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Improving Conduct and Reporting of Narrative Synthesis of Quantitative Data (ICONS-Quant): protocol for a mixed methods study to develop a reporting guideline
  1. Mhairi Campbell1,
  2. Srinivasa Vittal Katikireddi1,
  3. Amanda Sowden2,
  4. Joanne E McKenzie3,
  5. Hilary Thomson1
  1. 1 MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK
  2. 2 Centre for Reviews and Dissemination, University of York, York, UK
  3. 3 School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Ms Mhairi Campbell; Mhairi.Campbell{at}


Introduction Reliable evidence syntheses, based on rigorous systematic reviews, provide essential support for evidence-informed clinical practice and health policy. Systematic reviews should use reproducible and transparent methods to draw conclusions from the available body of evidence. Narrative synthesis of quantitative data (NS) is a method commonly used in systematic reviews where it may not be appropriate, or possible, to meta-analyse estimates of intervention effects. A common criticism of NS is that it is opaque and subject to author interpretation, casting doubt on the trustworthiness of a review’s conclusions. Despite published guidance funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council on the conduct of NS, recent work suggests that this guidance is rarely used and many review authors appear to be unclear about best practice. To improve the way that NS is conducted and reported, we are developing a reporting guideline for NS of quantitative data.

Methods We will assess how NS is implemented and reported in Cochrane systematic reviews and the findings will inform the creation of a Delphi consensus exercise by an expert panel. We will use this Delphi survey to develop a checklist for reporting standards for NS. This will be accompanied by supplementary guidance on the conduct and reporting of NS, as well as an online training resource.

Ethics and dissemination Ethical approval for the Delphi survey was obtained from the University of Glasgow in December 2017 (reference 400170060). Dissemination of the results of this study will be through peer-reviewed publications, and national and international conferences.

  • evidence synthesis
  • health policy

This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt and build upon this work, for commercial use, provided the original work is properly cited. See:

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  • Contributors HT conceived the idea of the study. HT, SVK, AS, JEM and MC designed the study methodology. MC prepared the first draft of the protocol manuscript and all authors critically reviewed and approved the final manuscript.

  • Funding This project was supported by funds provided by the Cochrane Strategic Methods Fund. MC, HT and SVK receive funding from the UK Medical Research Council (MC_UU_12017-13 and MC_UU_12017-15) and the Scottish Government Chief Scientist Office (SPHSU13 and SPHSU15). SVK is supported by an NHS Research Scotland Senior Clinical Fellowship (SCAF/15/02). JEM is supported by a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Australian Public Health Fellowship (1072366).

  • Disclaimer The views expressed in the protocol are those of the authors and not necessarily those of Cochrane or its registered entities, committees or working groups.

  • Competing interests HT and SVK are Cochrane editors. JEM is a co-convenor of the Cochrane Statistical Methods Group.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Ethics approval University of Glasgow College of Social Sciences Ethics Committee (reference number400170060)

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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