Health policy makers now have access to a greater number and variety of systematic reviews to inform different stages in the policy making process, including reviews of qualitative research. The inclusion of mixed methods studies in systematic reviews is increasing, but these studies pose particular challenges to methods of review. This article examines the quality of the reporting of mixed methods and qualitative-only studies.
We used two completed systematic reviews to generate a sample of qualitative studies and mixed method studies in order to make an assessment of how the quality of reporting and rigor of qualitative-only studies compares with that of mixed-methods studies.
Overall, the reporting of qualitative studies in our sample was consistently better when compared with the reporting of mixed methods studies. We found that mixed methods studies are less likely to provide a description of the research conduct or qualitative data analysis procedures and less likely to be judged credible or provide rich data and thick description compared with standalone qualitative studies. Our time-related analysis shows that for both types of study, papers published since 2003 are more likely to report on the study context, describe analysis procedures, and be judged credible and provide rich data. However, the reporting of other aspects of research conduct (i.e. descriptions of the research question, the sampling strategy, and data collection methods) in mixed methods studies does not appear to have improved over time.
Mixed methods research makes an important contribution to health research in general, and could make a more substantial contribution to systematic reviews. Through our careful analysis of the quality of reporting of mixed methods and qualitative-only research, we have identified areas that deserve more attention in the conduct and reporting of mixed methods research.