sample synthesis for related literature

  • University of Oregon Libraries
  • Research Guides

How to Write a Literature Review

  • 6. Synthesize
  • Literature Reviews: A Recap
  • Reading Journal Articles
  • Does it Describe a Literature Review?
  • 1. Identify the Question
  • 2. Review Discipline Styles
  • Searching Article Databases
  • Finding Full-Text of an Article
  • Citation Chaining
  • When to Stop Searching
  • 4. Manage Your References
  • 5. Critically Analyze and Evaluate

Synthesis Visualization

Synthesis matrix example.

  • 7. Write a Literature Review

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  • Synthesis Worksheet

About Synthesis

Approaches to synthesis.

You can sort the literature in various ways, for example:

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How to Begin?

Read your sources carefully and find the main idea(s) of each source

Look for similarities in your sources – which sources are talking about the same main ideas? (for example, sources that discuss the historical background on your topic)

Use the worksheet (above) or synthesis matrix (below) to get organized

This work can be messy. Don't worry if you have to go through a few iterations of the worksheet or matrix as you work on your lit review!

Four Examples of Student Writing

In the four examples below, only ONE shows a good example of synthesis: the fourth column, or  Student D . For a web accessible version, click the link below the image.

Four Examples of Student Writing; Follow the "long description" infographic link for a web accessible description.

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  • Download a copy of the "Four Examples of Student Writing" chart

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Click on the example to view the pdf.

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From Jennifer Lim

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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.

Need a helping hand?

sample synthesis for related literature

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 .

sample synthesis for related literature

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.

sample synthesis for related literature

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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This post is an extract from our bestselling Udemy Course, Literature Review Bootcamp . If you want to work smart, you don't want to miss this .

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  • Write a Literature Review
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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

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

sample synthesis for related literature

How to Write a Literature Review - A Self-Guided Tutorial

  • Literature Reviews: A Recap
  • Reading Journal Articles
  • Does it describe a Literature Review?
  • 1. Identify the question
  • 2. Review discipline styles
  • Searching article databases - video
  • Finding the article full-text
  • Citation trails
  • When to stop searching
  • Citation Managers
  • 5. Critically analyze and evaluate
  • 6. Synthesize
  • 7. Write literature review
  • Additional Resources

You can meet with a librarian to talk about your literature review, or other library-related topics.

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You can sort the literature in various ways, for example:

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Synthesis Vizualization

Four examples of student writing.

In the four examples below, only ONE shows a good example of synthesis: the fourth column, or  Student D . For a web accessible version, click the link below the image.

Visualizing synthesis

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Synthesis Matrix Example

sample synthesis for related literature

From Jennifer Lim

Synthesis Templates

Synthesis grids are organizational tools used to record the main concepts of your sources and can help you make connections about how your sources relate to one another.

  • Source Template Basic Literature Review Source Template from Walden University Writing Center to help record the main findings and concepts from different articles.
  • Sample Literature Review Grids This spreadsheet contains multiple tabs with different grid templates. Download or create your own copy to begin recording notes.
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  • Next: 7. Write literature review >>
  • Last Updated: Mar 7, 2024 2:05 PM
  • URL: https://libguides.ucmerced.edu/literature-review

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Chapter 7: Synthesizing Sources

Learning objectives.

At the conclusion of this chapter, you will be able to:

  • synthesize key sources connecting them with the research question and topic area.

7.1 Overview of synthesizing

7.1.1 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 to create a whole view of the literature relevant to your research question.

sample synthesis for related 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 paper collected should be critically evaluated and weighed for “adequacy, appropriateness, and thoroughness” ( Garrard, 2017 ) before inclusion in your own review.  Papers that do not meet this criteria likely should not be included in your literature review.

Begin the synthesis process by creating a grid, table, or an outline where you will summarize, 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. 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 ).

Figure 7.2 shows an example of a simplified literature summary table. In this example, individual journal citations are listed in rows. Table column headings read: purpose, methods, and results.

As you read through the material you gather, look for common themes as they may provide the structure for your literature review.  And, remember, research is an iterative process: it is not unusual to go back and search information sources for more material.

At one extreme, if you are claiming, ‘There are no prior publications on this topic,’ it is more likely that you have not found them yet and may need to broaden your search.  At another extreme, writing a complete literature review can be difficult with a well-trod topic.  Do not cite it all; instead cite what is most relevant.  If that still leaves too much to include, be sure to reference influential sources…as well as high-quality work that clearly connects to the points you make. ( Klingner, Scanlon, & Pressley, 2005 ).

7.2 Creating a summary table

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 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 assertion.’

This short video demonstrates how a nursing researcher might create a summary table.

7.2.1 Creating a Summary Table

sample synthesis for related literature

  Summary tables can be organized by author or by theme, for example:

For a summary table template, see http://blogs.monm.edu/writingatmc/files/2013/04/Synthesis-Matrix-Template.pdf

7.3 Creating a summary outline

An alternate 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 identify the conclusions that can be drawn from the articles as a group.

  Based on your review of the collected articles, group them by categories.  You may wish to further organize them by topic and then chronologically or alphabetically by author.  For each topic or subtopic you identified during your critical analysis of the 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, differences in population demographics).  Determine what general conclusions you can report about the topic or subtopic as the entire group of studies relate to it.  For example, you may have several studies that agree on outcome, such as ‘hands on learning is best for science in elementary school’ or that ‘continuing education is the best method for updating nursing certification.’ In that case, you may want to organize by methodology used in the studies rather than by outcome.

Organize your outline in a logical order and prepare to write the first draft of your literature review.  That order might be from broad to more specific, or it may be sequential or chronological, going from foundational literature to more current.  Remember, “an effective literature review need not denote the entire historical record, but rather establish the raison d’etre for the current study and in doing so cite that literature distinctly pertinent for theoretical, methodological, or empirical reasons.” ( Milardo, 2015, p. 22 ).

As you organize the summarized documents into a logical structure, you are also appraising and synthesizing complex information from multiple sources.  Your literature review is the result of your research that synthesizes new and old information and creates new knowledge.

7.4 Additional resources:

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

Select three or four articles on a single topic of interest to you. Then enter them into an outline or table in the categories you feel are important to a research question. Try both the grid and the outline if you can to see which suits you better. The attached grid contains the fields suggested in the video .

Literature Review Table  

Test yourself.

  • Select two articles from your own summary table or outline and write a paragraph explaining how and why the sources relate to each other and your review of the literature.
  • In your literature review, under what topic or subtopic will you place the paragraph you just wrote?

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Literature Reviews for Education and Nursing Graduate Students Copyright © by Linda Frederiksen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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How to Synthesize Written Information from Multiple Sources

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On This Page:

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 Review How To

  • Things To Consider
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What is Synthesis

What is Synthesis? Synthesis writing is a form of analysis related to comparison and contrast, classification and division. On a basic level, synthesis requires the writer to pull together two or more summaries, looking for themes in each text. In synthesis, you search for the links between various materials in order to make your point. Most advanced academic writing, including literature reviews, relies heavily on synthesis. (Temple University Writing Center)  

How To Synthesize Sources in a Literature Review

Literature reviews synthesize large amounts of information and present it in a coherent, organized fashion. In a literature review you will be combining material from several texts to create a new text – your literature review.

You will use common points among the sources you have gathered to help you synthesize the material. This will help ensure that your literature review is organized by subtopic, not by source. This means various authors' names can appear and reappear throughout the literature review, and each paragraph will mention several different authors. 

