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Synthesizing Sources

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When you look for areas where your sources agree or disagree and try to draw broader conclusions about your topic based on what your sources say, you are engaging in synthesis. Writing a research paper usually requires synthesizing the available sources in order to provide new insight or a different perspective into your particular topic (as opposed to simply restating what each individual source says about your research topic).

Note that synthesizing is not the same as summarizing.  

  • A summary restates the information in one or more sources without providing new insight or reaching new conclusions.
  • A synthesis draws on multiple sources to reach a broader conclusion.

There are two types of syntheses: explanatory syntheses and argumentative syntheses . Explanatory syntheses seek to bring sources together to explain a perspective and the reasoning behind it. Argumentative syntheses seek to bring sources together to make an argument. Both types of synthesis involve looking for relationships between sources and drawing conclusions.

In order to successfully synthesize your sources, you might begin by grouping your sources by topic and looking for connections. For example, if you were researching the pros and cons of encouraging healthy eating in children, you would want to separate your sources to find which ones agree with each other and which ones disagree.

After you have a good idea of what your sources are saying, you want to construct your body paragraphs in a way that acknowledges different sources and highlights where you can draw new conclusions.

As you continue synthesizing, here are a few points to remember:

  • Don’t force a relationship between sources if there isn’t one. Not all of your sources have to complement one another.
  • Do your best to highlight the relationships between sources in very clear ways.
  • Don’t ignore any outliers in your research. It’s important to take note of every perspective (even those that disagree with your broader conclusions).

Example Syntheses

Below are two examples of synthesis: one where synthesis is NOT utilized well, and one where it is.

Parents are always trying to find ways to encourage healthy eating in their children. Elena Pearl Ben-Joseph, a doctor and writer for KidsHealth , encourages parents to be role models for their children by not dieting or vocalizing concerns about their body image. The first popular diet began in 1863. William Banting named it the “Banting” diet after himself, and it consisted of eating fruits, vegetables, meat, and dry wine. Despite the fact that dieting has been around for over a hundred and fifty years, parents should not diet because it hinders children’s understanding of healthy eating.

In this sample paragraph, the paragraph begins with one idea then drastically shifts to another. Rather than comparing the sources, the author simply describes their content. This leads the paragraph to veer in an different direction at the end, and it prevents the paragraph from expressing any strong arguments or conclusions.

An example of a stronger synthesis can be found below.

Parents are always trying to find ways to encourage healthy eating in their children. Different scientists and educators have different strategies for promoting a well-rounded diet while still encouraging body positivity in children. David R. Just and Joseph Price suggest in their article “Using Incentives to Encourage Healthy Eating in Children” that children are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables if they are given a reward (855-856). Similarly, Elena Pearl Ben-Joseph, a doctor and writer for Kids Health , encourages parents to be role models for their children. She states that “parents who are always dieting or complaining about their bodies may foster these same negative feelings in their kids. Try to keep a positive approach about food” (Ben-Joseph). Martha J. Nepper and Weiwen Chai support Ben-Joseph’s suggestions in their article “Parents’ Barriers and Strategies to Promote Healthy Eating among School-age Children.” Nepper and Chai note, “Parents felt that patience, consistency, educating themselves on proper nutrition, and having more healthy foods available in the home were important strategies when developing healthy eating habits for their children.” By following some of these ideas, parents can help their children develop healthy eating habits while still maintaining body positivity.

In this example, the author puts different sources in conversation with one another. Rather than simply describing the content of the sources in order, the author uses transitions (like "similarly") and makes the relationship between the sources evident.

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  • Synthesizing Sources | Examples & Synthesis Matrix

Synthesizing Sources | Examples & Synthesis Matrix

Published on July 4, 2022 by Eoghan Ryan . Revised on May 31, 2023.

Synthesizing sources involves combining the work of other scholars to provide new insights. It’s a way of integrating sources that helps situate your work in relation to existing research.

Synthesizing sources involves more than just summarizing . You must emphasize how each source contributes to current debates, highlighting points of (dis)agreement and putting the sources in conversation with each other.

You might synthesize sources in your literature review to give an overview of the field or throughout your research paper when you want to position your work in relation to existing research.

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Table of contents

Example of synthesizing sources, how to synthesize sources, synthesis matrix, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about synthesizing sources.

Let’s take a look at an example where sources are not properly synthesized, and then see what can be done to improve it.

This paragraph provides no context for the information and does not explain the relationships between the sources described. It also doesn’t analyze the sources or consider gaps in existing research.

Research on the barriers to second language acquisition has primarily focused on age-related difficulties. Building on Lenneberg’s (1967) theory of a critical period of language acquisition, Johnson and Newport (1988) tested Lenneberg’s idea in the context of second language acquisition. Their research seemed to confirm that young learners acquire a second language more easily than older learners. Recent research has considered other potential barriers to language acquisition. Schepens, van Hout, and van der Slik (2022) have revealed that the difficulties of learning a second language at an older age are compounded by dissimilarity between a learner’s first language and the language they aim to acquire. Further research needs to be carried out to determine whether the difficulty faced by adult monoglot speakers is also faced by adults who acquired a second language during the “critical period.”

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To synthesize sources, group them around a specific theme or point of contention.

As you read sources, ask:

  • What questions or ideas recur? Do the sources focus on the same points, or do they look at the issue from different angles?
  • How does each source relate to others? Does it confirm or challenge the findings of past research?
  • Where do the sources agree or disagree?

Once you have a clear idea of how each source positions itself, put them in conversation with each other. Analyze and interpret their points of agreement and disagreement. This displays the relationships among sources and creates a sense of coherence.

Consider both implicit and explicit (dis)agreements. Whether one source specifically refutes another or just happens to come to different conclusions without specifically engaging with it, you can mention it in your synthesis either way.

Synthesize your sources using:

  • Topic sentences to introduce the relationship between the sources
  • Signal phrases to attribute ideas to their authors
  • Transition words and phrases to link together different ideas

To more easily determine the similarities and dissimilarities among your sources, you can create a visual representation of their main ideas with a synthesis matrix . This is a tool that you can use when researching and writing your paper, not a part of the final text.

In a synthesis matrix, each column represents one source, and each row represents a common theme or idea among the sources. In the relevant rows, fill in a short summary of how the source treats each theme or topic.

This helps you to clearly see the commonalities or points of divergence among your sources. You can then synthesize these sources in your work by explaining their relationship.

If you want to know more about ChatGPT, AI tools , citation , and plagiarism , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

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when synthesizing literature and studies which must be primarily considered

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Synthesizing sources means comparing and contrasting the work of other scholars to provide new insights.

It involves analyzing and interpreting the points of agreement and disagreement among sources.

You might synthesize sources in your literature review to give an overview of the field of research or throughout your paper when you want to contribute something new to existing research.

A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources (such as books, journal articles, and theses) related to a specific topic or research question .

It is often written as part of a thesis, dissertation , or research paper , in order to situate your work in relation to existing knowledge.

Topic sentences help keep your writing focused and guide the reader through your argument.

In an essay or paper , each paragraph should focus on a single idea. By stating the main idea in the topic sentence, you clarify what the paragraph is about for both yourself and your reader.

At college level, you must properly cite your sources in all essays , research papers , and other academic texts (except exams and in-class exercises).

Add a citation whenever you quote , paraphrase , or summarize information or ideas from a source. You should also give full source details in a bibliography or reference list at the end of your text.

The exact format of your citations depends on which citation style you are instructed to use. The most common styles are APA , MLA , and Chicago .

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Literature Syntheis 101

How To Synthesise The Existing Research (With Examples)

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) | Expert Reviewer: Eunice Rautenbach (DTech) | August 2023

One of the most common mistakes that students make when writing a literature review is that they err on the side of describing the existing literature rather than providing a critical synthesis of it. In this post, we’ll unpack what exactly synthesis means and show you how to craft a strong literature synthesis using practical examples.

This post is based on our popular online course, Literature Review Bootcamp . In the course, we walk you through the full process of developing a literature review, step by step. If it’s your first time writing a literature review, you definitely want to use this link to get 50% off the course (limited-time offer).

Overview: Literature Synthesis

  • What exactly does “synthesis” mean?
  • Aspect 1: Agreement
  • Aspect 2: Disagreement
  • Aspect 3: Key theories
  • Aspect 4: Contexts
  • Aspect 5: Methodologies
  • Bringing it all together

What does “synthesis” actually mean?

As a starting point, let’s quickly define what exactly we mean when we use the term “synthesis” within the context of a literature review.

Simply put, literature synthesis means going beyond just describing what everyone has said and found. Instead, synthesis is about bringing together all the information from various sources to present a cohesive assessment of the current state of knowledge in relation to your study’s research aims and questions .

Put another way, a good synthesis tells the reader exactly where the current research is “at” in terms of the topic you’re interested in – specifically, what’s known , what’s not , and where there’s a need for more research .

So, how do you go about doing this?

Well, there’s no “one right way” when it comes to literature synthesis, but we’ve found that it’s particularly useful to ask yourself five key questions when you’re working on your literature review. Having done so,  you can then address them more articulately within your actual write up. So, let’s take a look at each of these questions.

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1. Points Of Agreement

The first question that you need to ask yourself is: “Overall, what things seem to be agreed upon by the vast majority of the literature?”

For example, if your research aim is to identify which factors contribute toward job satisfaction, you’ll need to identify which factors are broadly agreed upon and “settled” within the literature. Naturally, there may at times be some lone contrarian that has a radical viewpoint , but, provided that the vast majority of researchers are in agreement, you can put these random outliers to the side. That is, of course, unless your research aims to explore a contrarian viewpoint and there’s a clear justification for doing so. 

Identifying what’s broadly agreed upon is an essential starting point for synthesising the literature, because you generally don’t want (or need) to reinvent the wheel or run down a road investigating something that is already well established . So, addressing this question first lays a foundation of “settled” knowledge.

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when synthesizing literature and studies which must be primarily considered

2. Points Of Disagreement

Related to the previous point, but on the other end of the spectrum, is the equally important question: “Where do the disagreements lie?” .

In other words, which things are not well agreed upon by current researchers? It’s important to clarify here that by disagreement, we don’t mean that researchers are (necessarily) fighting over it – just that there are relatively mixed findings within the empirical research , with no firm consensus amongst researchers.

This is a really important question to address as these “disagreements” will often set the stage for the research gap(s). In other words, they provide clues regarding potential opportunities for further research, which your study can then (hopefully) contribute toward filling. If you’re not familiar with the concept of a research gap, be sure to check out our explainer video covering exactly that .

when synthesizing literature and studies which must be primarily considered

3. Key Theories

The next question you need to ask yourself is: “Which key theories seem to be coming up repeatedly?” .

Within most research spaces, you’ll find that you keep running into a handful of key theories that are referred to over and over again. Apart from identifying these theories, you’ll also need to think about how they’re connected to each other. Specifically, you need to ask yourself:

  • Are they all covering the same ground or do they have different focal points  or underlying assumptions ?
  • Do some of them feed into each other and if so, is there an opportunity to integrate them into a more cohesive theory?
  • Do some of them pull in different directions ? If so, why might this be?
  • Do all of the theories define the key concepts and variables in the same way, or is there some disconnect? If so, what’s the impact of this ?

Simply put, you’ll need to pay careful attention to the key theories in your research area, as they will need to feature within your theoretical framework , which will form a critical component within your final literature review. This will set the foundation for your entire study, so it’s essential that you be critical in this area of your literature synthesis.

If this sounds a bit fluffy, don’t worry. We deep dive into the theoretical framework (as well as the conceptual framework) and look at practical examples in Literature Review Bootcamp . If you’d like to learn more, take advantage of our limited-time offer to get 60% off the standard price.

when synthesizing literature and studies which must be primarily considered

4. Contexts

The next question that you need to address in your literature synthesis is an important one, and that is: “Which contexts have (and have not) been covered by the existing research?” .

