About Systematic Reviews

Are Systematic Reviews
Qualitative or Quantitative?

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Systematic reviews are valuable resources in evidence-based medical practice, pharmacovigilance, and healthcare policymaking. A systematic review is a type of review in which authors assess the evidence from a large number of studies to answer a specifically formulated clinical question. To know more about how to write a systematic review, click this link.

A systematic review is designed to be transparent and replicable. Therefore, systematic reviews are considered reliable tools in scientific research and clinical practice. They synthesize the results using multiple primary studies by using strategies that minimize bias and random errors. Depending on the research question and the objectives of the research, the reviews can either be qualitative or quantitative. Qualitative reviews deal with understanding concepts, thoughts, or experiences. Quantitative reviews are employed when researchers want to test or confirm a hypothesis or theory. Let’s look at some of the differences between these two types of reviews.

To learn more about how long it takes to do a systematic review, you can check out the link to our full article on the topic.

Differences between Qualitative and Quantitative Reviews

The differences lie in the scope of the research, the methodology followed, and the type of questions they attempt to answer. Some of these differences include:

Research Questions

As mentioned earlier qualitative reviews attempt to answer open-ended research questions to understand or formulate hypotheses. This type of research is used to gather in-depth insights into new topics. Quantitative reviews, on the other hand, test or confirm existing hypotheses. This type of research is used to establish generalizable facts about a topic.

Type of Sample Data

The data collected for both types of research differ significantly. For qualitative research, data is collected as words using observations, interviews, and interactions with study subjects or from literature reviews. Quantitative studies collect data as numbers, usually from a larger sample size.

Data Collection Methods

To collect data as words for a qualitative study, researchers can employ tools such as interviews, recorded observations, focused groups, videos, or by collecting literature reviews on the same subject. For quantitative studies, data from primary sources is collected as numbers using rating scales and counting frequencies. The data for these studies can also be collected as measurements of variables from a well-designed experiment carried out under pre-defined, monitored conditions.

Data Analysis Methods

Data by itself cannot prove or demonstrate anything unless it is analyzed. Qualitative data is more challenging to analyze than quantitative data. A few different approaches to analyzing qualitative data include content analysis, thematic analysis, and discourse analysis. The goal of all of these approaches is to carefully analyze textual data to identify patterns, themes, and the meaning of words or phrases.

Quantitative data, since it is in the form of numbers, is analyzed using simple math or statistical methods. There are several software programs that can be used for mathematical and statistical analysis of numerical data.

Presentation of Results

Finally, once the data is analyzed, the results of the reviews or studies are presented accordingly. For qualitative research, the results are explained as a textual summary that corroborates all the findings of the study. Quantitative studies express the results in the form of numbers and graphs.

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Final Takeaway – Qualitative or Quantitative?

Both qualitative and quantitative research approaches provide different kinds of knowledge. A systematic review can be qualitative, quantitative, or a combination of the two. The approach that is chosen is determined by the research question and the scope of the research. When qualitative and quantitative techniques are used together in a given study, it is called a mixed method. In a mixed-method study, synthesis for the quantitative and qualitative studies should be done separately then the integration of the qualitative and quantitative results by investigating whether the qualitative results can help explain the quantitative results. Most systematic reviews require a certain degree of statistical support using meta-analysis. By including meta-analysis, you can reduce the possibility of introducing bias in the systematic review. To know more about the types of bias in systematic reviews, click this link.

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