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Evidence Synthesis: What is Evidence Synthesis?

What is Evidence Synthesis?

"'Evidence synthesis' refers to any method of identifying, selecting, and combining results from multiple studies."
         -From Cornell University's Guide to Evidence Synthesis 

What are key characteristics of evidence synthesis work?

  • Includes a methodical search of the literature focused on a well-formulated research question
  • Conducted in a reproducible way
  • Used to inform practice and policy-making, as well as to identify gaps in the research
  • Includes multi-person research teams

How Librarians Can Support You:

Librarians are typically unable to serve as co-authors or co-researchers given workload demands. However, librarians can assist evidence synthesis studies in numerous ways, including providing the following:

  • An overview of best practices for conducting systematic reviews and other evidence syntheses in your discipline
  • Guidance in selecting and formulating a research question
  • Advice on which review type (e.g. systematic, scoping, rapid, umbrella, etc.) best suits your question
  • Advice on drafting and selecting a register for your systematic review protocol
  • Guidance on selecting databases and platforms to search
  • Support choosing search terms and developing a search strategy
  • Assistance finding the full text of articles and other sources you’re planning to include in your review
  • Recommending/training in the use of citation management software to organize and deduplicate results (e.g. Zotero), and free article screening tools (e.g. Rayyan)
  • Review draft of methods section

*Initial consultations are typically an hour. 

Types of Evidence Synthesis

Four Common Types of Evidence Synthesis:

Scoping Review: Systematically and transparently collects and categorizes existing evidence on a broad topic or set of research questions.

  • Research question can be broad.
    • Example question format: "What interventions are used to address outcomes X in population Y?" or, "What are the characteristics of the literature on interventions X in setting Y?"
  • May critically evaluate existing evidence, but does not attempt to synthesize the results in the way a systematic review would.
  • Often takes longer than a systematic review.

Systematic Review: A methodical and comprehensive literature synthesis focused on a well-formulated research question.

  • Answers a question of whether or not an intervention is effective.
    • Example question format: "What is the effect of intervention X on population Y in achieving outcomes Z?"
  • Aims to identify and synthesize all of the scholarly research on a particular topic, including both published and unpublished studies.
  • May involve a meta-analysis.
  • Much more time-intensive than traditional literature reviews.

Rapid Review: Applies systematic review methodology within a time-constrained setting.

  • Employs methodological “shortcuts” (limiting search terms for example) at the risk of introducing bias.
  • Useful for addressing issues needing quick decisions.

Meta-Analysis: A statistical technique for combining the findings from disparate quantitative studies.

  • Uses statistical methods to objectively evaluate, synthesize, and summarize results.
  • May be conducted independently or as part of a systematic review.

*Example question formats and explanations drawn from the Evidence Synthesis Institute.


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