For example, sticking with our earlier hypothetical topic (factors that impact job satisfaction), you may find that most of the research has focused on white-collar , management-level staff within a primarily Western context, but little has been done on blue-collar workers in an Eastern context. Given the significant socio-cultural differences between these two groups, this is an important observation, as it could present a contextual research gap .

In practical terms, this means that you’ll need to carefully assess the context of each piece of literature that you’re engaging with, especially the empirical research (i.e., studies that have collected and analysed real-world data). Ideally, you should keep notes regarding the context of each study in some sort of catalogue or sheet, so that you can easily make sense of this before you start the writing phase. If you’d like, our free literature catalogue worksheet is a great tool for this task.

5. Methodological Approaches

Last but certainly not least, you need to ask yourself the question: “What types of research methodologies have (and haven’t) been used?”

For example, you might find that most studies have approached the topic using qualitative methods such as interviews and thematic analysis. Alternatively, you might find that most studies have used quantitative methods such as online surveys and statistical analysis.

But why does this matter?

Well, it can run in one of two potential directions . If you find that the vast majority of studies use a specific methodological approach, this could provide you with a firm foundation on which to base your own study’s methodology . In other words, you can use the methodologies of similar studies to inform (and justify) your own study’s research design .

On the other hand, you might argue that the lack of diverse methodological approaches presents a research gap , and therefore your study could contribute toward filling that gap by taking a different approach. For example, taking a qualitative approach to a research area that is typically approached quantitatively. Of course, if you’re going to go against the methodological grain, you’ll need to provide a strong justification for why your proposed approach makes sense. Nevertheless, it is something worth at least considering.

Regardless of which route you opt for, you need to pay careful attention to the methodologies used in the relevant studies and provide at least some discussion about this in your write-up. Again, it’s useful to keep track of this on some sort of spreadsheet or catalogue as you digest each article, so consider grabbing a copy of our free literature catalogue if you don’t have anything in place.

Looking at the methodologies of existing, similar studies will help you develop a strong research methodology for your own study.

Bringing It All Together

Alright, so we’ve looked at five important questions that you need to ask (and answer) to help you develop a strong synthesis within your literature review.  To recap, these are:

  • Which things are broadly agreed upon within the current research?
  • Which things are the subject of disagreement (or at least, present mixed findings)?
  • Which theories seem to be central to your research topic and how do they relate or compare to each other?
  • Which contexts have (and haven’t) been covered?
  • Which methodological approaches are most common?

Importantly, you’re not just asking yourself these questions for the sake of asking them – they’re not just a reflection exercise. You need to weave your answers to them into your actual literature review when you write it up. How exactly you do this will vary from project to project depending on the structure you opt for, but you’ll still need to address them within your literature review, whichever route you go.

The best approach is to spend some time actually writing out your answers to these questions, as opposed to just thinking about them in your head. Putting your thoughts onto paper really helps you flesh out your thinking . As you do this, don’t just write down the answers – instead, think about what they mean in terms of the research gap you’ll present , as well as the methodological approach you’ll take . Your literature synthesis needs to lay the groundwork for these two things, so it’s essential that you link all of it together in your mind, and of course, on paper.

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  • Lit Review Prep Use this template to help you evaluate your sources, create article summaries for an annotated bibliography, and a synthesis matrix for your lit review outline.

Synthesize your Information

Synthesize: combine separate elements to form a whole.

Synthesis Matrix

A synthesis matrix helps you record the main points of each source and document how sources relate to each other.

After summarizing and evaluating your sources, arrange them in a matrix or use a citation manager to help you see how they relate to each other and apply to each of your themes or variables.  

By arranging your sources by theme or variable, you can see how your sources relate to each other, and can start thinking about how you weave them together to create a narrative.

  • Step-by-Step Approach
  • Example Matrix from NSCU
  • Matrix Template
  • << Previous: Summarize
  • Next: Integrate >>
  • Last Updated: Sep 26, 2023 10:25 AM
  • URL: https://guides.library.jhu.edu/lit-review

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3.2 Synthesizing literature

Learning objectives.

  • Connect the sources you read with key concepts in your research question and proposal
  • Systematize the information and facts from each source you read

Putting the pieces together

Combining separate elements into a whole is the dictionary definition of synthesis. It is a way to make connections among and between numerous and varied source materials. A literature review is not an annotated bibliography, organized by title, author, or date of publication. Rather, it is grouped by topic and argument to create a whole view of the literature relevant to your research question.

puzzle pieces on a table, unassembled

Your synthesis must demonstrate a critical analysis of the papers you collected, as well as your ability to integrate the results of your analysis into your own literature review. Each source you collect should be critically evaluated and weighed based on the criteria from Chapter 2 before you include it in your review.

Begin the synthesis process by creating a grid, table, or an outline where you will summarize your literature review findings, using common themes you have identified and the sources you have found. The summary, grid, or outline will help you compare and contrast the themes, so you can see the relationships among them as well as areas where you may need to do more searching. A basic summary table is provided in Figure 3.2. Whichever method you choose, this type of organization will help you to both understand the information you find and structure the writing of your review. Remember, although “the means of summarizing can vary, the key at this point is to make sure you understand what you’ve found and how it relates to your topic and research question” (Bennard et al., 2014, para. 10).

table with research question on top, numbered sources in the rows and purpose, methods, and results in the columns

As you read through the material you gather, look for common themes as they may provide the structure for your literature review. And, remember, writing a literature review is an iterative process. It is not unusual to go back and search academic databases for more sources of information as you read the articles you’ve collected.

Literature reviews can be organized sequentially or by topic, theme, method, results, theory, or argument. It’s important to develop categories that are meaningful and relevant to your research question. Take detailed notes on each article and use a consistent format for capturing all the information each article provides. These notes and the summary table can be done manually using note cards. However, given the amount of information you will be recording, an electronic file created in a word processing or spreadsheet (like this example Literature Search Template ) is more manageable. Examples of fields you may want to capture in your notes include:

  • Authors’ names
  • Article title
  • Publication year
  • Main purpose of the article
  • Methodology or research design
  • Participants
  • Measurement
  • Conclusions

Other fields that will be useful when you begin to synthesize the sum total of your research:

  • Specific details of the article or research that are especially relevant to your study
  • Key terms and definitions
  • Strengths or weaknesses in research design
  • Relationships to other studies
  • Possible gaps in the research or literature (for example, many research articles conclude with the statement “more research is needed in this area”)
  • Finally, note how closely each article relates to your topic. You may want to rank these as high, medium, or low relevance. For papers that you decide not to include, you may want to note your reasoning for exclusion, such as small sample size, local case study, or lacks evidence to support conclusions.

An example of how to organize summary tables by author or theme is shown in Table 3.1.

Here is an example summary table template .

Creating a topical outline

An alternative way to organize your articles for synthesis it to create an outline. After you have collected the articles you intend to use (and have put aside the ones you won’t be using), it’s time to extract as much as possible from the facts provided in those articles. You are starting your research project without a lot of hard facts on the topics you want to study, and by using the literature reviews provided in academic journal articles, you can gain a lot of knowledge about a topic in a short period of time.

a person writing down notes in a journal while seated

As you read an article in detail, try copying the information you find relevant to your research topic in a separate word processing document. Copying and pasting from PDF to Word can be a pain because PDFs are image files not documents. To make that easier, use the HTML version of the article, convert the PDF to Word in Adobe Acrobat or another PDF reader, or use “paste special” command to paste the content into Word without formatting. If it’s an old PDF, you may have to simply type out the information you need. It can be a messy job, but having all of your facts in one place is very helpful for drafting your literature review.  Of course, you will not be using other authors’ words in your own literature review, but this is a good way to start compiling your notes.

You should copy and paste any fact or argument you consider important. Some good examples include definitions of concepts, statistics about the size of the social problem, and empirical evidence about the key variables in the research question, among countless others. It’s a good idea to consult with your professor and the syllabus for the course about what they are looking for when they read your literature review. Facts for your literature review are principally found in the introduction, results, and discussion section of an empirical article or at any point in a non-empirical article. Copy and paste into your notes anything you may want to use in your literature review.

Importantly, you must make sure you note the original source of that information. Nothing is worse than searching your articles for hours only to realize you forgot to note where your facts came from. If you found a statistic that the author used in the introduction, it almost certainly came from another source that the author cited in a footnote or internal citation. You will want to check the original source to make sure the author represented the information correctly. Moreover, you may want to read the original study to learn more about your topic and discover other sources relevant to your inquiry.

Assuming you have pulled all of the facts out of multiple articles, it’s time to start thinking about how these pieces of information relate to each other. Start grouping each fact into categories and subcategories as shown in Figure 3.3. For example, a statistic stating that homeless single adults are more likely to be male may fit into a category of gender and homelessness. For each topic or subtopic you identified during your critical analysis of each paper, determine what those papers have in common. Likewise, determine which ones in the group differ. If there are contradictory findings, you may be able to identify methodological or theoretical differences that could account for the contradiction. For example, one study may sample only high-income earners or those in a rural area. Determine what general conclusions you can report about the topic or subtopic, based on all of the information you’ve found.

Create a separate document containing a topical outline that combines your facts from each source and organizes them by topic or category. As you include more facts and more sources into your topical outline, you will begin to see how each fact fits into a category and how categories are related to each other. Your category names may change over time, as may their definitions. This is a natural reflection of the learning you are doing.

A complete topical outline is a long list of facts, arranged by category about your topic. As you step back from the outline, you should understand the topic areas where you have enough information to make strong conclusions about what the literature says. You should also assess in what areas you need to do more research before you can write a robust literature review. The topical outline should serve as a transitional document between the notes you write on each source and the literature review you submit to your professor. It is important to note that they contain plagiarized information that is copied and pasted directly from the primary sources. That’s okay because these are just notes and are not meant to be turned in as your own ideas. For your final literature review, you must paraphrase these sources to avoid plagiarism. More importantly, you should keep your voice and ideas front-and-center in what you write as this is your analysis of the literature. Make strong claims and support them thoroughly using facts you found in the literature. We will pick up the task of writing your literature review in section 3.3.

Additional resources for synthesizing literature

There are many ways to approach synthesizing literature. We’ve reviewed two examples here: summary tables and topical outlines. Other examples you may encounter include annotated bibliographies and synthesis matrices. As you are learning research, find a method that works for you. Reviewing the literature is a core component of evidence-based practice in social work at any level. See the resources below if you need some additional help:

Literature Reviews: Using a Matrix to Organize Research  / Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota

Literature Review: Synthesizing Multiple Sources  / Indiana University

Writing a Literature Review and Using a Synthesis Matrix  / Florida International University

Sample Literature Reviews Grid  / Complied by Lindsay Roberts

Killam, Laura (2013) . Literature review preparation: Creating a summary table . Includes transcript.

Key Takeaways

  • It is necessary to take notes on research articles as you read. Try to develop a system that works for you to keep your notes organized, such as a summary table.
  • Summary tables and topical outlines help researchers synthesize sources for the purpose of writing a literature review.

Image attributions

Pieces of the puzzle by congerdesign cc-0, adult diary by pexels cc-0.

  • Figure 3.2 copied from Frederiksen, L. & Phelps, S. F. (2018). Literature reviews for education and nursing graduate students. Shared under a CC-BY 4.0 license. ↵
  • This table was adapted from the work of Amanda Parsons ↵

Guidebook for Social Work Literature Reviews and Research Questions Copyright © 2020 by Rebecca Mauldin and Matthew DeCarlo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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When you write a literature review or essay, you have to go beyond just summarizing the articles you’ve read – you need to synthesize the literature to show how it all fits together (and how your own research fits in).

Synthesizing simply means combining. Instead of summarizing the main points of each source in turn, you put together the ideas and findings of multiple sources in order to make an overall point.

At the most basic level, this involves looking for similarities and differences between your sources. Your synthesis should show the reader where the sources overlap and where they diverge.

