The author declares that no actual or potential conflict of interest in relation to this article exists, other than authorship of multiple included articles.
The author is a volunteer co-convenor for the Cochrane Qualitative and Implementation Methods Group with specific responsibility for maintaining the Group’s study register. He is also a founder member of the Cochrane Information Retrieval Methods Group. He does not receive any remuneration in connection with information retrieval methods activities.
AB searched and checked the published literature and guidance and extracted all data. This overview is entirely the author’s own work.
Qualitative systematic reviews or qualitative evidence syntheses (QES) are increasingly recognised as a way to enhance the value of systematic reviews (SRs) of clinical trials. They can explain the mechanisms by which interventions, evaluated within trials, might achieve their effect. They can investigate differences in effects between different population groups. They can identify which outcomes are most important to patients, carers, health professionals and other stakeholders. QES can explore the impact of acceptance, feasibility, meaningfulness and implementation-related factors within a real world setting and thus contribute to the design and further refinement of future interventions. To produce valid, reliable and meaningful QES requires systematic identification of relevant qualitative evidence. Although the methodologies of QES, including methods for information retrieval, are well-documented, little empirical evidence exists to inform their conduct and reporting.
This structured methodological overview examines papers on searching for qualitative research identified from the Cochrane Qualitative and Implementation Methods Group Methodology Register and from citation searches of 15 key papers.
A single reviewer reviewed 1299 references. Papers reporting methodological guidance, use of innovative methodologies or empirical studies of retrieval methods were categorised under eight topical headings: overviews and methodological guidance, sampling, sources, structured questions, search procedures, search strategies and filters, supplementary strategies and standards.
This structured overview presents a contemporaneous view of information retrieval for qualitative research and identifies a future research agenda. This review concludes that poor empirical evidence underpins current information practice in information retrieval of qualitative research. A trend towards improved transparency of search methods and further evaluation of key search procedures offers the prospect of rapid development of search methods.