When you shift from writing summaries of the content of a source to synthesizing content from sources, there is a number things you must keep in mind: 

  • Look for specific connections and or links between your sources and how those relate to your thesis or question.
  • When writing and organizing your literature review be aware that your readers need to understand how and why the information from the different sources overlap.
  • Organize your literature review by the themes you find within your sources or themes you have identified. 
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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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Literature Reviews

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In the synthesis step of a literature review, researchers analyze and integrate information from selected sources to identify patterns and themes. This involves critically evaluating findings, recognizing commonalities, and constructing a cohesive narrative that contributes to the understanding of the research topic.

Here are some examples of how to approach synthesizing the literature:

💡 By themes or concepts

🕘 Historically or chronologically

📊 By methodology

These organizational approaches can also be used when writing your review. It can be beneficial to begin organizing your references by these approaches in your citation manager by using folders, groups, or collections.

Create a synthesis matrix

A synthesis matrix allows you to visually organize your literature.

Topic: ______________________________________________

Topic: Chemical exposure to workers in nail salons

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Literature reviews: synthesis.

  • Criticality

Synthesise Information

So, how can you create paragraphs within your literature review that demonstrates your knowledge of the scholarship that has been done in your field of study?  

You will need to present a synthesis of the texts you read.  

Doug Specht, Senior Lecturer at the Westminster School of Media and Communication, explains synthesis for us in the following video:  

Synthesising Texts  

What is synthesis? 

Synthesis is an important element of academic writing, demonstrating comprehension, analysis, evaluation and original creation.  

With synthesis you extract content from different sources to create an original text. While paraphrase and summary maintain the structure of the given source(s), with synthesis you create a new structure.  

The sources will provide different perspectives and evidence on a topic. They will be put together when agreeing, contrasted when disagreeing. The sources must be referenced.  

Perfect your synthesis by showing the flow of your reasoning, expressing critical evaluation of the sources and drawing conclusions.  

When you synthesise think of "using strategic thinking to resolve a problem requiring the integration of diverse pieces of information around a structuring theme" (Mateos and Sole 2009, p448). 

Synthesis is a complex activity, which requires a high degree of comprehension and active engagement with the subject. As you progress in higher education, so increase the expectations on your abilities to synthesise. 

How to synthesise in a literature review: 

Identify themes/issues you'd like to discuss in the literature review. Think of an outline.  

Read the literature and identify these themes/issues.  

Critically analyse the texts asking: how does the text I'm reading relate to the other texts I've read on the same topic? Is it in agreement? Does it differ in its perspective? Is it stronger or weaker? How does it differ (could be scope, methods, year of publication etc.). Draw your conclusions on the state of the literature on the topic.  

Start writing your literature review, structuring it according to the outline you planned.  

Put together sources stating the same point; contrast sources presenting counter-arguments or different points.  

Present your critical analysis.  

Always provide the references. 

The best synthesis requires a "recursive process" whereby you read the source texts, identify relevant parts, take notes, produce drafts, re-read the source texts, revise your text, re-write... (Mateos and Sole, 2009). 

What is good synthesis?  

The quality of your synthesis can be assessed considering the following (Mateos and Sole, 2009, p439):  

Integration and connection of the information from the source texts around a structuring theme. 

Selection of ideas necessary for producing the synthesis. 

Appropriateness of the interpretation.  

Elaboration of the content.  

Example of Synthesis

Original texts (fictitious): 

  

Synthesis: 

Animal experimentation is a subject of heated debate. Some argue that painful experiments should be banned. Indeed it has been demonstrated that such experiments make animals suffer physically and psychologically (Chowdhury 2012; Panatta and Hudson 2016). On the other hand, it has been argued that animal experimentation can save human lives and reduce harm on humans (Smith 2008). This argument is only valid for toxicological testing, not for tests that, for example, merely improve the efficacy of a cosmetic (Turner 2015). It can be suggested that animal experimentation should be regulated to only allow toxicological risk assessment, and the suffering to the animals should be minimised.   

Bibliography

Mateos, M. and Sole, I. (2009). Synthesising Information from various texts: A Study of Procedures and Products at Different Educational Levels. European Journal of Psychology of Education,  24 (4), 435-451. Available from https://doi.org/10.1007/BF03178760 [Accessed 29 June 2021].

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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 to help you see how they relate to each other, and apply to each of your themes or variables.  By arranging your sources in a matrix 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.

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What Synthesis Methodology Should I Use? A Review and Analysis of Approaches to Research Synthesis

Kara schick-makaroff.

1 Faculty of Nursing, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada

Marjorie MacDonald

2 School of Nursing, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada

Marilyn Plummer

3 College of Nursing, Camosun College, Victoria, BC, Canada

Judy Burgess

4 Student Services, University Health Services, Victoria, BC, Canada

Wendy Neander

Associated data, additional file 1.

When we began this process, we were doctoral students and a faculty member in a research methods course. As students, we were facing a review of the literature for our dissertations. We encountered several different ways of conducting a review but were unable to locate any resources that synthesized all of the various synthesis methodologies. Our purpose is to present a comprehensive overview and assessment of the main approaches to research synthesis. We use ‘research synthesis’ as a broad overarching term to describe various approaches to combining, integrating, and synthesizing research findings.

We conducted an integrative review of the literature to explore the historical, contextual, and evolving nature of research synthesis. We searched five databases, reviewed websites of key organizations, hand-searched several journals, and examined relevant texts from the reference lists of the documents we had already obtained.

We identified four broad categories of research synthesis methodology including conventional, quantitative, qualitative, and emerging syntheses. Each of the broad categories was compared to the others on the following: key characteristics, purpose, method, product, context, underlying assumptions, unit of analysis, strengths and limitations, and when to use each approach.

Conclusions

The current state of research synthesis reflects significant advancements in emerging synthesis studies that integrate diverse data types and sources. New approaches to research synthesis provide a much broader range of review alternatives available to health and social science students and researchers.

1. Introduction

Since the turn of the century, public health emergencies have been identified worldwide, particularly related to infectious diseases. For example, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic in Canada in 2002-2003, the recent Ebola epidemic in Africa, and the ongoing HIV/AIDs pandemic are global health concerns. There have also been dramatic increases in the prevalence of chronic diseases around the world [1] – [3] . These epidemiological challenges have raised concerns about the ability of health systems worldwide to address these crises. As a result, public health systems reform has been initiated in a number of countries. In Canada, as in other countries, the role of evidence to support public health reform and improve population health has been given high priority. Yet, there continues to be a significant gap between the production of evidence through research and its application in practice [4] – [5] . One strategy to address this gap has been the development of new research synthesis methodologies to deal with the time-sensitive and wide ranging evidence needs of policy makers and practitioners in all areas of health care, including public health.

As doctoral nursing students facing a review of the literature for our dissertations, and as a faculty member teaching a research methods course, we encountered several ways of conducting a research synthesis but found no comprehensive resources that discussed, compared, and contrasted various synthesis methodologies on their purposes, processes, strengths and limitations. To complicate matters, writers use terms interchangeably or use different terms to mean the same thing, and the literature is often contradictory about various approaches. Some texts [6] , [7] – [9] did provide a preliminary understanding about how research synthesis had been taken up in nursing, but these did not meet our requirements. Thus, in this article we address the need for a comprehensive overview of research synthesis methodologies to guide public health, health care, and social science researchers and practitioners.

