A methodological systematic review of what's wrong with meta-ethnography reporting



France E, Ring NA, Thomas R, Noyes J, Maxwell M & Jepson R (2014) A methodological systematic review of what's wrong with meta-ethnography reporting. BMC Medical Research Methodology, 14, Art. No.: 119.

Background: Syntheses of qualitative studies can inform health policy, services and our understanding of patient experience. Meta-ethnography is a systematic seven-phase interpretive qualitative synthesis approach well-suited to producing new theories and conceptual models. However, there are concerns about the quality of meta-ethnography reporting, particularly the analysis and synthesis processes. Our aim was to investigate the application and reporting of methods in recent meta-ethnography journal papers, focusing on the analysis and synthesis process and output. Methods: Methodological systematic review of health-related meta-ethnography journal papers published from 2012-2013. We searched six electronic databases, Google Scholar and Zetoc for papers using key terms including 'meta-ethnography.' Two authors independently screened papers by title and abstract with 100% agreement. We identified 32 relevant papers. Three authors independently extracted data and all authors analysed the application and reporting of methods using content analysis. Results: Meta-ethnography was applied in diverse ways, sometimes inappropriately. In 13% of papers the approach did not suit the research aim. In 66% of papers reviewers did not follow the principles of meta-ethnography. The analytical and synthesis processes were poorly reported overall. In only 31% of papers reviewers clearly described how they analysed conceptual data from primary studies (phase 5, 'translation' of studies) and in only one paper (3%) reviewers explicitly described how they conducted the analytic synthesis process (phase 6). In 38% of papers we could not ascertain if reviewers had achieved any new interpretation of primary studies. In over 30% of papers seminal methodological texts which could have informed methods were not cited. Conclusions: We believe this is the first in-depth methodological systematic review of meta-ethnography conduct and reporting. Meta-ethnography is an evolving approach. Current reporting of methods, analysis and synthesis lacks clarity and comprehensiveness. This is a major barrier to use of meta-ethnography findings that could contribute significantly to the evidence base because it makes judging their rigour and credibility difficult. To realise the high potential value of meta-ethnography for enhancing health care and understanding patient experience requires reporting that clearly conveys the methodology, analysis and findings. Tailored meta-ethnography reporting guidelines, developed through expert consensus, could improve reporting.

Meta-ethnography; Systematic review; Qualitative health research; Reporting; Qualitative synthesis; Health; Evidence-based practice

BMC Medical Research Methodology: Volume 14

Publication date19/11/2014
Date accepted by journal27/10/2014
PublisherBioMed Central Ltd

People (2)


Professor Emma France

Professor Emma France

Associate Professor, Health Sciences Stirling

Professor Margaret Maxwell

Professor Margaret Maxwell

Professor, NMAHP