Unsynthesized Example

Franz (2008) studied undergraduate online students. He looked at 17 females and 18 males and found that none of them liked APA. According to Franz, the evidence suggested that all students are reluctant to learn citations style. Perez (2010) also studies undergraduate students. She looked at 42 females and 50 males and found that males were significantly more inclined to use citation software ( p < .05). Findings suggest that females might graduate sooner. Goldstein (2012) looked at British undergraduates. Among a sample of 50, all females, all confident in their abilities to cite and were eager to write their dissertations.

Synthesized Example

Studies of undergraduate students reveal conflicting conclusions regarding relationships between advanced scholarly study and citation efficacy. Although Franz (2008) found that no participants enjoyed learning citation style, Goldstein (2012) determined in a larger study that all participants watched felt comfortable citing sources, suggesting that variables among participant and control group populations must be examined more closely. Although Perez (2010) expanded on Franz’s original study with a larger, more diverse sample…

Step 1: Organize your sources

After collecting the relevant literature, you’ve got a lot of information to work through, and no clear idea of how it all fits together.

Before you can start writing, you need to organize your notes in a way that allows you to see the relationships between sources.

One way to begin synthesizing the literature is to put your notes into a table. Depending on your topic and the type of literature you’re dealing with, there are a couple of different ways you can organize this.

Summary table

A summary table collates the key points of each source under consistent headings. This is a good approach if your sources tend to have a similar structure – for instance, if they’re all empirical papers.

Each row in the table lists one source, and each column identifies a specific part of the source. You can decide which headings to include based on what’s most relevant to the literature you’re dealing with.

For example, you might include columns for things like aims, methods, variables, population, sample size, and conclusion.

For each study, you briefly summarize each of these aspects. You can also include columns for your own evaluation and analysis.

summary table for synthesizing the literature

The summary table gives you a quick overview of the key points of each source. This allows you to group sources by relevant similarities, as well as noticing important differences or contradictions in their findings.

Synthesis matrix

A synthesis matrix is useful when your sources are more varied in their purpose and structure – for example, when you’re dealing with books and essays making various different arguments about a topic.

Each column in the table lists one source. Each row is labeled with a specific concept, topic or theme that recurs across all or most of the sources.

Then, for each source, you summarize the main points or arguments related to the theme.

synthesis matrix

The purposes of the table is to identify the common points that connect the sources, as well as identifying points where they diverge or disagree.

Step 2: Outline your structure

Now you should have a clear overview of the main connections and differences between the sources you’ve read. Next, you need to decide how you’ll group them together and the order in which you’ll discuss them.

For shorter papers, your outline can just identify the focus of each paragraph; for longer papers, you might want to divide it into sections with headings.

There are a few different approaches you can take to help you structure your synthesis.

If your sources cover a broad time period, and you found patterns in how researchers approached the topic over time, you can organize your discussion chronologically .

That doesn’t mean you just summarize each paper in chronological order; instead, you should group articles into time periods and identify what they have in common, as well as signalling important turning points or developments in the literature.

If the literature covers various different topics, you can organize it thematically .

That means that each paragraph or section focuses on a specific theme and explains how that theme is approached in the literature.

synthesizing the literature using themes

Source Used with Permission: The Chicago School

If you’re drawing on literature from various different fields or they use a wide variety of research methods, you can organize your sources methodologically .

That means grouping together studies based on the type of research they did and discussing the findings that emerged from each method.

If your topic involves a debate between different schools of thought, you can organize it theoretically .

That means comparing the different theories that have been developed and grouping together papers based on the position or perspective they take on the topic, as well as evaluating which arguments are most convincing.

Step 3: Write paragraphs with topic sentences

What sets a synthesis apart from a summary is that it combines various sources. The easiest way to think about this is that each paragraph should discuss a few different sources, and you should be able to condense the overall point of the paragraph into one sentence.

This is called a topic sentence , and it usually appears at the start of the paragraph. The topic sentence signals what the whole paragraph is about; every sentence in the paragraph should be clearly related to it.

A topic sentence can be a simple summary of the paragraph’s content:

“Early research on [x] focused heavily on [y].”

For an effective synthesis, you can use topic sentences to link back to the previous paragraph, highlighting a point of debate or critique:

“Several scholars have pointed out the flaws in this approach.” “While recent research has attempted to address the problem, many of these studies have methodological flaws that limit their validity.”

By using topic sentences, you can ensure that your paragraphs are coherent and clearly show the connections between the articles you are discussing.

As you write your paragraphs, avoid quoting directly from sources: use your own words to explain the commonalities and differences that you found in the literature.

Don’t try to cover every single point from every single source – the key to synthesizing is to extract the most important and relevant information and combine it to give your reader an overall picture of the state of knowledge on your topic.

Step 4: Revise, edit and proofread

Like any other piece of academic writing, synthesizing literature doesn’t happen all in one go – it involves redrafting, revising, editing and proofreading your work.

Checklist for Synthesis

  •   Do I introduce the paragraph with a clear, focused topic sentence?
  •   Do I discuss more than one source in the paragraph?
  •   Do I mention only the most relevant findings, rather than describing every part of the studies?
  •   Do I discuss the similarities or differences between the sources, rather than summarizing each source in turn?
  •   Do I put the findings or arguments of the sources in my own words?
  •   Is the paragraph organized around a single idea?
  •   Is the paragraph directly relevant to my research question or topic?
  •   Is there a logical transition from this paragraph to the next one?

Further Information

How to Synthesise: a Step-by-Step Approach

Help…I”ve Been Asked to Synthesize!

Learn how to Synthesise (combine information from sources)

How to write a Psychology Essay

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Literature Reviews pp 59–84 Cite as

Literature Synthesis

  • Ana Paula Cardoso Ermel   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-3874-9792 5 ,
  • D. P. Lacerda   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-8011-3376 6 ,
  • Maria Isabel W. M. Morandi   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-1337-1487 7 &
  • Leandro Gauss   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-5708-5912 8  
  • First Online: 31 August 2021

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  • The original version of this chapter was revised: Figure 5.1 was moved to section 5.2.9. The correction to this chapter can be found at https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-75722-9_10

This chapter addresses the concept of Literature Synthesis and classifies it as Configurative and Aggregative based upon the research approach and objectives. For each type of synthesis, its main characteristics, techniques, and applications are pointed out.

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Synthesising the literature as part of a literature review

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  • PMID: 25783281
  • DOI: 10.7748/ns.29.29.44.e8957

This article examines how to synthesise and critique research literature. To place the process of synthesising the research literature into context, the article explores the critiquing process by breaking it down into seven sequential steps. The article explains how and why these steps need to be kept in mind if a robust comprehensive literature search and analysis are to be achieved. The article outlines how to engage in the critiquing process and explains how the literature review needs to be assembled to generate a logical and reasoned debate to examine a topic of interest or research in more detail.

Keywords: Critical analysis; critique; evaluation; integrative review; literature review; literature search; research; research question; search strategy; synthesis.

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Systematic reviews & evidence synthesis methods.

  • Schedule a Consultation / Meet our Team
  • What is Evidence Synthesis?
  • Types of Evidence Synthesis
  • Evidence Synthesis Across Disciplines
  • Finding and Appraising Existing Systematic Reviews
  • 0. Develop a Protocol
  • 1. Draft your Research Question
  • 2. Select Databases
  • 3. Select Grey Literature Sources
  • 4. Write a Search Strategy
  • 5. Register a Protocol
  • 6. Translate Search Strategies
  • 7. Citation Management
  • 8. Article Screening
  • 9. Risk of Bias Assessment
  • 10. Data Extraction
  • 11. Synthesize, Map, or Describe the Results
  • Open Access Evidence Synthesis Resources

What are Evidence Syntheses?

According to the Royal Society, 'evidence synthesis' refers to the process of bringing together information from a range of sources and disciplines to inform debates and decisions on specific issues. They generally include a methodical and comprehensive literature synthesis focused on a well-formulated research question. Their aim is to identify and synthesize all of the scholarly research on a particular topic, including both published and unpublished studies. Evidence syntheses are conducted in an unbiased, reproducible way to provide evidence for practice and policy-making, as well as to identify gaps in the research. Evidence syntheses may also include a meta-analysis, a more quantitative process of synthesizing and visualizing data retrieved from various studies.

Evidence syntheses are much more time-intensive than traditional literature reviews and require a multi-person research team. See this PredicTER tool to get a sense of a systematic review timeline (one type of evidence synthesis). Before embarking on an evidence synthesis, it's important to clearly identify your reasons for conducting one. For a list of types of evidence synthesis projects, see the Types of Evidence Synthesis tab.

How Does a Traditional Literature Review Differ From an Evidence Synthesis?

One commonly used form of evidence synthesis is a systematic review. This table compares a traditional literature review with a systematic review.

Video: Reproducibility and transparent methods (Video 3:25)

Reporting Standards

There are some reporting standards for evidence syntheses. These can serve as guidelines for protocol and manuscript preparation and journals may require that these standards are followed for the review type that is being employed (e.g. systematic review, scoping review, etc).​

  • PRISMA checklist Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) is an evidence-based minimum set of items for reporting in systematic reviews and meta-analyses.
  • PRISMA-P Standards An updated version of the original PRISMA standards for protocol development.
  • PRISMA - ScR Reporting guidelines for scoping reviews and evidence maps
  • PRISMA-IPD Standards Extension of the original PRISMA standards for systematic reviews and meta-analyses of individual participant data.
  • EQUATOR Network The EQUATOR (Enhancing the QUAlity and Transparency Of health Research) Network is an international initiative that seeks to improve the reliability and value of published health research literature by promoting transparent and accurate reporting and wider use of robust reporting guidelines. They provide a list of various standards for reporting in systematic reviews.

Video: Guidelines and reporting standards

PRISMA Flow Diagram

The PRISMA flow diagram depicts the flow of information through the different phases of an evidence synthesis. It maps the search (number of records identified), screening (number of records included and excluded), and selection (reasons for exclusion). Many evidence syntheses include a PRISMA flow diagram in the published manuscript.

See below for resources to help you generate your own PRISMA flow diagram.

  • PRISMA Flow Diagram Tool
  • PRISMA Flow Diagram Word Template
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Summarizing and synthesizing

Part 3: Chapter 10

Questions to consider

A. What distinguishes a synthesis from a summary?

B. How much “author voice” is present relative to source material?

C. What is the nature of the material contributed to a synthesis by the author?

The purpose of synthesizing

Combining separate elements into a whole is the basic dictionary definition of synthesis. It is a way to make connections between numerous and varied source materials. A literature review presents a synthesis of material, grouped by topic, to create a broad and comprehensive view of the literature relevant to a research question. Here, the research questions are often modified to the realities of the information, or information may be selected or rejected based on relevance. This organizational approach helps in understanding the information and structuring the review.

Because research is an iterative process, it is not unusual to go back and search information sources for more material while remaining within the parameters of the topic and research questions. It can be difficult to cope with “everything” on a topic; the need to carefully select based on relevancy is ongoing.

The synthesis must demonstrate a critical analysis of the papers assembled as well as an integration of the analytical results. All included sources must be directly relevant and the synthesis writer should make a significant contribution. As part of an introduction or literature review, the syntheses not only illustrate the evolution of research on an issue, but the writer’s own commentary on what this information means .

Many writers begin the synthesis process by creating a grid, table, or an outline organizing summaries of the source material to discover or extend common themes with the collection. The summary grid or outline provides a researcher an overview to compare, contrast and otherwise investigate the relationships and potential deficiencies. [1]

Language in Action

  • How many different sources are used in the synthesis (excerpted from “Does international work experience pay off? The relationship between international work experience, employability and career success: A 30-country, multi-industry study” ) that follows? (IWE: international work experience)
  • How do the sources contribute to the message of the paragraph?
  • What are the elements of a strong synthesis?
  • What information is contributed by the authors themselves?