Research synthesis is relatively new in public health but has a long history in other fields dating back to the late 1800s. Research synthesis, a research process in its own right [10] , has become more prominent in the wake of the evidence-based movement of the 1990s. Research syntheses have found their advocates and detractors in all disciplines, with challenges to the processes of systematic review and meta-analysis, in particular, being raised by critics of evidence-based healthcare [11] – [13] .

Our purpose was to conduct an integrative review of the literature to explore the historical, contextual, and evolving nature of research synthesis [14] – [15] . We synthesize and critique the main approaches to research synthesis that are relevant for public health, health care, and social scientists. Research synthesis is the overarching term we use to describe approaches to combining, aggregating, integrating, and synthesizing primary research findings. Each synthesis methodology draws on different types of findings depending on the purpose and product of the chosen synthesis (see Additional File 1 ).

3. Method of Review

Based on our current knowledge of the literature, we identified these approaches to include in our review: systematic review, meta-analysis, qualitative meta-synthesis, meta-narrative synthesis, scoping review, rapid review, realist synthesis, concept analysis, literature review, and integrative review. Our first step was to divide the synthesis types among the research team. Each member did a preliminary search to identify key texts. The team then met to develop search terms and a framework to guide the review.

Over the period of 2008 to 2012 we extensively searched the literature, updating our search at several time points, not restricting our search by date. The dates of texts reviewed range from 1967 to 2015. We used the terms above combined with the term “method* (e.g., “realist synthesis” and “method*) in the database Health Source: Academic Edition (includes Medline and CINAHL). This search yielded very few texts on some methodologies and many on others. We realized that many documents on research synthesis had not been picked up in the search. Therefore, we also searched Google Scholar, PubMed, ERIC, and Social Science Index, as well as the websites of key organizations such as the Joanna Briggs Institute, the University of York Centre for Evidence-Based Nursing, and the Cochrane Collaboration database. We hand searched several nursing, social science, public health and health policy journals. Finally, we traced relevant documents from the references in obtained texts.

We included works that met the following inclusion criteria: (1) published in English; (2) discussed the history of research synthesis; (3) explicitly described the approach and specific methods; or (4) identified issues, challenges, strengths and limitations of the particular methodology. We excluded research reports that resulted from the use of particular synthesis methodologies unless they also included criteria 2, 3, or 4 above.

Based on our search, we identified additional types of research synthesis (e.g., meta-interpretation, best evidence synthesis, critical interpretive synthesis, meta-summary, grounded formal theory). Still, we missed some important developments in meta-analysis, for example, identified by the journal's reviewers that have now been discussed briefly in the paper. The final set of 197 texts included in our review comprised theoretical, empirical, and conceptual papers, books, editorials and commentaries, and policy documents.

In our preliminary review of key texts, the team inductively developed a framework of the important elements of each method for comparison. In the next phase, each text was read carefully, and data for these elements were extracted into a table for comparison on the points of: key characteristics, purpose, methods, and product; see Additional File 1 ). Once the data were grouped and extracted, we synthesized across categories based on the following additional points of comparison: complexity of the process, degree of systematization, consideration of context, underlying assumptions, unit of analysis, and when to use each approach. In our results, we discuss our comparison of the various synthesis approaches on the elements above. Drawing only on documents for the review, ethics approval was not required.

We identified four broad categories of research synthesis methodology: Conventional, quantitative, qualitative, and emerging syntheses. From our dataset of 197 texts, we had 14 texts on conventional synthesis, 64 on quantitative synthesis, 78 on qualitative synthesis, and 41 on emerging syntheses. Table 1 provides an overview of the four types of research synthesis, definitions, types of data used, products, and examples of the methodology.

Although we group these types of synthesis into four broad categories on the basis of similarities, each type within a category has unique characteristics, which may differ from the overall group similarities. Each could be explored in greater depth to tease out their unique characteristics, but detailed comparison is beyond the scope of this article.

Additional File 1 presents one or more selected types of synthesis that represent the broad category but is not an exhaustive presentation of all types within each category. It provides more depth for specific examples from each category of synthesis on the characteristics, purpose, methods, and products than is found in Table 1 .

4.1. Key Characteristics

4.1.1. what is it.

Here we draw on two types of categorization. First, we utilize Dixon Woods et al.'s [49] classification of research syntheses as being either integrative or interpretive . (Please note that integrative syntheses are not the same as an integrative review as defined in Additional File 1 .) Second, we use Popay's [80] enhancement and epistemological models .

The defining characteristics of integrative syntheses are that they involve summarizing the data achieved by pooling data [49] . Integrative syntheses include systematic reviews, meta-analyses, as well as scoping and rapid reviews because each of these focus on summarizing data. They also define concepts from the outset (although this may not always be true in scoping or rapid reviews) and deal with a well-specified phenomenon of interest.

Interpretive syntheses are primarily concerned with the development of concepts and theories that integrate concepts [49] . The analysis in interpretive synthesis is conceptual both in process and outcome, and “the product is not aggregations of data, but theory” [49] , [p.12]. Interpretive syntheses involve induction and interpretation, and are primarily conceptual in process and outcome. Examples include integrative reviews, some systematic reviews, all of the qualitative syntheses, meta-narrative, realist and critical interpretive syntheses. Of note, both quantitative and qualitative studies can be either integrative or interpretive

The second categorization, enhancement versus epistemological , applies to those approaches that use multiple data types and sources [80] . Popay's [80] classification reflects the ways that qualitative data are valued in relation to quantitative data.

In the enhancement model , qualitative data adds something to quantitative analysis. The enhancement model is reflected in systematic reviews and meta-analyses that use some qualitative data to enhance interpretation and explanation. It may also be reflected in some rapid reviews that draw on quantitative data but use some qualitative data.

The epistemological model assumes that quantitative and qualitative data are equal and each has something unique to contribute. All of the other review approaches, except pure quantitative or qualitative syntheses, reflect the epistemological model because they value all data types equally but see them as contributing different understandings.

4.1.2. Data type

By and large, the quantitative approaches (quantitative systematic review and meta-analysis) have typically used purely quantitative data (i.e., expressed in numeric form). More recently, both Cochrane [81] and Campbell [82] collaborations are grappling with the need to, and the process of, integrating qualitative research into a systematic review. The qualitative approaches use qualitative data (i.e., expressed in words). All of the emerging synthesis types, as well as the conventional integrative review, incorporate qualitative and quantitative study designs and data.

4.1.3. Research question

Four types of research questions direct inquiry across the different types of syntheses. The first is a well-developed research question that gives direction to the synthesis (e.g., meta-analysis, systematic review, meta-study, concept analysis, rapid review, realist synthesis). The second begins as a broad general question that evolves and becomes more refined over the course of the synthesis (e.g., meta-ethnography, scoping review, meta-narrative, critical interpretive synthesis). In the third type, the synthesis begins with a phenomenon of interest and the question emerges in the analytic process (e.g., grounded formal theory). Lastly, there is no clear question, but rather a general review purpose (e.g., integrative review). Thus, the requirement for a well-defined question cuts across at least three of the synthesis types (e.g., quantitative, qualitative, and emerging).

4.1.4. Quality appraisal

This is a contested issue within and between the four synthesis categories. There are strong proponents of quality appraisal in the quantitative traditions of systematic review and meta-analysis based on the need for strong studies that will not jeopardize validity of the overall findings. Nonetheless, there is no consensus on pre-defined criteria; many scales exist that vary dramatically in composition. This has methodological implications for the credibility of findings [83] .

