Introduction to Synthesising Qualitative Research


Understanding the approaches and rationale for using qualitative synthesis to support evidence-informed clinical practice 

Evidence users often have queries that cannot be answered solely with quantitative data. As a result, interest in the synthesis of qualitative research has blossomed over recent decades. This type of research methodology can help answer questions such as ‘What is it like to live with a long-term condition?’, ‘Why and how did the treatment work?’ and ‘How acceptable is this test likely to be in my population?’ Such information adds a different layer of knowledge to a quantitative review, providing information on context, a more nuanced understanding of a phenomenon or by producing a new concept or theory.

The course will explore key approaches to undertaking a qualitative synthesis (e.g. meta-ethnography and thematic synthesis); sessions will be delivered by researchers who can draw on their real-world experiences of conducting such a review and their applicability to clinical practice. We will discuss issues associated with qualitative synthesis, including debates around quality and rigour and patient involvement. We will also cover how best to locate qualitative research to include in a review, delivered by a librarian with expertise in this area.

By the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of different approaches to synthesising qualitative research
  • Identify the differences between these approaches
  • Identify key processes associated with different approaches
  • Select the most appropriate approach to address particular types of research questions
  • Devise literature search strategies to systematically locate relevant publications
  • Demonstrate an understanding of complex issues related to quality and rigour in meta-synthesis, including the role of formal critical appraisal and associated tools
  • Demonstrate an awareness of reporting guidelines associated with meta-synthesis
  • Explain the role of Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) in qualitative synthesis
  • Demonstrate an understanding of key features of qualitative data analysis software (NVIVO) to help with managing data for a qualitative synthesis
  • Develop a protocol for a qualitative synthesis  


Course or Module specific academic requirements:

  • An understanding of qualitative research will be assumed.
  • Knowledge of systematic reviewing would be advantageous but is not essential.

Programme details

This accredited short course is run over an eight week cycle where the first week is spent working on introductory activities using a Virtual Learning Environment, the second week is spent in Oxford for the face to face teaching week (this takes place on the dates advertised), there are then four Post-Oxford activities (delivered through the VLE) which are designed to help you write your assignment. You then have a week of personal study and you will be required to submit your assignment electronically the following week (usually on a Tuesday at 14:00 UK Local Time).



Description Costs
Short Course in Health Sciences £2570.00
Students enrolled on MSc in Evidence-Based Health Care £2080.00


Details of funding opportunities, including grants, bursaries, loans, scholarships and benefit information are available on our financial assistance page.


If you are an employee of the University of Oxford and have a valid University staff card you may be eligible to receive a 10% discount on the full stand-alone fee. To take advantage of this offer please submit a scan/photocopy of your staff card along with your application. Your card should be valid for a further six months after attending the course.


Dr Stephanie Tierney

Module Coordinator

Stephanie Tierney is a Senior Researcher at the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford.

Assessment methods

Assessment will be based on submission of a written assignment which should not exceed 4,000 words.

Academic Credit

Applicants may take this course for academic credit. The University of Oxford Department for Continuing Education offers Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS) points for this course. Participants attending at least 80% of the taught course and successfully completing assessed assignments are eligible to earn credit equivalent to 20 CATS points which may be counted towards a postgraduate qualification.

Applicants can choose not to take the course for academic credit and will therefore not be eligible to undertake the academic assignment offered to students taking the course for credit. Applicants cannot receive CATS (Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme) points or equivalence. Credit cannot be attributed retrospectively. CATS accreditation is required if you wish for the course to count towards a further qualification in the future.

A Certificate of Completion is issued at the end of the course.

Applicants registered to attend ‘not for credit’ who subsequently wish to register for academic credit and complete the assignment are required to submit additional information, which must be received one calendar month in advance of the course start date. Please contact us for more details.

Please contact if you have any questions.


This course requires you to complete the application form and to attach a copy of your CV. If you are applying to take this course for academic credit you will also be required to provide a reference. Please note that if you are not applying to take the course for academic credit then you do not need to submit a reference.

Please ensure you read the guidance notes which appear when you click on the symbols as you progress through the application form, as any errors resulting from failure to do so may delay your application.

Selection criteria

To apply for the course you should:

  • Be a graduate or have successfully completed a professional training course.
  • Have research or professional work experience in the health service or health-related field.
  • Be able to combine intensive classroom learning with the application of the principles and practices of evidence-based health care within the work place.
  • Have a good working knowledge of email, internet, word processing and Windows applications (for communications with course members, course team and administration).
  • Show evidence of the ability to commit time to study and an employer's commitment to make time available to study, complete course work and attend course and university events and modules.
  • Have completed an introductory course in qualitative research methods or have experience of conducting qualitative research projects or have completed an introductory course in qualitative research methods. This course will not provide teaching on how to conduct fundamental aspects of qualitative research (e.g. sampling, data collection and analysis). For an introductory module on qualitative research, applicants may wish to consider applying for Qualitative Research Methods.
  • Be able to demonstrate English Language proficiency at the University’s higher level


Accommodation is available at the Rewley House Residential Centre, within the Department for Continuing Education, in central Oxford. The comfortable, en-suite, study-bedrooms have been rated as 4-Star Campus accommodation under the Quality in Tourism Scheme, and come with tea- and coffee-making facilities, free Wi-Fi access and Freeview TV. Guests can take advantage of the excellent dining facilities and common room bar, where they may relax and network with others on the programme.

IT requirements

Please ensure that you have access to a computer that meets the specifications detailed on our technical support page.