1 Taking stock of the literature, several characteristics stand out that limit our understanding of the IWE−career success relationship. 2 First, many studies focus on individuals soon after their return from an IWE or while they are still expatriates (Kraimer et al., 2016). 3 These findings may therefore report results pertaining to a short-lived career phase. 4 Given that careers develop over time, and success, especially in the form of promotions and salary increases, may take some time to materialise, it is perhaps not surprising that findings have been mixed. 5 Some authors note that there are short-term, career-related costs of IWE and the career ‘payoff’ occurs after a time lag for which cross-sectional studies may not account (Benson & Pattie, 2008; Biemann & Braakmann, 2013). 6 Second, the majority of studies use samples consisting only of individuals with IWE (Jokinen et al., 2008; Stahl et al., 2009; Suutari et al., 2018). 7 Large samples that include both individuals with and without IWE are needed to provide the variance needed to identify the influence of IWE on career success (e.g., Andresen & Biemann, 2013). 8 Third, studies tend to focus on the baseline question of whether IWE or IWE-specific characteristics (e.g., host country, developmental nature of assignment) are related to a particular career success variable (e.g., Bücker et al., 2016; Jokinen et al., 2008; Stahl et al., 2009). 9 Yet there may be an indirect relationship between IWE and career success (Zhu et al., 2016). 10 More complex models that examine the possible impact of mediating variables are thus needed (Mayrhofer et al., 2012). 11 Lastly, while studies acknowledge that findings from specific countries/nationalities, industries, organisations or occupational roles may not be transferable to all individuals with IWE (Biemann & Braakmann, 2013; Schmid & Wurster, 2017; Suutari et al., 2018), the specific role of national context is rarely considered. 12 However, careers do not develop in a vacuum. 13 Contextual factors play an important role in moderating the career impact of various career experiences such as IWE (Shen et al., 2015). [2]

Organizing the material

Beginning the synthesis process by creating a grid, table, or an outline for summaries of sources offers an overview of the material along with findings and common themes. The summary, grid, or outline will allow quick comparison of the material and reveal gaps in information. [3]

when synthesizing literature and studies which must be primarily considered

The process of building a “library” from which to draw information is critical in developing the defense, argument or justification of a research study. While field and laboratory research is often engaging and interesting, understanding the backstory and presenting it as an explanation of a proposed method or approach is essential in obtaining funding and/or the necessary committee approval.

Returning to the foundational skill of producing a summary , and combining that with the maintenance of a system to manage source material and details, an annotated bibliography can be both an intellectual structure that reveals connections among sources and a means to initiating – on a manageable level – the arduous writing.

Example – Two entries from an annotated bibliography

Nafisi, A. (2003). Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books. New York: Random House.

A brave teacher in Iran met with seven of her most committed female students to discuss forbidden Western classics over the course of a couple of years, while Islamic morality squads staged raids, universities fell under the control of fundamentalists, and artistic expression was suppressed. This powerful memoir weaves the stories of these women with those of the characters of Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, and Vladimir Nabokov and extols the liberating power of literature.

Obama, B. (2007). Dreams from My Father. New York: Random House.

This autobiography extends from a childhood in numerous locations with a variety of caregivers (a single parent, grandparents, boarding school) to an exploration of individual heritage and family in Africa, revealing a broken/blended family, abandonment and reconnection, and unresolved endings. Obama describes his existence on the margins of society, the racial tension within his biracial family, and his own identity conflict and turmoil.

Using a chart or grid

Below is a model of a basic table for organizing source material.

Exercise #1

  • Read the excerpts from three sources below. Determine the common topic and themes.
  • Complete a table like the one above using information from these three sources.

1 Completion of a dissertation is an intense activity. 2 For both groups [completers and non-], the advisor and the student’s family and spouse served as the major source of emotional support and are most heavily invested in the dissertation. 3 Other students and the balance of the dissertation committee were rated as providing little support. 4 Since work on the dissertation is highly individual and there are no College organized groups of students working on the dissertation that meet regularly, the process can be a lonely one. 5 Great independence and a strong sense of direction is required. 6 Although many students rated themselves as having little experience with research, students are dependent on their own resources and on those closest to them. 7 It was noted that graduates rated emotional support from all sources more highly than students rated it. 8 This may be a significant factor associated with dissertation completion.

9 The scales and checklists suggest that there are identifiable differences between the two groups. 10 Since the differences are not great, the implications are that with some modification of procedures, a greater proportion of students can become graduates. 11 Emotional support, financial support, experience with research, familiarity with university and college dissertation requirements, and ready access to university resources and advisors may be factors to build into a modified system to achieve a greater proportion of graduates.

Kluever, R., Green, K. E., Lenz, K., Miller, M. M., & Katz, E. (1995). Graduates and ABDs in colleges of education: Characteristics and implications for the structure of doctoral programs. In  Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association. San Francisco, CA. Retrieved from the ERIC database .

1 In this writing group, students evaluated their goal achievement, reflected on the obstacles before them, and set new targets. 2 This process encouraged them to achieve their goals, and they could modify or start a new target instead of giving up. 3 The students also received positive feedback and support from other members of the group. 4 This positive environment helped the students view failure as part of the nature of writing a thesis.

5 On the other hand, daily monitoring encouraged the students to focus more on the process and less on the outcome; therefore, they experienced daily success instead of feeling a failure when the goals were not achievable.

Patria, B., & Laili, L. (2021). Writing group program reduces academic procrastination: a quasi-experimental study.  BMC Psychology ,  9 (1), 1–157. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40359-021-00665-9

1 The promotion of awareness of the tension between core qualities and ideals, and inner obstacles, in particular limiting thoughts, in combination with guidelines for overcoming the tension by being aware of one’s ideals and character strengths is characteristic of the core reflection approach and appears to have a strong potential for diminishing academic procrastination behavior. 2 These results make clear that a positive psychological approach focusing on strengths can be beneficial for diminishing students’ academic procrastination. 3 In particular, supporting and regenerating character strengths can be an effective approach for overcoming academic procrastination.

Visser, L., Schoonenboom, J., & Korthagen, F. A. J. (2017). A Field Experimental Design of a Strengths-Based Training to Overcome Academic Procrastination: Short- and Long-Term Effect. Frontiers in Psychology , 8, 1949–1949. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01949

A topical outline is another tool writers may use to organize their material. It begins as a simple list of facts gleaned from various sources and arranged by category. [4]

A topical outline might look like this:

a. fact #1/source #1

b. fact #2/source #1

a. fact #3/source #1

b. fact #4/source #2

Exercise #2

Identify relevant facts presented by the three sources in Exercise #1. Determine the relationships between them. Consider how to categorize and arrange them in order to support or extend a related concept.

Exercise #3

A word about primary sources

Primary source material is information conveyed by the author(s) of the publication. The information they use to support or extend their ideas – their source material – is secondary source material for their readers. Anything considered for inclusion in research writing should be derived from primary sources. When writers find very valuable material cited, they retrieve the original work rather than paraphrase what has already been paraphrased.

Example – Synthesis

The excerpted synthesis below is the work of Joellen E. Coryell, Maria Cinque, Monica Fedeli, Angelina Lapina Salazar, and Concetta Tino. The two primary sources they use in the paragraph were authored by Niehaus and Williams (2016), and Urban, Navarro, and Borron (2017). Because research writers are urged to only use primary sources, further investigation into the paper of Niehaus and Williams would be required in order to use their work as a source. As discussed in Identifying and deploying source material , an effective strategy in finding useful sources is to explore the references of particularly valuable articles or papers.

University Teaching in Global Times: Perspectives of Italian University Faculty on Teaching International Graduate Students

1 Other researchers (Niehaus & Williams, 2016; Urban et al., 2017) offered analyses of faculty’s experiences participating in various training programs for internationalization of their courses.  2 Niehaus and Williams (2016) studied a 4-year global faculty development program aimed at transforming faculty perspectives and internationalizing the curriculum.  3 Findings indicated that participants integrated international and comparative topics to support their learners’ development of global perspectives.  4 They worked to integrate international students’ viewpoints on research, and participants reported professional and personal gains defined by expanded professional networks of faculty members and higher standing that comes with teaching international students.  5 Similarly, Urban et al. (2017) reported findings from a training program that assisted teaching staff to internationalize their courses.  6 The program included a 12-day field trip to a different country.  7 Semi-structured interviews with faculty members, 6 years after participating in the program, affirmed updated course content, new and broader perspectives, and a supportive environment for implementing the internationalized courses and teaching activities.

Primary source:

Coryell, J. E., Cinque, M., Fedeli, M., Lapina Salazar, A., & Tino, C. (2022). University Teaching in Global Times: Perspectives of Italian University Faculty on Teaching International Graduate Students. Journal of Studies in International Education , 26(3), 369–389. https://doi.org/10.1177/1028315321990749

Secondary sources:

Niehaus, E., & Williams, L. (2016). Faculty Transformation in Curriculum Transformation: The Role of Faculty Development in Campus Internationalization. Innovative Higher Education, 41(1), 59–74. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10755-015-9334-7

Urban, E., Navarro, M., & Borron, A. (2017). Long-term Impacts of a Faculty Development Program for the Internationalization of Curriculum in Higher Education. Journal of Agricultural Education, 58(3), 219–238. https://doi.org/10.5032/jae.2017.03219

when synthesizing literature and studies which must be primarily considered

Experienced researchers often have a strong hypothesis and search for evidence that supports or extends this. However, students often learn about their topic during the research process and formulate a hypothesis as they learn what is established in the field on their topic. Both approaches are acceptable, as is a hybrid.

Discovery phase

Researchers typically begin by paraphrasing any important facts or arguments, tracking their discoveries in a table, outline or spreadsheet. Some good examples include definitions of concepts, statistics regarding relevance, and empirical evidence about the key variables in the research question. The original source information (citations in the appropriate style and format) is as important as the content under consideration.  As shown in the model syntheses here, multiple sources often support a common finding.

Evaluation and analysis phase

A strong synthesis must demonstrate a critical analysis of the papers as well as an integration of analytical results; this is the voice of the synthesis writer, interpreting the relationships of the cited works as they are assembled. Each paper under consideration should be critically evaluated according to its relevancy to the topic and the quality of its content.

Writers first establish relationships between cited concepts and facts by continuously considering these questions:

A. Where are the similarities within each topic or subtopic?

B. Where are the differences?

C. Are the differences methodological or theoretical in nature?

The answers will produce general conclusions for each topic or subtopic as the entire group of studies relate to it.

As the material is organized logically using a grid, table or outline, the most logical order must be determined. That order might be from general to specific, sequential or chronological, or from cause to result. [5]

Review and Reinforce

Summarizing and synthesizing are key building blocks in research writing. Read with an awareness of

A. what information has been added for support;

B. what the source of that information is; and

C. how the information was incorporated (quotations or summaries) and documented (integral or parenthetical citations) into the material.

Research writing is a process itself that synthesizes new information, stylistic tendencies, and established conventions with the background knowledge of the researcher.

Media Attributions

  • chameleon © Frontierofficial is licensed under a CC BY (Attribution) license
  • 5182866555_18ae623262_c © rarebeasts is licensed under a CC BY (Attribution) license
  • Adapted from Frederiksen, L., & Phelps, S. F. (2017). Literature Reviews for Education and Nursing Graduate Students . Open Textbook Library. ↵
  • Andresen, M., Lazarova, M., Apospori, E., Cotton, R., Bosak, J., Dickmann, M., Kaše, R., & Smale, A. (2022). Does international work experience pay off? The relationship between international work experience, employability and career success: A 30-country, multi-industry study. Human Resource Management Journal , 32(3), 698–721. https://doi.org/10.1111/1748-8583.12423 ↵
  • Adapted from DeCarlo, M. (2018). Scientific Inquiry in Social Work . Open Textbook Library. ↵
  • Adapted from DeCarlo, M. (2018). Scientific Inquiry in Social Work. Open Textbook Library. ↵
  • Adapted from Frederiksen, L., & Phelps, S. F. (2017). Literature Reviews for Education and Nursing Graduate Students . Open Textbook Library.   ↵

combining separate elements into a whole, generally new, result

a condensed version of a longer text

a list of sources on a particular topic, formatted in the field specific format, which includes a brief summary of each reference

a reference presenting their own data and information

reference material used and cited by a primary source

Sourcing, summarizing, and synthesizing:  Skills for effective research writing  Copyright © 2023 by Wendy L. McBride is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Writing the Literature Review

  • Getting Started
  • Step 1: Choose A Topic
  • Step 2: Find Information
  • Step 3: Evaluate
  • Step 4: Take Notes
  • Step 5: Synthesize
  • Step 6: Stay Organized
  • Write the Review

Synthesizing

What is "Synthesis"?

when synthesizing literature and studies which must be primarily considered

Synthesis?  

