Nursing & Health Sciences

What is Knowledge Synthesis?

Knowledge synthesis is 'the contextualization and integration of research findings of individual research studies within the larger body of knowledge on the topic. A synthesis must be reproducible and transparent in its methods, using quantitative and/or qualitative methods." "Realist syntheses, narrative syntheses, meta-analyses, meta-syntheses and practice guidelines are all forms of synthesis." Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). (2010, April 8). A Guide to Knowledge Synthesis.

The table below provides a brief outline of the differences between a Systematic Review and a conventional Literature Review.

  Literature Review Systematic Review
The review question/topic Topics may be broad in scope; the goal of the review may be to place one's own research within the existing body of knowledge, or gather information that supports a particular viewpoint. Starts with a well defined question to be answered by the review. Reviews are conducted with the aim of finding all existing evidence in an unbiased, transparent and reproducable way.
Searching for studies

Searches may be ad hoc, and based on what the author is already familiar with. Searches are not exhaustive or fully comprehensive.

Attempts are made to fin all existing published and unpublished literature on the research question. The process is well documented and reported
Study selection Often lack clear reasons for why studies were included or excluded from the review. Reasons for including or excluding studies are explicit and informed by the research question.
Assessing the quality of included studies

Often do not consider study quality or potential biases.

Systematically assess risk of bias of individual studies and overall quality of the evidence, including sources of heterogeneity between study results.
Synthesis of existing research Conclusions are more qualitative and may not be based on study quality. Base conclusion on quality of the studies, and provide recommendations for practice or to address knowledge gaps.

Table reproduced from: Traditional vs Systematic Reviews, Brown University Library,

Knowledge Synthesis Guides

Literature Reviews

There are several types of literature reviews - overview, critical, narrative, etc. Below are web pages, articles, and books that describe and outline the process of various types of literature reviews.


Books in Library

Tracking Searches & Managing Results

Tracking your searches helps you to avoid unnecessary repetition in your searching and can save you valuable research time. Below are some tips to help you track your searches:


Consider logging your searches including information about:

  • When you searched
  • Where your searched and why (e.g. Google Scholar, Web of Science, PsycINFO)
  • Search terms (e.g. text words or subject headings searched)
  • Limits (e.g. Language, Date, Peer Reviewed, Publication Type, Type of Research)
  • Results (number of articles found, number of articles saved/exported to citation manager)
  • Comments (e.g. combinations that were successful or not successful, new words identified)

A table or worksheet can be useful way to log your searches. See a brief example in the Word document linked below. This could also be done in an Excel worksheet.

Printing/saving database search strategies

Some databases have options to print or save the text of your search strategy to a Word, Rich Text, or PDF document. If a database doesn't have this option you can try copying and pasting the text or snipping an image of your strategy.  To permanently save search strategies so that you can create an alert or run them again at a later date, you normally need to have an account in that database. See the tutorials below about how to to do this in platforms on which many of our databases are provided. 

Managing your results

  • When you set up an account in a database you usually also have the option to save selected results in addition to the strategy.  The tutorials above include that information.
  • Consider exporting your results to a Citation Manager. A citation management tool can help you manage your citations (i.e. references) by building a personal online filing cabinet of citations and formatting bibliographies for your papers. For more information see the Library's guide on Citation Management.