic overview of the available published evidence of searching methods to inform qualitative evidence synthesis (QES). The author sought to assess and identify:

1) the current state of knowledge in relation to searching for qualitative evidence

2) the robustness of the evidence base

3) research gaps and future priorities.

The studies were obtained from the Reference Manager database of the Cochrane Qualitative Methods Group’s study register, of which the author is responsible for updating and maintaining. Supplementary citation searches via Google Scholar was also carried out for 15 key papers. 113 studies were assessed for inclusion. Quality assessment of the included studies was not deemed feasible due to a large proportion of the included studies providing only narrative findings, the lack of a common appraisal instrument and the high levels of heterogeneity across the remaining studies.

The evidence underpinning systematic approaches to searching for qualitative evidence is classified and summarized within one or more of eight headings/ “7 S structure/ framework”: overviews and methodological guidelines, sampling, sources, structured questions, search procedures, search strategies and filters, supplementary strategies and standards. The author summarizes the available evidence and key issues within each section and makes recommendations for further empirical research. Table 7 breaks down the key starting principles in reference to the “7S structure” of searching to inform qualitative evidence synthesis to inform future guidance and Table 8 provides an overview of research priorities.

The review concludes that there is a lack of empirical data to inform information retrieval for QES and that the strength of the evidence is weak and largely based on personal/ professional experience and case studies. Advances have been made in reporting QES, however, validated standards are lacking. 

Limitations stated by the author(s): 

The author states that in order for studies to be included, the references needed to include terms specifically related to searching or retrieval in their titles or abstracts, cite a number of key texts, or be referred to from previously identified items. The full-text of all papers reporting QES were not examined. There is a possibility that potentially relevant reviews reporting emerging information retrieval methods that were not reported in the title or abstract were missed. However, these risks are offset by the sensitive search approach and the currency and comprehensiveness of the Cochrane Qualitative Methods Group study register. The author also notes that some papers were excluded as they did not distinguish between qualitative and quantitative approaches, which could potentially be useful for mixed methods reviews.

Limitations stated by the reviewer(s): 
1. This was a single reviewer methodology review so judgements on eligibility and interpretations of potential significance and contribution of individual studies may not be consistent and/or reproducible. [Study Selection Bias] 2. Although as a methodology review there is no formal requirement to follow PRISMA reporting standards this review may have benefited from more complete and transparent reporting. [Incomplete Reporting Bias] 3. As the reviewer was author on a high proportion of included studies this may have consciously impacted on study identification and subconsciously on study selection and interpretation. [Citation Bias; Observer Bias]
Study Type: 
Single study