Synthesis refers to combining separate elements to create a whole.  When reading through your sources (peer reviewed journal articles, books, research studies, white papers etc.) you will pay attention to relationships between the studies, between groups in the studies, and look for any pattterns,  similarities or differences.  Pay attention to methodologies, unexplored themes, and things that may represent a "gap" in the literature.  These "gaps" will be things you will want to be sure to identify in your literature review.  

  • Using a Synthesis Matrix to Plan a Literature Review Introduction to synthesis matrices, and explanation of the difference between synthesis and analysis. (Geared towards Health Science/ Nursing but applicable for other literature reviews) ***Includes a synthesis matrix example***
  • Using a Spider Diagram Organize your thoughts with a spider diagram

Ready, Set...Synthesize

  • Create an outline that puts your topics (and subtopics) into a logical order
  • Look at each subtopic that you have identified and determine what the articles in that group have in common with each other
  • Look at the articles in those subtopics that you have identified and look for areas where they differ.
  • If you spot findings that are contradictory, what differences do you think could account for those contradictions?  
  • Determine what general conclusions can be reported about that subtopic, and how it relates to the group of studies that you are discussing
  • As you write, remember to follow your outline, and use transitions as you move between topics 

Galvan, J. L. (2006). Writing literature reviews (3rd ed.). Glendale, CA: Pyrczak Publishing

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A Guide to Evidence Synthesis: What is Evidence Synthesis?

  • Meet Our Team
  • Our Published Reviews and Protocols
  • What is Evidence Synthesis?
  • Types of Evidence Synthesis
  • Evidence Synthesis Across Disciplines
  • Finding and Appraising Existing Systematic Reviews
  • 0. Develop a Protocol
  • 1. Draft your Research Question
  • 2. Select Databases
  • 3. Select Grey Literature Sources
  • 4. Write a Search Strategy
  • 5. Register a Protocol
  • 6. Translate Search Strategies
  • 7. Citation Management
  • 8. Article Screening
  • 9. Risk of Bias Assessment
  • 10. Data Extraction
  • 11. Synthesize, Map, or Describe the Results
  • Evidence Synthesis Institute for Librarians
  • Open Access Evidence Synthesis Resources

What are Evidence Syntheses?

What are evidence syntheses.

According to the Royal Society, 'evidence synthesis' refers to the process of bringing together information from a range of sources and disciplines to inform debates and decisions on specific issues. They generally include a methodical and comprehensive literature synthesis focused on a well-formulated research question.  Their aim is to identify and synthesize all  of the scholarly research on a particular topic, including both published and unpublished studies. Evidence syntheses are conducted in an unbiased, reproducible way to provide evidence for practice and policy-making, as well as to identify gaps in the research. Evidence syntheses may also include a meta-analysis, a more quantitative process of synthesizing and visualizing data retrieved from various studies. 

Evidence syntheses are much more time-intensive than traditional literature reviews and require a multi-person research team. See this PredicTER tool to get a sense of a systematic review timeline (one type of evidence synthesis). Before embarking on an evidence synthesis, it's important to clearly identify your reasons for conducting one. For a list of types of evidence synthesis projects, see the next tab.

How Does a Traditional Literature Review Differ From an Evidence Synthesis?

How does a systematic review differ from a traditional literature review.

One commonly used form of evidence synthesis is a systematic review.  This table compares a traditional literature review with a systematic review.

Video: Reproducibility and transparent methods (Video 3:25)

Reporting Standards

There are some reporting standards for evidence syntheses. These can serve as guidelines for protocol and manuscript preparation and journals may require that these standards are followed for the review type that is being employed (e.g. systematic review, scoping review, etc). ​

  • PRISMA checklist Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) is an evidence-based minimum set of items for reporting in systematic reviews and meta-analyses.
  • PRISMA-P Standards An updated version of the original PRISMA standards for protocol development.
  • PRISMA - ScR Reporting guidelines for scoping reviews and evidence maps
  • PRISMA-IPD Standards Extension of the original PRISMA standards for systematic reviews and meta-analyses of individual participant data.
  • EQUATOR Network The EQUATOR (Enhancing the QUAlity and Transparency Of health Research) Network is an international initiative that seeks to improve the reliability and value of published health research literature by promoting transparent and accurate reporting and wider use of robust reporting guidelines. They provide a list of various standards for reporting in systematic reviews.

Video: Guidelines and reporting standards

PRISMA Flow Diagram

The  PRISMA  flow diagram depicts the flow of information through the different phases of an evidence synthesis. It maps the search (number of records identified), screening (number of records included and excluded), and selection (reasons for exclusion).  Many evidence syntheses include a PRISMA flow diagram in the published manuscript.

See below for resources to help you generate your own PRISMA flow diagram.

  • PRISMA Flow Diagram Tool
  • PRISMA Flow Diagram Word Template
  • << Previous: Our Published Reviews and Protocols
  • Next: Types of Evidence Synthesis >>
  • Last Updated: Dec 19, 2023 9:46 AM
  • URL: https://guides.library.cornell.edu/evidence-synthesis

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Synthesizing Research

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When combining another author’s ideas with your own, we have talked about how using the can help make sure your points are being adequately argued (if you have not read our handout on the  evidence cycle,  check it out!). Synthesis takes assertions (statements that describe your claim), evidence (facts and proof from outside sources), and commentary (your connections to why the evidence supports your claim), and blends these processes together to make a cohesive paragraph.

In other words, synthesis encompasses several aspects:

  • It is the process of integrating support from more than one source for one idea/argument while also identifying how sources are related to each other and to your main idea.
  • It is an acknowledgment of how the source material from several sources address the same question/research topic.
  • It is the identification of how important factors (assumptions, interpretations of results, theories, hypothesis, speculations, etc.) relate between separate sources.

TIP: It’s a fruit smoothie!

Think of synthesis as a fruit smoothie that you are creating in your paper. You will have unique parts and flavors in your writing that you will need to blend together to make one tasty, unified drink!

Why Synthesis is Important

  • Synthesis integrates information from multiple sources, which shows that you have done the necessary research to engage with a topic more fully.
  • Research involves incorporating many sources to understand and/or answer a research question, and discovering these connections between the sources helps you better analyze and understand the conversations surrounding your topic.
  • Successful synthesis creates links between your ideas helping your paper “flow” and connect better.
  • Synthesis prevents your papers from looking like a list of copied and pasted sources from various authors.
  • Synthesis is a higher order process in writing—this is the area where you as a writer get to shine and show your audience your reasoning.

Types of Synthesis

Demonstrates how two or more sources agree with one another.

The collaborative nature of writing tutorials has been discussed by scholars like Andrea Lunsford (1991) and Stephen North (1984). In these essays, they explore the usefulness and the complexities of collaboration between tutors and students in writing center contexts.

Demonstrates how two or more sources support a main point in different ways.

While some scholars like Berlin (1987) have primarily placed their focus on the histories of large, famous universities, other scholars like Yahner and Murdick (1991) have found value in connecting their local histories to contrast or highlight trends found in bigger-name universities.

Accumulation

Demonstrates how one source builds on the idea of another.

Although North’s (1984) essay is fundamental to many writing centers today, Lunsford (1991) takes his ideas a step further by identifying different writing center models and also expanding North’s ideas on how writing centers can help students become better writers.

Demonstrates how one source discusses the effects of another source’s ideas.

While Healy (2001) notes the concerns of having primarily email appointments in writing centers, he also notes that constraints like funding, resources, and time affect how online resources are formed. For writing centers, email is the most economical and practical option for those wanting to offer online services but cannot dedicate the time or money to other online tutoring methods. As a result, in Neaderheiser and Wolfe’s (2009) reveals that of all the online options available in higher education, over 91% of institutions utilize online tutoring through email, meaning these constraints significantly affect the types of services writing centers offer.

Discussing Specific Source Ideas/Arguments

To debate with clarity and precision, you may need to incorporate a quote into your statement. Using can help you to thoroughly introduce your quotes so that they fit in to your paragraph and your argument. Remember that you need to use the to bridge between your ideas and outside source material.

Berlin, J. (1987).  Rhetoric and reality: Writing instruction in American colleges, 1900-1985 . Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

Boquet, E.H. (2001). “Our little secret”: A history of writing centers, pre- to open admissions. In R.W. Barnett & J.S. Blumner (Eds.),  The Allyn and Bacon guide to writing center theory and practice  (pp. 42-60). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Carino, P. (1995). Early writing centers: Toward a history.  The Writing Center Journal ,  15 (2), 103-15.

Healy, D. (2001). From place to space: Perceptual and administrative issues in the online writing center. In R.W. Barnett & J.S. Blumner (Eds.), T he Allyn and Bacon guide to writing center theory and practice  (pp. 541-554). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Lunsford, A. (1991). Collaboration, control, and the idea of the writing center.  The Writing Center Journal ,  12 (1), 310-75.

Neaderheiser, S. & Wolfe, J. (2009). Between technological endorsement and resistance: The state of online writing centers.  The Writing Center Journal .  29 (1), 49-75.

North, S. (1984). The idea of a writing center.  College English ,  45 (5), 433-446.

Yahner, W. & Murdick, W. (1991). The evolution of a writing center: 1972-1990.  Writing Center Journal ,  11 (2), 13-28.

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Literature Review How To

  • Things To Consider
  • Synthesizing Sources
  • Video Tutorials
  • Books On Literature Reviews

Consider This

  • What is the specific thesis, problem, or research question that my literature review aims to define?
  • What type of literature review am I conducting? Am I looking at issues of theory, methodology, policy, quantitative research (e.g. interviews, observations), qualitative research (e.g., studies, surveys, statistics)?
  • What is the scope of my literature review? What types of publications am I using (e.g., journals, books, government documents)?
  • What discipline am I working in (e.g. Public Health, Nursing, Kinesiology etc.)?
  • Has my search for sources been wide enough to ensure that I have found all the relevant material?
  • Has it been narrow enough to exclude irrelevant material?
  • Is the number of sources I've used appropriate for the length of my paper (i.e. if your literature review is part of a larger paper or assignment)?
  • Have I critically analyzed the resources I found?
  • How will I avoid just listing and summarizing resources? Do I assess them, discussing strengths and weaknesses?
  • Have I cited and discussed studies contrary to my perspective?
  • Will the reader find my literature review relevant, appropriate, and or useful?

FIRST, ASK YOUR PROFESSOR!

The format of a literature review may vary from discipline to discipline and from assignment to assignment. However, a literature review must do these things:

  • Be organized around and related directly to the thesis or research question you are developing
  • Synthesize results into a summary of what is and is not known
  • Identify problematic areas or areas of controversy in the literature
  • Formulate questions or issues that need further research

Remember! A literature review is not a list describing or summarizing one piece of literature after another.

Try and avoid starting every paragraph with the name of a researcher or the title of the work. Rather, try organizing the literature review into sections that present themes or identify trends, including relevant theories. You are not trying to list all the material published on a topic, but to synthesize and evaluate it according to the guiding concept of your thesis or research question.