Specific methodologies from the conventional, qualitative, and emerging categories support quality appraisal but do so with caveats. In conventional integrative reviews appraisal is recommended, but depends on the sampling frame used in the study [18] . In meta-study, appraisal criteria are explicit but quality criteria are used in different ways depending on the specific requirements of the inquiry [54] . Among the emerging syntheses, meta-narrative review developers support appraisal of a study based on criteria from the research tradition of the primary study [67] , [84] – [85] . Realist synthesis similarly supports the use of high quality evidence, but appraisal checklists are viewed with scepticism and evidence is judged based on relevance to the research question and whether a credible inference may be drawn [69] . Like realist, critical interpretive syntheses do not judge quality using standardized appraisal instruments. They will exclude fatally flawed studies, but there is no consensus on what ‘fatally flawed’ means [49] , [71] . Appraisal is based on relevance to the inquiry, not rigor of the study.

There is no agreement on quality appraisal among qualitative meta-ethnographers with some supporting and others refuting the need for appraisal. [60] , [62] . Opponents of quality appraisal are found among authors of qualitative (grounded formal theory and concept analysis) and emerging syntheses (scoping and rapid reviews) because quality is not deemed relevant to the intention of the synthesis; the studies being reviewed are not effectiveness studies where quality is extremely important. These qualitative synthesis are often reviews of theoretical developments where the concept itself is what is important, or reviews that provide quotations from the raw data so readers can make their own judgements about the relevance and utility of the data. For example, in formal grounded theory, the purpose of theory generation and authenticity of data used to generate the theory is not as important as the conceptual category. Inaccuracies may be corrected in other ways, such as using the constant comparative method, which facilitates development of theoretical concepts that are repeatedly found in the data [86] – [87] . For pragmatic reasons, evidence is not assessed in rapid and scoping reviews, in part to produce a timely product. The issue of quality appraisal is unresolved across the terrain of research synthesis and we consider this further in our discussion.

4.2. Purpose

All research syntheses share a common purpose -- to summarize, synthesize, or integrate research findings from diverse studies. This helps readers stay abreast of the burgeoning literature in a field. Our discussion here is at the level of the four categories of synthesis. Beginning with conventional literature syntheses, the overall purpose is to attend to mature topics for the purpose of re-conceptualization or to new topics requiring preliminary conceptualization [14] . Such syntheses may be helpful to consider contradictory evidence, map shifting trends in the study of a phenomenon, and describe the emergence of research in diverse fields [14] . The purpose here is to set the stage for a study by identifying what has been done, gaps in the literature, important research questions, or to develop a conceptual framework to guide data collection and analysis.

The purpose of quantitative systematic reviews is to combine, aggregate, or integrate empirical research to be able to generalize from a group of studies and determine the limits of generalization [27] . The focus of quantitative systematic reviews has been primarily on aggregating the results of studies evaluating the effectiveness of interventions using experimental, quasi-experimental, and more recently, observational designs. Systematic reviews can be done with or without quantitative meta-analysis but a meta-analysis always takes place within the context of a systematic review. Researchers must consider the review's purpose and the nature of their data in undertaking a quantitative synthesis; this will assist in determining the approach.

The purpose of qualitative syntheses is broadly to synthesize complex health experiences, practices, or concepts arising in healthcare environments. There may be various purposes depending on the qualitative methodology. For example, in hermeneutic studies the aim may be holistic explanation or understanding of a phenomenon [42] , which is deepened by integrating the findings from multiple studies. In grounded formal theory, the aim is to produce a conceptual framework or theory expected to be applicable beyond the original study. Although not able to generalize from qualitative research in the statistical sense [88] , qualitative researchers usually do want to say something about the applicability of their synthesis to other settings or phenomena. This notion of ‘theoretical generalization’ has been referred to as ‘transferability’ [89] – [90] and is an important criterion of rigour in qualitative research. It applies equally to the products of a qualitative synthesis in which the synthesis of multiple studies on the same phenomenon strengthens the ability to draw transferable conclusions.

The overarching purpose of emerging syntheses is challenging the more traditional types of syntheses, in part by using data from both quantitative and qualitative studies with diverse designs for analysis. Beyond this, however, each emerging synthesis methodology has a unique purpose. In meta-narrative review, the purpose is to identify different research traditions in the area, synthesize a complex and diverse body of research. Critical interpretive synthesis shares this characteristic. Although a distinctive approach, critical interpretive synthesis utilizes a modification of the analytic strategies of meta-ethnography [61] (e.g., reciprocal translational analysis, refutational synthesis, and lines of argument synthesis) but goes beyond the use of these to bring a critical perspective to bear in challenging the normative or epistemological assumptions in the primary literature [72] – [73] . The unique purpose of a realist synthesis is to amalgamate complex empirical evidence and theoretical understandings within a diverse body of literature to uncover the operative mechanisms and contexts that affect the outcomes of social interventions. In a scoping review, the intention is to find key concepts, examine the range of research in an area, and identify gaps in the literature. The purpose of a rapid review is comparable to that of a scoping review, but done quickly to meet the time-sensitive information needs of policy makers.

4.3. Method

4.3.1. degree of systematization.

There are varying degrees of systematization across the categories of research synthesis. The most systematized are quantitative systematic reviews and meta-analyses. There are clear processes in each with judgments to be made at each step, although there are no agreed upon guidelines for this. The process is inherently subjective despite attempts to develop objective and systematic processes [91] – [92] . Mullen and Ramirez [27] suggest that there is often a false sense of rigour implied by the terms ‘systematic review’ and ‘meta-analysis’ because of their clearly defined procedures.

In comparison with some types of qualitative synthesis, concept analysis is quite procedural. Qualitative meta-synthesis also has defined procedures and is systematic, yet perhaps less so than concept analysis. Qualitative meta-synthesis starts in an unsystematic way but becomes more systematic as it unfolds. Procedures and frameworks exist for some of the emerging types of synthesis [e.g., [50] , [63] , [71] , [93] ] but are not linear, have considerable flexibility, and are often messy with emergent processes [85] . Conventional literature reviews tend not to be as systematic as the other three types. In fact, the lack of systematization in conventional literature synthesis was the reason for the development of more systematic quantitative [17] , [20] and qualitative [45] – [46] , [61] approaches. Some authors in the field [18] have clarified processes for integrative reviews making them more systematic and rigorous, but most conventional syntheses remain relatively unsystematic in comparison with other types.

4.3.2. Complexity of the process

Some synthesis processes are considerably more complex than others. Methodologies with clearly defined steps are arguably less complex than the more flexible and emergent ones. We know that any study encounters challenges and it is rare that a pre-determined research protocol can be followed exactly as intended. Not even the rigorous methods associated with Cochrane [81] systematic reviews and meta-analyses are always implemented exactly as intended. Even when dealing with numbers rather than words, interpretation is always part of the process. Our collective experience suggests that new methodologies (e.g., meta-narrative synthesis and realist synthesis) that integrate different data types and methods are more complex than conventional reviews or the rapid and scoping reviews.

4.4. Product

The products of research syntheses usually take three distinct formats (see Table 1 and Additional File 1 for further details). The first representation is in tables, charts, graphical displays, diagrams and maps as seen in integrative, scoping and rapid reviews, meta-analyses, and critical interpretive syntheses. The second type of synthesis product is the use of mathematical scores. Summary statements of effectiveness are mathematically displayed in meta-analyses (as an effect size), systematic reviews, and rapid reviews (statistical significance).

