Performance of conceptual framework elements for the retrieval of qualitative health literature: a case study

Tove Faber Frandsen, Christina Louise Lindhardt, Mette Brandt Eriksen


Objective: A growing volume of studies address methods for performing systematic reviews of qualitative studies. One such methodological aspect is the conceptual framework used to structure the review question and plan the search strategy for locating relevant studies. The purpose of this case study was to evaluate the retrieval potential of each element of conceptual frameworks in qualitative systematic reviews in the health sciences.

Methods: The presence of elements from conceptual frameworks in publication titles, abstracts, and controlled vocabulary in CINAHL and PubMed was analyzed using a set of qualitative reviews and their included studies as a gold standard. Using a sample of 101 publications, we determined whether particular publications could be retrieved if a specific element from the conceptual framework was used in the search strategy.

Results: We found that the relative recall of conceptual framework elements varied considerably, with higher recall for patient/population (99%) and research type (97%) and lower recall for intervention/phenomenon of interest (74%), outcome (79%), and context (61%).

Conclusion: The use of patient/population and research type elements had high relative recall for qualitative studies. However, other elements should be used with great care due to lower relative recall.



systematic searching; qualitative reviews; PubMed; CINAHL; conceptualization models

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