Consider These For Each Source

  • Has the author formulated a problem/issue?
  • Is the problem/issue clearly defined and is its significance (scope, severity, and relevance) clearly established?
  • Could the problem/issue have been approached more effectively and or from another perspective?
  • What is the author's research orientation (e.g., interpretive, critical science, combination)?
  • What is the author's theoretical framework (e.g., psychological, developmental, feminist)?
  • What is the relationship between #4 and #5?
  • Has the author evaluated the literature relevant to the topic (i.e. does the author include a literature review and or provide sources that take positions she/he does not agree with)?
  • How accurate and valid are the measurements, statistics or data the author has provided?
  • Is the analysis of the measurements, statistics or data accurate and relevant to the research question?
  • Are the conclusions validly based upon the data and analysis?
  • · How does the author structure the argument? Can you retrace the steps he/she takes and analyze the flow of the argument to see if it progresses logically?
  • In what ways does this piece contribute to our understanding of the topic, and in what ways is it useful? What are the strengths and limitations?
  • How does this book or article relate to my thesis or research question?
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  • Last Updated: Nov 30, 2018 4:51 PM
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Defining and Designing Mixed Research Synthesis Studies

Margarete sandelowski.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Nursing

Corrine I. Voils

Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Duke University Medical Center Department of Medicine

Julie Barroso

Duke University School of Nursing

Mixed research synthesis is the latest addition to the repertoires of mixed methods research and systematic review. Mixed research synthesis requires that the problems generated by the methodological diversity within and between qualitative and quantitative studies be resolved. Three basic research designs accommodate this diversity, including the segregated, integrated, and contingent designs. Much work remains to be done before mixed research synthesis can secure its place in the repertoires of mixed methods research and systematic review, but the effort is well worth it as it has the potential to enhance both the significance and utility for practice of the many qualitative and quantitative studies constituting shared domains of research.

Mixed research synthesis is the latest addition to the repertoires of mixed methods research and systematic review. Mixed research synthesis is our name for the type of systematic review aimed at the integration of results from both qualitative and quantitative studies in a shared domain of empirical research. In contrast to mixed methods research in which the data set subject to analysis and interpretation is composed of the qualitative and quantitative data (e.g., from interviews, observations, questionnaires, physiologic measures, and the like) obtained directly from research participants within a single study or program of research, the data in mixed research synthesis studies are the findings of primary qualitative and quantitative studies in a designated body of empirical research. The focus of mixed research synthesis studies is on researchers integrations of their data, or the results they report; the products of mixed research synthesis studies are other researchers’ (i.e., reviewers of research) integrations of those results to “sum up” what is known about a target phenomenon and, thereby, to direct both practice and future research.

In this article, we offer an overview of the impetus for mixed research synthesis and the challenges it presents, and propose three basic research designs to conduct mixed research synthesis studies. We have drawn from the large body of literature in the general areas of systematic review, research synthesis, and mixed methods research; the small body of literature on mixed research synthesis; and from our own ongoing study aimed at developing methods to synthesize qualitative and quantitative research findings. 1

The Impetus for Mixed Research Synthesis

The new interest in mixed research synthesis ( Dixon-Woods, Agarwal, Young, Jones, & Sutton, 2004 ; Forbes & Griffiths, 2002 ; Harden & Thomas, 2005 ; Hawker, Payne, Kerr, Hardey, & Powell, 2002 ; Lemmer, Grellier, & Steven, 1999 ; Mays, Pope, & Popay, 2005 ; Popay & Roen, 2003 ) is the result of the convergence of two “growth industries” ( Estabrooks, 1999 , p. 274) discussed in the following sections, namely, evidence-based practice and qualitative research.

The Turn to Evidence-Based Practice

Over the last two decades, scholars in the practice disciplines have increasingly turned to evidence-based practice to facilitate better use of research findings and to close the research-practice gap. Appearing in various guises across the disciplines as evidence-based health care, medicine, nursing, education, social work, and librarianship ( Trinder & Reynolds, 2000 ), evidence-based practice is generally defined as the conscientious, explicit, and judicious use of information to serve as the foundation for practice ( Sackett, Rosenberg, Gray, Haynes, & Richardson, 1996 ; Sackett, Straus, Richardson, Rosenberg, & Haynes, 2000 ). At the heart of evidence-based practice are evidence syntheses, or integrations of research findings derived from systematic reviews of empirical research in targeted research areas to answer specific research questions addressing specific practice problems. Such evidence syntheses are viewed as having the potential to increase the utility of research and the effectiveness of practice as they enable answers to such questions as which treatments of a disease produce the best health outcomes, or which teaching strategies produce the best learning outcomes. 2

The Rise of Qualitative Research

Concurrent with the turn to evidence-based practice has been the growth of qualitative research. Over the last 30 years, the number of qualitative studies and of instructional texts on qualitative methods has increased exponentially across the behavioral, social science, and practice disciplines. The dramatic proliferation of qualitative studies and rising concern about their under-utilization, occurring against the backdrop of renewed interest in enhancing the utility of research through systematic reviews of research, sparked the interest in conducting syntheses of qualitative research ( Sandelowski, 2004 ), Most commonly referred to as qualitative metasynthesis or meta-ethnography, qualitative research synthesis studies were promoted to fulfill the promise of qualitative research findings to effect desired changes in health, education, and social welfare. A spate of articles and books has appeared since the late 1980s addressing qualitative research synthesis methods (e.g., Noblit & Hare, 1988 ; Paterson, Thorne, Canam, & Jillings, 2001 ; Sandelowski & Barroso, in press ), reporting the results of qualitative research synthesis studies (e.g., Campbell et al., 2003 ; Pound et al., 2005 ; Sandelowski & Barroso, 2003 , 2005 ), and calling for the inclusion of qualitative research into evidence-based practice ( Barbour, 2000 ; Dixon-Woods, Fitzpatrick, & Roberts, 2001 ; Giacomini, 2001 ; Green & Britten, 1998 ; Greenhalgh, 2002 ; Leys, 2003 ; Popay & Williams, 1998 ).

The Challenges of Mixed Research Synthesis

Advances in qualitative and quantitative research synthesis and the increasing prominence of mixed methods research as the “third research paradigm” ( Johnson & Onwuegbuzie, 2004 , p. 14) for the practice disciplines have contributed to the current interest in mixed research synthesis. But for mixed research synthesis to advance, researchers must solve the problems generated by the methodological diversity within and between qualitative and quantitative studies. Difference has recurrently been identified as the most important factor complicating both the qualitative and quantitative research synthesis enterprises ( Cooper, 1998 ; Mulrow, Langhorne, Grimshaw, 1997 ; Sandelowski, Docherty, & Emden, 1997 ; Sandelowski, Voils, & Barroso, 2006 ). Even studies of ostensibly the same variables or target events, experiences, or phenomena in ostensibly similar groups of people employing ostensibly the same methodological approaches will have differences sufficient to require finding the means to enable their findings to be compared and combined.

Qualitative Research Synthesis

In the qualitative research synthesis literature, the difference problem is most often addressed in relation to the philosophical differences among research traditions and the singularity of every research participant and research encounter ( Sandelowski et al., 1997 ). The qualitative research methods literature is characterized, in part, by efforts to differentiate among ontological positions (e.g., realist, idealist, and relativist); epistemological positions (e.g., objectivist, constructionist, subjectivist); paradigms of inquiry (e.g., neo-positivism, interpretivism, critical theory, postmodernism); foundational theories and philosophies (e.g., symbolic interactionism, Heideggerian phenomenology, Foucaultian geneology); and methodologies (e.g., grounded theory, phenomenology, ethnography, narrative/discourse study; Crotty; 1998 ; Guba & Lincoln, 2005 ). 3 These differences can make the synthesis of qualitative findings alone a daunting enterprise. In addition, the qualitative research emphasis on delineating the complexities and contradictions of “N=1 experiences” ( Eisner, 1991 , p. 197) seems at odds with the conventional research synthesis emphasis on simplification and summary. Moreover, the diversity in the implementation and reporting of qualitative research complicates both the identification of the methods actually used in a study and the findings produced from those methods ( Sandelowski & Barroso, in press ).

Accordingly, qualitative researchers have urged the development of synthesis methods distinctive to qualitative inquiry and warned against reliance on quantitative research synthesis as the model for qualitative research synthesis ( Barbour & Barbour, 2003 ; Jones, 2004 ; Sandelowski et al., 1997 ). Although much progress has been made in the development of these methods, debates continue over such issues as: (a) terminology (e.g., qualitative meta-analysis [or metaanalysis], meta-synthesis [or metasynthesis], meta-data-analysis); (b) whether to retrieve all of the research reports in a targeted domain or only a purposeful sample of them; (c) whether and how to use quality criteria for evaluating qualitative studies; (d) what the goals of qualitative research synthesis should be (e.g., topical review, aggregation, integration, interpretive comparison, critique); and (d) whether to advance one or multiple interpretations of studies ( Booth, 2001 ; Doyle, 2003 ; Evans & Pearson, 2001 ; Jones, 2004 ; Thorne, Jensen, Kearney, Noblit, & Sandelowski, 2004 ). Because of the “multidisciplinary pedigree” ( Barbour & Barbour, 2003 , p. 183) of qualitative research, the resolution of these debates will vary with individual research practitioners’ understanding of the imperatives of qualitative research as applied to their own disciplines.

Quantitative Research Synthesis

In the quantitative research literature, the problem of difference is referred to as heterogeneity and is addressed as the methodological diversity within and between observational and experimental studies, and in terms of the contrast between the “real” differences in the target phenomena and “artifactual” differences owing to the way these phenomena were studied ( Glasziou & Sanders, 2002 ). The constellation of statistical techniques known as meta-analysis, which is most identified with quantitative research synthesis and intended to accommodate these differences, continues to engender debate. One continuing criticism is that, because no two studies can ever be perfectly identical, meta-analysis are comparing apples and oranges ( Glass, 2000 ; Hunt, 1997 ), thereby, calling into question the validity and generalizability of meta-analyses ( Matt, 2003 ). Another criticism is that meta-analysis involves testing hypotheses about parameters in populations of studies, yet the criteria for inferential statistics (e.g., random sampling) are rarely met. Yet other concerns include the management of variable primary study quality ( Conn & Rantz, 2003 ) and of results from diverse research designs (e.g., combining findings from single group pre-post designs and randomized controlled trials, from cross-sectional and longitudinal studies, or from experimental and observational studies). The Cochrane Collaboration and Library, an icon of the evidence-based practice movement in health care, includes only randomized controlled trials in their research syntheses, but most studies conducted that could serve as the basis for clinical practice are not randomized controlled trials.

Although many strategies have been proposed to address these issues, no consensus exists on any one set of strategies. For example, a variety of methods exist to address the heterogeneity among studies ( Higgins & Green, 2005 ). In recent years, meta-analysis has moved away from approaches directed toward common estimates and fixed-effects models and toward approaches estimating the extent and sources of heterogeneity among studies and random-effects models ( Stangl & Berry, 2000 ). In addition, a variety of strategies exist to test for bias (e.g., publication bias; Schulze, Holling, & Bohning, 2003 ; Stangl & Berry, 2000 ). In the end, the desire for greater objectivity in reviewing and drawing conclusions from studies that remains the impetus for quantitative research synthesis has been curbed by the need to make highly subjective and idiosyncratic judgments that fit the nature of the primary study findings to be integrated. Despite the drive for greater objectivity evident in the growing popularity of meta-analysis, objectivity continues to reside in the defense and documentation of largely subjective judgments.

Mixed Research Synthesis

Mixed research synthesis complicates the difference problem as qualitative and quantitative research are themselves viewed as exemplifying difference. Mixed research synthesis entails the “mixing” of the differences characterizing efforts to integrate qualitative research findings with the differences characterizing efforts to integrate quantitative research findings ( Sandelowski, Voils, & Barroso, 2006 ). Scholars have debated whether these differences preclude mixed research synthesis.