The third synthesis product may be a theory or theoretical framework. A mid-range theory can be produced from formal grounded theory, meta-study, meta-ethnography, and realist synthesis. Theoretical/conceptual frameworks or conceptual maps may be created in meta-narrative and critical interpretive syntheses, and integrative reviews. Concepts for use within theories are produced in concept analysis. While these three product types span the categories of research synthesis, narrative description and summary is used to present the products resulting from all methodologies.

4.5. Consideration of context

There are diverse ways that context is considered in the four broad categories of synthesis. Context may be considered to the extent that it features within primary studies for the purpose of the review. Context may also be understood as an integral aspect of both the phenomenon under study and the synthesis methodology (e.g., realist synthesis). Quantitative systematic reviews and meta-analyses have typically been conducted on studies using experimental and quasi-experimental designs and more recently observational studies, which control for contextual features to allow for understanding of the ‘true’ effect of the intervention [94] .

More recently, systematic reviews have included covariates or mediating variables (i.e., contextual factors) to help explain variability in the results across studies [27] . Context, however, is usually handled in the narrative discussion of findings rather than in the synthesis itself. This lack of attention to context has been one criticism leveled against systematic reviews and meta-analyses, which restrict the types of research designs that are considered [e.g., [95] ].

When conventional literature reviews incorporate studies that deal with context, there is a place for considering contextual influences on the intervention or phenomenon. Reviews of quantitative experimental studies tend to be devoid of contextual considerations since the original studies are similarly devoid, but context might figure prominently in a literature review that incorporates both quantitative and qualitative studies.

Qualitative syntheses have been conducted on the contextual features of a particular phenomenon [33] . Paterson et al. [54] advise researchers to attend to how context may have influenced the findings of particular primary studies. In qualitative analysis, contextual features may form categories by which the data can be compared and contrasted to facilitate interpretation. Because qualitative research is often conducted to understand a phenomenon as a whole, context may be a focus, although this varies with the qualitative methodology. At the same time, the findings in a qualitative synthesis are abstracted from the original reports and taken to a higher level of conceptualization, thus removing them from the original context.

Meta-narrative synthesis [67] , [84] , because it draws on diverse research traditions and methodologies, may incorporate context into the analysis and findings. There is not, however, an explicit step in the process that directs the analyst to consider context. Generally, the research question guiding the synthesis is an important factor in whether context will be a focus.

More recent iterations of concept analysis [47] , [96] – [97] explicitly consider context reflecting the assumption that a concept's meaning is determined by its context. Morse [47] points out, however, that Wilson's [98] approach to concept analysis, and those based on Wilson [e.g., [45] ], identify attributes that are devoid of context, while Rodgers' [96] , [99] evolutionary method considers context (e.g., antecedents, consequences, and relationships to other concepts) in concept development.

Realist synthesis [69] considers context as integral to the study. It draws on a critical realist logic of inquiry grounded in the work of Bhaskar [100] , who argues that empirical co-occurrence of events is insufficient for inferring causation. One must identify generative mechanisms whose properties are causal and, depending on the situation, may nor may not be activated [94] . Context interacts with program/intervention elements and thus cannot be differentiated from the phenomenon [69] . This approach synthesizes evidence on generative mechanisms and analyzes contextual features that activate them; the result feeds back into the context. The focus is on what works, for whom, under what conditions, why and how [68] .

4.6. Underlying Philosophical and Theoretical Assumptions

When we began our review, we ‘assumed’ that the assumptions underlying synthesis methodologies would be a distinguishing characteristic of synthesis types, and that we could compare the various types on their assumptions, explicit or implicit. We found, however, that many authors did not explicate the underlying assumptions of their methodologies, and it was difficult to infer them. Kirkevold [101] has argued that integrative reviews need to be carried out from an explicit philosophical or theoretical perspective. We argue this should be true for all types of synthesis.

Authors of some emerging synthesis approaches have been very explicit about their assumptions and philosophical underpinnings. An implicit assumption of most emerging synthesis methodologies is that quantitative systematic reviews and meta-analyses have limited utility in some fields [e.g., in public health – [13] , [102] ] and for some kinds of review questions like those about feasibility and appropriateness versus effectiveness [103] – [104] . They also assume that ontologically and epistemologically, both kinds of data can be combined. This is a significant debate in the literature because it is about the commensurability of overarching paradigms [105] but this is beyond the scope of this review.

Realist synthesis is philosophically grounded in critical realism or, as noted above, a realist logic of inquiry [93] , [99] , [106] – [107] . Key assumptions regarding the nature of interventions that inform critical realism have been described above in the section on context. See Pawson et al. [106] for more information on critical realism, the philosophical basis of realist synthesis.

Meta-narrative synthesis is explicitly rooted in a constructivist philosophy of science [108] in which knowledge is socially constructed rather than discovered, and what we take to be ‘truth’ is a matter of perspective. Reality has a pluralistic and plastic character, and there is no pre-existing ‘real world’ independent of human construction and language [109] . See Greenhalgh et al. [67] , [85] and Greenhalgh & Wong [97] for more discussion of the constructivist basis of meta-narrative synthesis.

In the case of purely quantitative or qualitative syntheses, it may be an easier matter to uncover unstated assumptions because they are likely to be shared with those of the primary studies in the genre. For example, grounded formal theory shares the philosophical and theoretical underpinnings of grounded theory, rooted in the theoretical perspective of symbolic interactionism [110] – [111] and the philosophy of pragmatism [87] , [112] – [114] .

As with meta-narrative synthesis, meta-study developers identify constructivism as their interpretive philosophical foundation [54] , [88] . Epistemologically, constructivism focuses on how people construct and re-construct knowledge about a specific phenomenon, and has three main assumptions: (1) reality is seen as multiple, at times even incompatible with the phenomenon under consideration; (2) just as primary researchers construct interpretations from participants' data, meta-study researchers also construct understandings about the primary researchers' original findings. Thus, meta-synthesis is a construction of a construction, or a meta-construction; and (3) all constructions are shaped by the historical, social and ideological context in which they originated [54] . The key message here is that reports of any synthesis would benefit from an explicit identification of the underlying philosophical perspectives to facilitate a better understanding of the results, how they were derived, and how they are being interpreted.

4.7. Unit of Analysis

The unit of analysis for each category of review is generally distinct. For the emerging synthesis approaches, the unit of analysis is specific to the intention. In meta-narrative synthesis it is the storyline in diverse research traditions; in rapid review or scoping review, it depends on the focus but could be a concept; and in realist synthesis, it is the theories rather than programs that are the units of analysis. The elements of theory that are important in the analysis are mechanisms of action, the context, and the outcome [107] .

For qualitative synthesis, the units of analysis are generally themes, concepts or theories, although in meta-study, the units of analysis can be research findings (“meta-data-analysis”), research methods (“meta-method”) or philosophical/theoretical perspectives (“meta-theory”) [54] . In quantitative synthesis, the units of analysis range from specific statistics for systematic reviews to effect size of the intervention for meta-analysis. More recently, some systematic reviews focus on theories [115] – [116] , therefore it depends on the research question. Similarly, within conventional literature synthesis the units of analysis also depend on the research purpose, focus and question as well as on the type of research methods incorporated into the review. What is important in all research syntheses, however, is that the unit of analysis needs to be made explicit. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

4.8. Strengths and Limitations

In this section, we discuss the overarching strengths and limitations of synthesis methodologies as a whole and then highlight strengths and weaknesses across each of our four categories of synthesis.

