Aim: This paper is a report of a critical analysis of the generalizability and transferability of meta-synthesis research findings.
Background: Findings from a large number of qualitative research investigations have had little impact on clinical practice and policy formation. Single qualitative investigations are not intended to produce findings that are directly applicable to clinical practice, simple literature reviews of qualitative studies are not conducted using sophisticated methods to develop new cumulative knowledge, and methods for systematically compiling and synthesizing qualitative findings have just recently been developed in nursing.
Data sources: This analysis of qualitative review methods was based on over 10 years of meta-synthesis research experience and a non-time-limited cross-discipline search of the English-language literature related to qualitative research and generalizability.
Discussion: Generalizability of meta-synthesis findings is enhanced by insuring validity through systematic sampling, second-tier triangulation, maintenance of well-documented audit trails and the development of multi-dimensional theory. Generalizability of meta-synthesis findings is tentative until successful transference to new situations takes place.
Implications for nursing: Nurse researchers are urged to conduct well-designed and executed meta-synthesis investigations that have the potential to generate findings that are relevant to clinical practice and policy formation. They are also encouraged to disseminate their meta-synthesis findings skilfully and work with practitioners and policy-makers to apply and evaluate them judiciously in clinical settings.
Conclusion: Qualitative meta-synthesis is a way of putting together qualitative findings from disparate investigations so that they can more readily be used in clinical practice and policy formation.