For “purists” ( Johnson & Onwuegbuzie, 2004 , p. 14) who view qualitative and quantitative research as two wholly different species of inquiry, the chasm between qualitative and quantitative modes of inquiry is deep enough to make it difficult or even impossible to cross it without endangering the imperatives and integrity of one or both domains of inquiry. Hammersley (2001 , p. 544) cautioned against using a “positivist model” of systematic review, appropriate when using quantitative meta-analysis, but not appropriate for synthesizing qualitative findings. Drawing from Freese’s (1980) work on cumulative knowledge, she suggested that meta-analysis derives from an “additive” orientation to knowledge development, while qualitative research synthesis may require a largely “multiplicative” one ( Hammersley, 2001 , p. 548). Only recently have qualitative research results been considered worthy enough even to be considered for inclusion in evidence-based practice as both good research and evidence have been defined in ways that favor highly controlled quantitative studies and, thereby, automatically exclude qualitative studies ( Hampton, 2002 ; Madjar & Walton, 2001 ; McKenna, Cutliffe, & McKenna, 1999 ; Miller & Fredericks, 2003 ; Mitchell, 1999 ; Ray & Mayan, 2001 ; Upshur, 2001 ), In the hierarchy of evidence in which the randomized clinical trial is the gold standard against which all studies are evaluated as good or bad research and as yielding strong or weak evidence, qualitative research will inevitably be ranked at the bottom ( Evans, 2003 ; Petticrew & Roberts, 2003 ).

Proponents of qualitative research have expressed concern about the cooptation of qualitative research that occurs when its distinctive imperatives appear to be celebrated when they are actually only tolerated ( Sandelowski & Barroso, in press ). Rolfe (2002) described the veneer of acceptance of diversity that often masks efforts toward conformity, or the erasure of difference. Evidence of cooptation may be seen in the prevailing solutions proposed in the mixed research synthesis literature to the problems of “mixing” qualitative and quantitative research results. These solutions include primarily the one-way assimilation of qualitative data into quantitative data, or the use of qualitative data largely as an adjunct to quantitative research synthesis. Few solutions involving the assimilation of quantitative data into qualitative data have been proposed probably because any “narrative” or “qualitative” solution is viewed as reverting to the type of subjective review that the more objective quantitative meta-analysis was supposed to replace. Noteworthy here is the recurring association of the words narrative and qualitative with reviews considered unscientific and unworthy in the hierarchy of evidence in which randomized clinical trials and quantitative meta-analyses are placed on the top rungs. Conceived as useful for such purposes as clarifying the objectives of largely quantitative research reviews, delineating criteria for inclusion of studies, identifying key variables for analysis, and explaining and appraising the practical significance of reviews ( Dixon-Woods, Fitzpatrick, & Roberts, 2001 ), qualitative research is rarely viewed as having any utility in the research synthesis enterprise outside an accessory role.

The mere toleration (as opposed to real acceptance) of qualitative research as an equal partner with quantitative research in systematic review is also apparent in the argument that because all clinical or practice problems have not been, or cannot be, addressed with the gold standard randomized clinical trial, room has to be made (albeit reluctantly) for research that is less controlled and, therefore, more biased. If this were not true, there would be no need to include these “weaker” forms of evidence. Although tolerators of qualitative research may concede that appropriately conducted study designs other than the randomized controlled trial may be stronger sources of evidence than clinical trials inappropriately conducted (i.e., that they offer the “best evidence” available [ Slavin, 1995 ]), the randomized controlled trial remains for many the gold standard against which all modes of inquiry are judged. Accordingly, for tolerators, qualitative research enters evidence-based practice by default, not by design.

Yet for proponents of qualitative research, it enters evidence-based practice, not only by design, but also out of necessity. Proponents of qualitative research view it as essential to achieving the goals of evidence-based practice because of its distinctive capacity for reaching facets of human experience unreachable with quantitative methods, and because of its central role in the development and testing of culturally-sensitive instruments and participant-centered interventions, and in enhancing the practical significance, and even salvaging, of quantitative research findings (e.g., Onwuegbuzie & Leech, 2004 ; Pope & Mays, 1995 ; Sandelowski, 2004 ; Weinholtz, Kacer, & Rocklin, 1995 ).

Designing Mixed Research Synthesis Studies

Researchers’ views of the nature and impact of the differences between qualitative and quantitative research will influence how they design mixed research synthesis studies. Table 1 shows three basic designs for conducting mixed research synthesis studies that are our adaptations of designs used in primary mixed methods research ( Creswell, Plano Clark, Gutmann, & Hanson, 2003 ; Tashakkori & Teddlie, 2003 ). These three designs—segregated, integrated, and contingent—accommodate different views of the relationship between qualitative and quantitative research findings and different definitions of mixed research synthesis.

Designs for Mixed Research Synthesis Studies

Segregated Design

The segregated design shown in Table 1 maintains the conventional binary distinction between qualitative and quantitative research. This design is based on the assumptions that: (a) qualitative and quantitative studies are wholly different entities and, therefore, ought to be treated separately; (b) qualitative and quantitative studies can readily be distinguished from each other; (c) the differences between qualitative and quantitative studies warrant separate analyses and syntheses of their findings; (d) syntheses of qualitative findings require methods developed just for synthesizing qualitative findings; and (e) syntheses of quantitative findings require methods developed just for synthesizing quantitative findings. The synthesis of qualitative findings produced from such methods as qualitative metasummary, constant targeted comparison, and reciprocal translation of concepts ( Sandelowski & Barroso, in press ), are combined with the synthesis of quantitative findings produced from meta-analysis techniques to configure a mixed research synthesis. Only after each set of qualitative and quantitative findings in a common domain of research has been separately synthesized with methods distinctive to it can the separate synthesis products themselves be synthesized (e.g., into a set of conclusions, a theoretical framework, or path analysis). The segregated design is most appropriate when: (a) qualitative and quantitative findings in a designated body of research are viewed as complementing (as opposed to either confirming or refuting) each other and when (b) mixed research synthesis is defined as the configuration (as opposed to the assimilation) of research findings.

Complementarity vs. confirmation/refutation

Confirmation and refutation are processes that rest on the assumption that qualitative and quantitative studies can address the same research purposes or answer the same research questions and, thereby, yield findings about the same aspect of a target phenomenon. Confirmation and refutation are exercises in seeking to establish convergent validation (or triangulation) both within the qualitative and quantitative studies, respectively, and between qualitative and quantitative studies in a shared domain of research. Confirmation occurs when the same finding (e.g., that depression does or does not contribute to antiretroviral non-adherence) is repeated within and across both qualitative and quantitative studies. Refutation occurs when a designated relationship yields divergent findings, or findings in direct opposition. For example, one set of qualitative and/or quantitative studies indicates that depression contributes to non-adherence, while another set of studies addressing the same relationship indicates the opposite conclusion (e.g., that depression has no influence on adherence). 4

Whereas confirmation and refutation rest on the assumption that qualitative and quantitative research can address the same research questions and, thereby, yield findings about the same aspects of phenomena, complementarity rests on the assumption that qualitative and quantitative research differ, in part, because they do not address the same questions. Barbour and Barbour (2003 , p. 180) observed that qualitative research answered questions different from quantitative research as they engaged “a different sort of curiosity.” (Complicating the difference problem in mixed research synthesis and, therefore, the selection of design is that whereas the research question in quantitative studies is always fixed prior to beginning them, in qualitative studies, the research question that will ultimately be answered is often the product of analysis, or arrived at only after entering the field of study). Because they address different aspects or dimensions of a target phenomenon, qualitative and quantitative research findings can neither confirm nor refute, but rather only complement, each other. Complementarity here rests on the conception of findings as related to each other—in that they are in the same domain of research (e.g., antiretroviral adherence)—but not as addressing the same aspects in that domain.

An example of complementarity is when a set of qualitative studies indicates that caring for children influences antiretroviral adherence in women and a set of quantitative studies indicates that sex influences adherence. The one finding neither confirms nor refutes the other as they are not referring to the same phenomenon and, therefore, are not subject to convergent validation. But the quantitatively-produced finding that sex predicted adherence may be clarified or explained by the qualitatively-produced finding that caring for children influenced adherence because childrearing is a gender-marked obligation, or a responsibility culturally prescribed for women as opposed to men. Similarly, the quantitatively-produced finding that race predicted non-adherence may be clarified or explained by the qualitatively-produced finding that HIV-positive African Americans’ knowledge of the Tuskegee syphilis study was a recurring reason given for their not taking antiretroviral drugs, as they saw these drugs as reprising the experimental and genocidal imperatives of the Tuskegee study.

These examples suggest that qualitative and quantitative research findings are complementary in linking causal explanations to causal observations ( Maxwell 2004a , 2004b ). Quantitative findings indicate that-knowledge (e.g., that being female and being African American led to lower levels of adherence in comparison to being male or being white), while qualitative findings indicate why-knowledge, or the gender or race performances or relations that might explain these observations.

Configuration vs. assimilation of findings

The segregated design is also the design of choice when mixed research synthesis is conceived as the configuration, as opposed to assimilation, of qualitative and quantitative research findings. The configuration of findings is the arrangement of complementary findings into a line of argument ( Noblit & Hare, 1988 ), a theory that posits relationships among concepts, or a narrative that posits a temporal ordering of events (e.g., Greenhalgh et al., 2005 ; Pound et al., 2005 ). Because qualitative and quantitative findings are viewed as addressing different aspects of a target phenomenon (i.e., as in a complementary relationship), they are also viewed as resistant to direct assimilation into each other. Unlike findings across studies seen to address the same relationship or aspect of a phenomenon, findings conceived as complementary cannot be reduced. Instead, they can only be organized into a coherent whole. For example, qualitative findings may be positioned as antecedent, mediating, or moderating variables explaining or delineating the conditions for the occurrence of events depicted in quantitative findings. Alternatively, quantitative findings can be used to make more explicit comparisons between groups only implied in qualitative findings.

Integrated Design

In the integrated design shown in Table 1 , the methodological differences between qualitative and quantitative studies are minimized as both kinds of studies are viewed as producing findings that can readily be transformed into each other. This design is based on the assumptions that: (a) any differences between qualitative and quantitative studies that do exist do not warrant separate analyses and syntheses of their findings; (b) studies designated as qualitative or quantitative are not necessarily distinguishable from each other; (c) both qualitative and quantitative studies in a common research domain can address the same research purposes and questions; and (d) syntheses of both qualitative and quantitative findings can be produced from methods developed for qualitative and quantitative findings. The integrated design is most appropriate when: (a) qualitative and quantitative findings in a designated body of research are viewed as able to confirm, extend, or refute each other and when (b) mixed research synthesis is defined as the assimilation (as opposed to configuration) of research findings.

In integrated designs, the studies in a targeted domain are grouped for synthesis not by methods (i.e., qualitative and quantitative), but rather by findings viewed as answering the same research questions, or addressing the same aspects of a target phenomenon. Here findings addressing the same aspects may extend each other, which can be seen as a form of confirmation. An example of extension is when one set of findings indicates that having to take a large number of pills is a reason for not adhering to antiretroviral therapy, while another set of findings specifies the number of pills below which HIV-positive persons generally adhere and above which few persons adhere.

Mixed research synthesis is accomplished by mixed methods analysis. The analytic emphasis is on transforming findings to enable them to be combined. Transformation includes qualitizing, or converting quantitative findings into qualitative form so that they can be combined with other qualitative data and subjected to qualitative analysis, and quantitizing, or converting qualitative findings into quantitative form so that they can be combined with other quantitative data and subjected to quantitative analysis ( Onwuegbuzie & Teddlie, 2003 ). Because few mixed research synthesis efforts exist, and because few reported qualitative or quantitative research syntheses have derived from the use of transformation techniques, instances of qualitizing and quantitizing have appeared largely in reports of primary mixed methods research. Accordingly, examples of quantitizing with which we are experimenting in our on-going methods study that hold promise for mixed research synthesis include the calculation of effect sizes of qualitative findings and the translation of qualitatively-produced themes into predictor variables ( Onwuegbuzie, 2003 ; Sandelowski & Barroso, in press ). Examples of qualitizing that we are experimenting with include the conversion of quantitatively-produced correlations to themes, typologies, or case profiles ( Onwuegbuzie & Teddlie, 2003 ; Tashakkori & Teddlie, 1998 ). Methods proposed to bridge the case-intensive world of qualitative research with the variable-extensive world of quantitative research include Ragin’s (1987 , 2000 ) qualitative comparative case method and Bayesian approaches to meta-analysis ( Howard, Maxwell, & Fleming, 2000 ; Roberts, Dixon-Woods, Fitzpatrick, Abrams, Jones, 2002 ).