4.8.1. Strengths of Research Syntheses in General

With the vast proliferation of research reports and the increased ease of retrieval, research synthesis has become more accessible providing a way of looking broadly at the current state of research. The availability of syntheses helps researchers, practitioners, and policy makers keep up with the burgeoning literature in their fields without which evidence-informed policy or practice would be difficult. Syntheses explain variation and difference in the data helping us identify the relevance for our own situations; they identify gaps in the literature leading to new research questions and study designs. They help us to know when to replicate a study and when to avoid excessively duplicating research. Syntheses can inform policy and practice in a way that well-designed single studies cannot; they provide building blocks for theory that helps us to understand and explain our phenomena of interest.

4.8.2. Limitations of Research Syntheses in General

The process of selecting, combining, integrating, and synthesizing across diverse study designs and data types can be complex and potentially rife with bias, even with those methodologies that have clearly defined steps. Just because a rigorous and standardized approach has been used does not mean that implicit judgements will not influence the interpretations and choices made at different stages.

In all types of synthesis, the quantity of data can be considerable, requiring difficult decisions about scope, which may affect relevance. The quantity of available data also has implications for the size of the research team. Few reviews these days can be done independently, in particular because decisions about inclusion and exclusion may require the involvement of more than one person to ensure reliability.

For all types of synthesis, it is likely that in areas with large, amorphous, and diverse bodies of literature, even the most sophisticated search strategies will not turn up all the relevant and important texts. This may be more important in some synthesis methodologies than in others, but the omission of key documents can influence the results of all syntheses. This issue can be addressed, at least in part, by including a library scientist on the research team as required by some funding agencies. Even then, it is possible to miss key texts. In this review, for example, because none of us are trained in or conduct meta-analyses, we were not even aware that we had missed some new developments in this field such as meta-regression [117] – [118] , network meta-analysis [119] – [121] , and the use of individual patient data in meta-analyses [122] – [123] .

One limitation of systematic reviews and meta-analyses is that they rapidly go out of date. We thought this might be true for all types of synthesis, although we wondered if those that produce theory might not be somewhat more enduring. We have not answered this question but it is open for debate. For all types of synthesis, the analytic skills and the time required are considerable so it is clear that training is important before embarking on a review, and some types of review may not be appropriate for students or busy practitioners.

Finally, the quality of reporting in primary studies of all genres is variable so it is sometimes difficult to identify aspects of the study essential for the synthesis, or to determine whether the study meets quality criteria. There may be flaws in the original study, or journal page limitations may necessitate omitting important details. Reporting standards have been developed for some types of reviews (e.g., systematic review, meta-analysis, meta-narrative synthesis, realist synthesis); but there are no agreed upon standards for qualitative reviews. This is an important area for development in advancing the science of research synthesis.

4.8.3. Strengths and Limitations of the Four Synthesis Types

The conventional literature review and now the increasingly common integrative review remain important and accessible approaches for students, practitioners, and experienced researchers who want to summarize literature in an area but do not have the expertise to use one of the more complex methodologies. Carefully executed, such reviews are very useful for synthesizing literature in preparation for research grants and practice projects. They can determine the state of knowledge in an area and identify important gaps in the literature to provide a clear rationale or theoretical framework for a study [14] , [18] . There is a demand, however, for more rigour, with more attention to developing comprehensive search strategies and more systematic approaches to combining, integrating, and synthesizing the findings.

Generally, conventional reviews include diverse study designs and data types that facilitate comprehensiveness, which may be a strength on the one hand, but can also present challenges on the other. The complexity inherent in combining results from studies with diverse methodologies can result in bias and inaccuracies. The absence of clear guidelines about how to synthesize across diverse study types and data [18] has been a challenge for novice reviewers.

Quantitative systematic reviews and meta-analyses have been important in launching the field of evidence-based healthcare. They provide a systematic, orderly and auditable process for conducting a review and drawing conclusions [25] . They are arguably the most powerful approaches to understanding the effectiveness of healthcare interventions, especially when intervention studies on the same topic show very different results. When areas of research are dogged by controversy [25] or when study results go against strongly held beliefs, such approaches can reduce the uncertainty and bring strong evidence to bear on the controversy.

Despite their strengths, they also have limitations. Systematic reviews and meta-analyses do not provide a way of including complex literature comprising various types of evidence including qualitative studies, theoretical work, and epidemiological studies. Only certain types of design are considered and qualitative data are used in a limited way. This exclusion limits what can be learned in a topic area.

Meta-analyses are often not possible because of wide variability in study design, population, and interventions so they may have a narrow range of utility. New developments in meta-analysis, however, can be used to address some of these limitations. Network meta-analysis is used to explore relative efficacy of multiple interventions, even those that have never been compared in more conventional pairwise meta-analyses [121] , allowing for improved clinical decision making [120] . The limitation is that network meta-analysis has only been used in medical/clinical applications [119] and not in public health. It has not yet been widely accepted and many methodological challenges remain [120] – [121] . Meta-regression is another development that combines meta-analytic and linear regression principles to address the fact that heterogeneity of results may compromise a meta-analysis [117] – [118] . The disadvantage is that many clinicians are unfamiliar with it and may incorrectly interpret results [117] .

Some have accused meta-analysis of combining apples and oranges [124] raising questions in the field about their meaningfulness [25] , [28] . More recently, the use of individual rather than aggregate data has been useful in facilitating greater comparability among studies [122] . In fact, Tomas et al. [123] argue that meta-analysis using individual data is now the gold standard although access to the raw data from other studies may be a challenge to obtain.

The usefulness of systematic reviews in synthesizing complex health and social interventions has also been challenged [102] . It is often difficult to synthesize their findings because such studies are “epistemologically diverse and methodologically complex” [ [69] , p.21]. Rigid inclusion/exclusion criteria may allow only experimental or quasi-experimental designs into consideration resulting in lost information that may well be useful to policy makers for tailoring an intervention to the context or understanding its acceptance by recipients.

Qualitative syntheses may be the type of review most fraught with controversy and challenge, while also bringing distinct strengths to the enterprise. Although these methodologies provide a comprehensive and systematic review approach, they do not generally provide definitive statements about intervention effectiveness. They do, however, address important questions about the development of theoretical concepts, patient experiences, acceptability of interventions, and an understanding about why interventions might work.

Most qualitative syntheses aim to produce a theoretically generalizable mid-range theory that explains variation across studies. This makes them more useful than single primary studies, which may not be applicable beyond the immediate setting or population. All provide a contextual richness that enhances relevance and understanding. Another benefit of some types of qualitative synthesis (e.g., grounded formal theory) is that the concept of saturation provides a sound rationale for limiting the number of texts to be included thus making reviews potentially more manageable. This contrasts with the requirements of systematic reviews and meta-analyses that require an exhaustive search.

Qualitative researchers debate about whether the findings of ontologically and epistemological diverse qualitative studies can actually be combined or synthesized [125] because methodological diversity raises many challenges for synthesizing findings. The products of different types of qualitative syntheses range from theory and conceptual frameworks, to themes and rich descriptive narratives. Can one combine the findings from a phenomenological study with the theory produced in a grounded theory study? Many argue yes, but many also argue no.

