Coherence component

Definition and explanation

Qualitative review findings are developed by identifying patterns in the data across the primary studies included in an evidence synthesis. The coherence of the review finding addresses the question of whether the finding is well grounded in data from these primary studies and provides a convincing explanation for the patterns found in these data.

Coherence in the data contributing to a review finding may be contextual, where patterns are found across studies that are similar to each other with respect to population, interventions, or settings; or conceptual, where patterns in the data from the underlying studies can be explained in relation to new or existing theory. Patterns need to be explained and supported through data presented in the primary studies or through hypotheses developed by the primary study authors or the review authors.

Review findings are sometimes challenged by outlying, contrasting, or even disconfirming data from the primary studies that do not support or that directly challenge the main finding. Review authors should look actively for such data that complicate or challenge their main findings [28] and attempt to explain these variations or exceptions. When there is no convincing explanation for these variations or exceptions, we are less confident that the review finding reflects the phenomenon of interest. Guidance on what constitutes a convincing explanation needs further development.