Contingent Design

In the contingent design shown in Table 1 , the results of synthesizing the findings in a designated group of studies to answer one research question determine the next group of studies that will be retrieved and analyzed to answer a second research question the results of which, in turn, may lead to the analysis of a third group of studies retrieved to answer yet another research question. The cycle of systematic review continues until a comprehensive research synthesis can be presented that addresses researchers’ objectives. For example, an initial focus on all reports of findings of studies testing the effectiveness of interventions to promote antiretroviral adherence in women might lead to subsequent searches for reports of findings concerning gender differences in antiretroviral adherence, the experience of HIV infection in women, or concerning HIV-related stigma to explain how and/or why these interventions succeeded or failed.

Contingent designs may or may not depend on hard lines drawn between qualitative and quantitative studies and between qualitative and quantitative methods of research synthesis. Contingent designs may be more like segregated designs in posing a series of research questions conceived to be amenable only to qualitative or quantitative studies, each set of which are analyzed with qualitative or quantitative methods, respectively, to produce the qualitative and quantitative research syntheses that will ultimately be configured into a theoretical or narrative rendering of findings. Alternatively, contingent designs may be more like integrated designs in posing a series of research questions deemed answerable by both qualitative and quantitative studies in a targeted domain of research. The findings of these studies can then be assimilated. In short, the defining feature of contingent designs is the cycle of research synthesis studies conducted to answer questions raised by previous syntheses, not the grouping of studies or methods as qualitative and quantitative.

The Future of Mixed Research Synthesis

The viability of the mixed research synthesis enterprise rests on finding ways to make the seemingly incomparable comparable in order to make the seemingly uncombinable combinable (i.e., assimilable, arrangeable, or some other process of putting or using qualitative and quantitative findings together). Given the complexity of these goals, it is not surprising that mixed research synthesis methods have yet to be developed that satisfactorily accommodate the singularity, descriptive precision, and intricacy of qualitative research findings and the generality, numerical precision, and single-dimensionality of quantitative research findings ( Buchanan, 1992 ; Sivesind, 1999 ). Although much work remains before mixed research synthesis can secure its place in the repertoires of mixed methods research and systematic review, the effort is well worth it as it has the potential to enhance both the significance and utility for practice of the many qualitative and quantitative research studies constituting shared domains of research.

1 This study, entitled Integrating qualitative & quantitative research findings, is funded by the National Institute of Nursing Research, National Institutes of Health, 5 R01 NR004907, June 3, 2005–March 31, 2010. Support was also provided by Career Development Award MRP 04-216-1 awarded to Corrine I. Voils from the Health Services Research and Development Service of the Department of Veterans Affairs. The views expressed in this manuscript are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

2 Both systematic review and evidence-based practice have generated strong and even scathing criticism. See, for example, Clarke, 1999 ; Estabrooks, 1999 ; Gupta, 2003 ; Hampton, 2002 ; MacLure, 2005 ; Mykhalovskiy & Weir, 2004 ; Pellegrino, 2002 ; Rolfe, 2002 ; Timmermans & Berg, 2003 ; Traynor, 2002 ; & Trinder, 2000 .

3 Differences even exist in categorizing these differences; for example, what we refer to here as paradigms others refer to as theories.

4 Having ascertained what appears to be a refutation, or a contradictory view of the same relationship, researchers will likely want to ascertain conditions related to both the target phenomenon and to the nature of the research itself that might explain why depression influenced adherence in one group of studies and had no influence in a second group of studies. That is, they may want to ascertain whether an apparent refutation is an actual refutation. Similarly, apparent confirmations may not be actual confirmations when reviewers probe findings that seem to replicate each other. Confirmation and refutation are processes not so simple as we depict them here and as they are typically presented in the research synthesis literature. We plan to address the complexities of these processes in a future paper.

The lead editors for this article were R. Burke Johnson and Anthony J. Onwuegbuzie.

Contributor Information

Margarete Sandelowski, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Nursing.

Corrine I. Voils, Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Duke University Medical Center Department of Medicine.

Julie Barroso, Duke University School of Nursing.

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practical problem solving in hplc

practical problem solving in hplc

IMAGES

  1. what is literature synthesis

    when synthesizing literature and studies which must be primarily considered

  2. what is literature synthesis

    when synthesizing literature and studies which must be primarily considered

  3. PPT

    when synthesizing literature and studies which must be primarily considered

  4. The synthesis of the literature review process.

    when synthesizing literature and studies which must be primarily considered

  5. PPT

    when synthesizing literature and studies which must be primarily considered

  6. PPT

    when synthesizing literature and studies which must be primarily considered

VIDEO

  1. Synthesizing Literature

  2. Review of Related Literature vs. Review of Literature Studies: Practical Research 2

  3. Real-time Classroom: Synthesizing Literature Review (Part 2)

  4. Following a Harvard Literature Class 💼 Course Syllabus & Reading List!

  5. Meaning of academic , Definition of academic

  6. LESSON 2- REVIEWING THE GENRES AND BRANCHES OF LITERATURE

COMMENTS

  1. What Synthesis Methodology Should I Use? A Review and Analysis of

    What Synthesis Methodology Should I Use? A Review and Analysis of Approaches to Research Synthesis - PMC Journal List AIMS Public Health v.3 (1); 2016 PMC5690272 As a library, NLM provides access to scientific literature.

  2. Synthesizing Sources

    Writing a research paper usually requires synthesizing the available sources in order to provide new insight or a different perspective into your particular topic (as opposed to simply restating what each individual source says about your research topic). Note that synthesizing is not the same as summarizing.

  3. Synthesizing Sources

    Published on July 4, 2022 by Eoghan Ryan . Revised on May 31, 2023. Synthesizing sources involves combining the work of other scholars to provide new insights. It's a way of integrating sources that helps situate your work in relation to existing research. Synthesizing sources involves more than just summarizing.

  4. Literature Synthesis 101: How To Guide + Examples

    Identifying what's broadly agreed upon is an essential starting point for synthesising the literature, because you generally don't want (or need) to reinvent the wheel or run down a road investigating something that is already well established. So, addressing this question first lays a foundation of "settled" knowledge. Need a helping hand?

  5. Synthesize

    Take a step-by-step approach to writing a lit review. Find Synthesize Integrate Get Organized Lit Review Prep Use this template to help you evaluate your sources, create article summaries for an annotated bibliography, and a synthesis matrix for your lit review outline. Synthesize your Information

  6. 3.2 Synthesizing literature

    Your synthesis must demonstrate a critical analysis of the papers you collected, as well as your ability to integrate the results of your analysis into your own literature review. Each source you collect should be critically evaluated and weighed based on the criteria from Chapter 2 before you include it in your review.

  7. Quantitative Synthesis—An Update

    Quantitative synthesis, or meta-analysis, is often essential for Comparative Effective Reviews (CERs) to provide scientifically rigorous summary information. Quantitative synthesis should be conducted in a transparent and consistent way with methodologies reported explicitly. This guide provides practical recommendations on conducting synthesis. The guide is not meant to be a textbook on meta ...

  8. How To Write Synthesis In Research: Example Steps

    Step 1: Organize your sources After collecting the relevant literature, you've got a lot of information to work through, and no clear idea of how it all fits together. Before you can start writing, you need to organize your notes in a way that allows you to see the relationships between sources.

  9. Literature Synthesis

    As seen in Chap. 3, a common step in Systematic Literature Review (SLR) is the Literature Synthesis (Lau et al. 1997).It combines the effects of multiple primary studies to provide new knowledge on a subject, which is not possible to obtain by evaluating the studies independently (Morandi and Camargo 2015).In other words, the Synthesis is not a simple summary of results, on the opposite, it ...

  10. Synthesising the literature as part of a literature review

    25783281 10.7748/ns.29.29.44.e8957 This article examines how to synthesise and critique research literature. To place the process of synthesising the research literature into context, the article explores the critiquing process by breaking it down into seven sequential steps.

  11. Systematic Reviews & Evidence Synthesis Methods

    They generally include a methodical and comprehensive literature synthesis focused on a well-formulated research question. Their aim is to identify and synthesize all of the scholarly research on a particular topic, including both published and unpublished studies. ... Assessing the Quality of Included Studies. Often do not consider study ...

  12. Synthesizing Qualitative Research: Reflections and Lessons Learnt by

    In qualitative evidence synthesis, bias may refer to researchers assumptions and input (Hannes, 2011) as well as decisions and alterations made throughout the review process that may impact on the way the eligible studies were identified (eligibility and selection of studies), analyzed (coded and synthesized), and reported at the end (Moher et ...

  13. Summarizing and synthesizing

    A literature review presents a synthesis of material, grouped by topic, to create a broad and comprehensive view of the literature relevant to a research question. ... 2013; Schmid & Wurster, 2017; Suutari et al., 2018), the specific role of national context is rarely considered. ... A strong synthesis must demonstrate a critical analysis of ...

  14. An overview of methodological approaches in systematic reviews

    1. INTRODUCTION. Evidence synthesis is a prerequisite for knowledge translation. 1 A well conducted systematic review (SR), often in conjunction with meta‐analyses (MA) when appropriate, is considered the "gold standard" of methods for synthesizing evidence related to a topic of interest. 2 The central strength of an SR is the transparency of the methods used to systematically search ...

  15. Step 5: Synthesize

    Synthesis refers to combining separate elements to create a whole. When reading through your sources (peer reviewed journal articles, books, research studies, white papers etc.) you will pay attention to relationships between the studies, between groups in the studies, and look for any pattterns, similarities or differences.

  16. A Guide to Evidence Synthesis: What is Evidence Synthesis?

    According to the Royal Society, 'evidence synthesis' refers to the process of bringing together information from a range of sources and disciplines to inform debates and decisions on specific issues. They generally include a methodical and comprehensive literature synthesis focused on a well-formulated research question.

  17. Synthesizing Research

    Synthesis takes assertions (statements that describe your claim), evidence (facts and proof from outside sources), and commentary (your connections to why the evidence supports your claim), and blends these processes together to make a cohesive paragraph. In other words, synthesis encompasses several aspects:

  18. LibGuides: Literature Review How To: Things To Consider

    FIRST, ASK YOUR PROFESSOR! The format of a literature review may vary from discipline to discipline and from assignment to assignment. However, a literature review must do these things: Be organized around and related directly to the thesis or research question you are developing Synthesize results into a summary of what is and is not known

  19. Methods for the synthesis of qualitative research: a critical review

    Background. The range of different methods for synthesising qualitative research has been growing over recent years [1,2], alongside an increasing interest in qualitative synthesis to inform health-related policy and practice [].While the terms 'meta-analysis' (a statistical method to combine the results of primary studies), or sometimes 'narrative synthesis', are frequently used to describe ...

  20. Understanding the Impacts of Research Synthesis

    The review did not set out to systematically collect information on questions of independence, susceptibility to bias, transparency, rigour or reliability (primarily because of the broad range of methods considered in the case studies). However, insights on these issues emerged through the analysis and are referred to below. 2.3. Literature review

  21. (PDF) A Synthesis of Literature Review Guidelines from Information

    In a paper synthesising literature on literature review guidelines for information systems [35] it was found that the guidelines usually comprise the following 5 stages: (1) defining a protocol ...

  22. Defining and Designing Mixed Research Synthesis Studies

    Mixed research synthesis is the latest addition to the repertoires of mixed methods research and systematic review. Mixed research synthesis is our name for the type of systematic review aimed at the integration of results from both qualitative and quantitative studies in a shared domain of empirical research. In contrast to mixed methods research in which the data set subject to analysis and ...

  23. when synthesizing literature and studies which must be primarily considered

    Your synthesis must demonstrate a critical analysis of the papers you collected, as well as your ability to integrate the results of your analysis into your own literature review. Each source you collect should be critically evaluated and weighed based on the criteria from Chapter 3 before you include it in your review.