Emerging synthesis methodologies were developed to address some limitations inherent in other types of synthesis but also have their own issues. Because each type is so unique, it is difficult to identify overarching strengths of the entire category. An important strength, however, is that these newer forms of synthesis provide a systematic and rigorous approach to synthesizing a diverse literature base in a topic area that includes a range of data types such as: both quantitative and qualitative studies, theoretical work, case studies, evaluations, epidemiological studies, trials, and policy documents. More than conventional literature reviews and systematic reviews, these approaches provide explicit guidance on analytic methods for integrating different types of data. The assumption is that all forms of data have something to contribute to knowledge and theory in a topic area. All have a defined but flexible process in recognition that the methods may need to shift as knowledge develops through the process.

Many emerging synthesis types are helpful to policy makers and practitioners because they are usually involved as team members in the process to define the research questions, and interpret and disseminate the findings. In fact, engagement of stakeholders is built into the procedures of the methods. This is true for rapid reviews, meta-narrative syntheses, and realist syntheses. It is less likely to be the case for critical interpretive syntheses.

Another strength of some approaches (realist and meta-narrative syntheses) is that quality and publication standards have been developed to guide researchers, reviewers, and funders in judging the quality of the products [108] , [126] – [127] . Training materials and online communities of practice have also been developed to guide users of realist and meta-narrative review methods [107] , [128] . A unique strength of critical interpretive synthesis is that it takes a critical perspective on the process that may help reconceptualize the data in a way not considered by the primary researchers [72] .

There are also challenges of these new approaches. The methods are new and there may be few published applications by researchers other than the developers of the methods, so new users often struggle with the application. The newness of the approaches means that there may not be mentors available to guide those unfamiliar with the methods. This is changing, however, and the number of applications in the literature is growing with publications by new users helping to develop the science of synthesis [e.g., [129] ]. However, the evolving nature of the approaches and their developmental stage present challenges for novice researchers.

4.9. When to Use Each Approach

Choosing an appropriate approach to synthesis will depend on the question you are asking, the purpose of the review, and the outcome or product you want to achieve. In Additional File 1 , we discuss each of these to provide guidance to readers on making a choice about review type. If researchers want to know whether a particular type of intervention is effective in achieving its intended outcomes, then they might choose a quantitative systemic review with or without meta-analysis, possibly buttressed with qualitative studies to provide depth and explanation of the results. Alternately, if the concern is about whether an intervention is effective with different populations under diverse conditions in varying contexts, then a realist synthesis might be the most appropriate.

If researchers' concern is to develop theory, they might consider qualitative syntheses or some of the emerging syntheses that produce theory (e.g., critical interpretive synthesis, realist review, grounded formal theory, qualitative meta-synthesis). If the aim is to track the development and evolution of concepts, theories or ideas, or to determine how an issue or question is addressed across diverse research traditions, then meta-narrative synthesis would be most appropriate.

When the purpose is to review the literature in advance of undertaking a new project, particularly by graduate students, then perhaps an integrative review would be appropriate. Such efforts contribute towards the expansion of theory, identify gaps in the research, establish the rationale for studying particular phenomena, and provide a framework for interpreting results in ways that might be useful for influencing policy and practice.

For researchers keen to bring new insights, interpretations, and critical re-conceptualizations to a body of research, then qualitative or critical interpretive syntheses will provide an inductive product that may offer new understandings or challenges to the status quo. These can inform future theory development, or provide guidance for policy and practice.

5. Discussion

What is the current state of science regarding research synthesis? Public health, health care, and social science researchers or clinicians have previously used all four categories of research synthesis, and all offer a suitable array of approaches for inquiries. New developments in systematic reviews and meta-analysis are providing ways of addressing methodological challenges [117] – [123] . There has also been significant advancement in emerging synthesis methodologies and they are quickly gaining popularity. Qualitative meta-synthesis is still evolving, particularly given how new it is within the terrain of research synthesis. In the midst of this evolution, outstanding issues persist such as grappling with: the quantity of data, quality appraisal, and integration with knowledge translation. These topics have not been thoroughly addressed and need further debate.

5.1. Quantity of Data

We raise the question of whether it is possible or desirable to find all available studies for a synthesis that has this requirement (e.g., meta-analysis, systematic review, scoping, meta-narrative synthesis [25] , [27] , [63] , [67] , [84] – [85] ). Is the synthesis of all available studies a realistic goal in light of the burgeoning literature? And how can this be sustained in the future, particularly as the emerging methodologies continue to develop and as the internet facilitates endless access? There has been surprisingly little discussion on this topic and the answers will have far-reaching implications for searching, sampling, and team formation.

Researchers and graduate students can no longer rely on their own independent literature search. They will likely need to ask librarians for assistance as they navigate multiple sources of literature and learn new search strategies. Although teams now collaborate with library scientists, syntheses are limited in that researchers must make decisions on the boundaries of the review, in turn influencing the study's significance. The size of a team may also be pragmatically determined to manage the search, extraction, and synthesis of the burgeoning data. There is no single answer to our question about the possibility or necessity of finding all available articles for a review. Multiple strategies that are situation specific are likely to be needed.

5.2. Quality Appraisal

While the issue of quality appraisal has received much attention in the synthesis literature, scholars are far from resolution. There may be no agreement about appraisal criteria in a given tradition. For example, the debate rages over the appropriateness of quality appraisal in qualitative synthesis where there are over 100 different sets of criteria and many do not overlap [49] . These differences may reflect disciplinary and methodological orientations, but diverse quality appraisal criteria may privilege particular types of research [49] . The decision to appraise is often grounded in ontological and epistemological assumptions. Nonetheless, diversity within and between categories of synthesis is likely to continue unless debate on the topic of quality appraisal continues and evolves toward consensus.

5.3. Integration with Knowledge Translation

If research syntheses are to make a difference to practice and ultimately to improve health outcomes, then we need to do a better job of knowledge translation. In the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) definition of knowledge translation (KT), research or knowledge synthesis is an integral component [130] . Yet, with few exceptions [131] – [132] , very little of the research synthesis literature even mentions the relationship of synthesis to KT nor does it discuss strategies to facilitate the integration of synthesis findings into policy and practice. The exception is in the emerging synthesis methodologies, some of which (e.g., realist and meta-narrative syntheses, scoping reviews) explicitly involve stakeholders or knowledge users. The argument is that engaging them in this way increases the likelihood that the knowledge generated will be translated into policy and practice. We suggest that a more explicit engagement with knowledge users in all types of synthesis would benefit the uptake of the research findings.

Research synthesis neither makes research more applicable to practice nor ensures implementation. Focus must now turn seriously towards translation of synthesis findings into knowledge products that are useful for health care practitioners in multiple areas of practice and develop appropriate strategies to facilitate their use. The burgeoning field of knowledge translation has, to some extent, taken up this challenge; however, the research-practice gap continues to plague us [133] – [134] . It is a particular problem for qualitative syntheses [131] . Although such syntheses have an important place in evidence-informed practice, little effort has gone into the challenge of translating the findings into useful products to guide practice [131] .

5.4. Limitations

Our study took longer than would normally be expected for an integrative review. Each of us were primarily involved in our own dissertations or teaching/research positions, and so this study was conducted ‘off the sides of our desks.’ A limitation was that we searched the literature over the course of 4 years (from 2008–2012), necessitating multiple search updates. Further, we did not do a comprehensive search of the literature after 2012, thus the more recent synthesis literature was not systematically explored. We did, however, perform limited database searches from 2012–2015 to keep abreast of the latest methodological developments. Although we missed some new approaches to meta-analysis in our search, we did not find any new features of the synthesis methodologies covered in our review that would change the analysis or findings of this article. Lastly, we struggled with the labels used for the broad categories of research synthesis methodology because of our hesitancy to reinforce the divide between quantitative and qualitative approaches. However, it was very difficult to find alternative language that represented the types of data used in these methodologies. Despite our hesitancy in creating such an obvious divide, we were left with the challenge of trying to find a way of characterizing these broad types of syntheses.

