From February 2017, information about the work of the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow is available and updated on the University of Glasgow website.

Developing Guidance on the Conduct of Narrative Synthesis in Systematic Reviews

Completed         Start date May 2003      End date May 2005


We collaborated with colleagues in this ESRC-funded methodological project led by Professor Jennie Popay (University of Lancaster).


The study objectives were:

  • To review the methodological literature on narrative approaches to evidence synthesis;
  • To assess existing approaches to narrative synthesis in systematic reviews;
  • To produce draft guidance on best practice for the narrative synthesis of quantitative and qualitative data;
  • To test the use of this guidance, and
  • To disseminate validated good practice guidance on the conduct of narrative synthesis.

The guidance developed as part of this project provides practical examples of the application of the guidance in two 'demonstration narrative syntheses'. These have produced important insights into the potential benefits of narrative approaches to the synthesis of findings from multiple studies. Both highlighted the important contribution that the guidance makes to increasing the transparency of narrative synthesis – an approach widely used but currently lacking in transparency.

Full details of the project and a copy of the guidance can be found here.



Thomson H, Thomas S. The effect direction plot: visual display of non-standardised effects across multiple outcome domains. Research Synthesis Methods 2013;4:95–101

open access  


Burford BJ, Rehfuess E, Schünemann HJ, Akl EA, Waters E, Armstrong R, Thomson H, Doyle J, Pettman T. Assessing evidence in public health: the added value of GRADE. Journal of Public Health 2012;34:631-635

pubmed  open access  


Rodgers M, Arai L, Popay J, Britten N, Roberts H, Petticrew M, Sowden A. Testing methodological guidance on the conduct of narrative synthesis in systematic reviews: effectiveness of interventions to promote smoke alarm ownership and function. Evaluation 2009;15:49-73


Ogilvie D, Fayter D, Petticrew M, Sowden A, Thomas S, Whitehead M. The harvest plot: a method for synthesising evidence about the differential effects of interventions. BMC Medical Research Methodology 2008;8:08

pubmed  open access  


Arai L, Britten N, Popay J, Roberts H, Petticrew M, Rodgers M, Sowden A. Testing methodological developments in the conduct of narrative: a demonstration review of research on the implementation of smoke alarm interventions. Evidence & Policy 2007;3:361-83


Popay J, Roberts H , Sowden A , Petticrew M , Arai L, Rodgers M , Britten N, Roen K, Duffy S. Guidance on the conduct of narrative synthesis in systematic reviews: a product of the ESRC methods programme . Lancaster, 2006

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