Meta-Analysis: A Way to Make Sense of the Evidence You Find in Literature Reviews and Narrative Analysis

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Academic research includes several types of investigations to know what is known and what you still need to explore. In the majority of tasks, you have to examine and analyse the existing scholarly articles to collect evidence for your research. In addition to exploring the scholarly sources to collect data, academic research requires you to include your input as well. Exploring the existing sources to collect the evidence refers to the secondary method of data collection. A secondary method of data collection can be done in two ways: qualitatively as well as quantitatively. Narrative analysis and literature review are two qualitative data analysis methods that can provide evidence for quantitative analysis (Meta-analysis). This article specifically aims to explain how the meta-analysis (a quantitative analysis method) uses the qualitative data analysis methods to gather evidence. Let us start our discussion after briefly introducing the narrative analysis, literature review and meta-analysis.  

  1. Narrative analysis: A brief introduction

            Narrative analysis is the process of analysing the story and narrative that participants construct to explain their personal experiences. It includes a dual-layer of data interpretation. First, participants interpret the life experiences on their own to construct a story or narrative. Second, researchers analyse the narrative and extract a conclusion based on this analysis. It is the qualitative method of analysis; it is a method to uncover behaviour, motivations, and feelings that are difficult to explain using other types of data analysis methods. It is also important to shed light on the different cultural or social phenomena. Researchers use this method to study indigenous people of different countries. It helps the medical researchers to gather the patients’ feedback related to the trial of a new medicine. The following are some steps that you can use to conduct narrative analysis:

  • Code narrative blocks
  • Categories and groups by participants’ live-events
  • Create nested story structure codes
  • Look deep inside the story structure
  • Compare different stories side by side
  • Explains the core narrative  
  • Literature Review: A brief introduction  

A literature review is the summary of all the research done on a specific topic of interest. For conducting a good literature review, researchers examine the quality of the information in scholarly articles, books, and other sources of information relevant to a specific field. It is also a qualitative method of analysis. The researcher’s task in conducting a literature review includes an overview of methods, theories, current knowledge, and gaps in already published literature. It starts with searching the relevant material and ends with using literary information to write the review. The following six steps explain the complete process of a literature review:

  • Search the existing literature on a topic of interest
  • Analyse the quality of information
  • Identify the themes, theories, debates, and literature gaps
  • Create an effective outline of the literature
  • Draft your review based on the gathered information

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  • Meta-analysis: A brief introduction

It is a statistical analysis that aims to compare results of several scientific results addressing a common issue. The researchers include only those studies that are supposed to have some degree of errors in reporting measurement. To put it in another way, the meta-analysis is a particular type of systematic review that aims to select and review already existing research. The core purpose of meta-analysis is to compare and contrast the results of several relevant studies and to produce synthesis in the review where possible. To conduct a meta-analysis, you can follow the following steps:

  • Define the research questions
  • Set search strategy
  • Study inclusion criteria 
  • Choose the right effect size
  • Select the right analytical method (univariate, meta-regression, and many more )_
  • Choose an appropriate analytical software
  • Code the effect size
  • Conduct analysis and report results
  • Meta-analysis uses qualitative data to find errors in the existing literature:

The interesting fact about meta-analysis is its quantitative nature despite using qualitative data. It works by collecting secondary qualitative studies that are pooled with the same type of data. Once a person selects the topic of discussion and formulates effective research questions, the next step must be to pick similar studies by setting inclusion criteria. The inclusion criteria help you select studies that are relevant, similar and specific to your research goals. You can conduct meta-analysis even on two similar studies, but only if they have sufficient data to evaluate. The narrative analysis and literature review are qualitative analysis methods that can provide you with material for this quantitative analysis. After finding the qualitative data, you need to synthesise or critically appraise the information to find errors or gaps in the literature. Later, analytical methods and software allow researchers to find statistical significance between facts you explored through narrative analysis and literature review. Thus, the meta-analysis ends by giving quantitative measurements. 

If the source material includes the data compiled by narrative analysis and literature review, then the above-mentioned steps of the meta-analysis will be as follows:

  1. Select a topic of interest and select two or more studies that use narrative analysis and literature review to systematically organise all relevant information.
  2. If you fail to identify the data synthesised by the literature review or narrative analysis, conduct your own review to create a study pooled with information.
  3. Select at least two qualitatively analysed studies and combine the result of all independent studies in the analysis.
  4.  Use fixed-effect methods or one random-effect method to find missing points, missing outcomes, and type of missing data.   
  5. Choose statistical analysis software and extract results based on the numerical or statistical differences. 
  6. Final thoughts: 

A meta-analysis makes sense of the evidence gathered through literature review and narrative analysis. A one-line statement explaining this claim is ‘it is a quantitative method that uses qualitative source material in order to find the missing information in the existing literature’. Another important thing that is necessary to conduct this quantitative analysis is that the studies must be highly informative. Literature review is the method of compiling almost all relevant information in one place. So, if you compare two literature reviews, the meta-analysis can best explain the missing points and missing outcomes quantitatively.