6. Conclusion

Our findings offer methodological clarity for those wishing to learn about the broad terrain of research synthesis. We believe that our review makes transparent the issues and considerations in choosing from among the four broad categories of research synthesis. In summary, research synthesis has taken its place as a form of research in its own right. The methodological terrain has deep historical roots reaching back over the past 200 years, yet research synthesis remains relatively new to public health, health care, and social sciences in general. This is rapidly changing. New developments in systematic reviews and meta-analysis, and the emergence of new synthesis methodologies provide a vast array of options to review the literature for diverse purposes. New approaches to research synthesis and new analytic methods within existing approaches provide a much broader range of review alternatives for public health, health care, and social science students and researchers.

Acknowledgments

KSM is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Alberta. Her work on this article was largely conducted as a Postdoctoral Fellow, funded by KRESCENT (Kidney Research Scientist Core Education and National Training Program, reference #KRES110011R1) and the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Alberta.

MM's work on this study over the period of 2008-2014 was supported by a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Applied Public Health Research Chair Award (grant #92365).

We thank Rachel Spanier who provided support with reference formatting.

List of Abbreviations (in Additional File 1 )

Conflict of interest: The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest in this article.

Authors' contributions: KSM co-designed the study, collected data, analyzed the data, drafted/revised the manuscript, and managed the project.

MP contributed to searching the literature, developing the analytic framework, and extracting data for the Additional File.

JB contributed to searching the literature, developing the analytic framework, and extracting data for the Additional File.

WN contributed to searching the literature, developing the analytic framework, and extracting data for the Additional File.

All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Additional Files: Additional File 1 – Selected Types of Research Synthesis

This Additional File is our dataset created to organize, analyze and critique the literature that we synthesized in our integrative review. Our results were created based on analysis of this Additional File.

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  • How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates

How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates

Published on January 2, 2023 by Shona McCombes . Revised on September 11, 2023.

What is a literature review? A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources on a specific topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research that you can later apply to your paper, thesis, or dissertation topic .

There are five key steps to writing a literature review:

  • Search for relevant literature
  • Evaluate sources
  • Identify themes, debates, and gaps
  • Outline the structure
  • Write your literature review

A good literature review doesn’t just summarize sources—it analyzes, synthesizes , and critically evaluates to give a clear picture of the state of knowledge on the subject.

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Table of contents

What is the purpose of a literature review, examples of literature reviews, step 1 – search for relevant literature, step 2 – evaluate and select sources, step 3 – identify themes, debates, and gaps, step 4 – outline your literature review’s structure, step 5 – write your literature review, free lecture slides, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions, introduction.

  • Quick Run-through
  • Step 1 & 2

When you write a thesis , dissertation , or research paper , you will likely have to conduct a literature review to situate your research within existing knowledge. The literature review gives you a chance to:

  • Demonstrate your familiarity with the topic and its scholarly context
  • Develop a theoretical framework and methodology for your research
  • Position your work in relation to other researchers and theorists
  • Show how your research addresses a gap or contributes to a debate
  • Evaluate the current state of research and demonstrate your knowledge of the scholarly debates around your topic.

Writing literature reviews is a particularly important skill if you want to apply for graduate school or pursue a career in research. We’ve written a step-by-step guide that you can follow below.

Literature review guide

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Writing literature reviews can be quite challenging! A good starting point could be to look at some examples, depending on what kind of literature review you’d like to write.

  • Example literature review #1: “Why Do People Migrate? A Review of the Theoretical Literature” ( Theoretical literature review about the development of economic migration theory from the 1950s to today.)
  • Example literature review #2: “Literature review as a research methodology: An overview and guidelines” ( Methodological literature review about interdisciplinary knowledge acquisition and production.)
  • Example literature review #3: “The Use of Technology in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Thematic literature review about the effects of technology on language acquisition.)
  • Example literature review #4: “Learners’ Listening Comprehension Difficulties in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Chronological literature review about how the concept of listening skills has changed over time.)

You can also check out our templates with literature review examples and sample outlines at the links below.

Download Word doc Download Google doc

Before you begin searching for literature, you need a clearly defined topic .

If you are writing the literature review section of a dissertation or research paper, you will search for literature related to your research problem and questions .

Make a list of keywords

Start by creating a list of keywords related to your research question. Include each of the key concepts or variables you’re interested in, and list any synonyms and related terms. You can add to this list as you discover new keywords in the process of your literature search.

  • Social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok
  • Body image, self-perception, self-esteem, mental health
  • Generation Z, teenagers, adolescents, youth

Search for relevant sources

Use your keywords to begin searching for sources. Some useful databases to search for journals and articles include:

  • Your university’s library catalogue
  • Google Scholar
  • Project Muse (humanities and social sciences)
  • Medline (life sciences and biomedicine)
  • EconLit (economics)
  • Inspec (physics, engineering and computer science)

You can also use boolean operators to help narrow down your search.

Make sure to read the abstract to find out whether an article is relevant to your question. When you find a useful book or article, you can check the bibliography to find other relevant sources.

You likely won’t be able to read absolutely everything that has been written on your topic, so it will be necessary to evaluate which sources are most relevant to your research question.

For each publication, ask yourself:

  • What question or problem is the author addressing?
  • What are the key concepts and how are they defined?
  • What are the key theories, models, and methods?
  • Does the research use established frameworks or take an innovative approach?
  • What are the results and conclusions of the study?
  • How does the publication relate to other literature in the field? Does it confirm, add to, or challenge established knowledge?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the research?

Make sure the sources you use are credible , and make sure you read any landmark studies and major theories in your field of research.

You can use our template to summarize and evaluate sources you’re thinking about using. Click on either button below to download.

Take notes and cite your sources

As you read, you should also begin the writing process. Take notes that you can later incorporate into the text of your literature review.

It is important to keep track of your sources with citations to avoid plagiarism . It can be helpful to make an annotated bibliography , where you compile full citation information and write a paragraph of summary and analysis for each source. This helps you remember what you read and saves time later in the process.

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sample synthesis for related literature

To begin organizing your literature review’s argument and structure, be sure you understand the connections and relationships between the sources you’ve read. Based on your reading and notes, you can look for:

  • Trends and patterns (in theory, method or results): do certain approaches become more or less popular over time?
  • Themes: what questions or concepts recur across the literature?
  • Debates, conflicts and contradictions: where do sources disagree?
  • Pivotal publications: are there any influential theories or studies that changed the direction of the field?
  • Gaps: what is missing from the literature? Are there weaknesses that need to be addressed?

This step will help you work out the structure of your literature review and (if applicable) show how your own research will contribute to existing knowledge.

  • Most research has focused on young women.
  • There is an increasing interest in the visual aspects of social media.
  • But there is still a lack of robust research on highly visual platforms like Instagram and Snapchat—this is a gap that you could address in your own research.

There are various approaches to organizing the body of a literature review. Depending on the length of your literature review, you can combine several of these strategies (for example, your overall structure might be thematic, but each theme is discussed chronologically).

Chronological

The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time. However, if you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order.

Try to analyze patterns, turning points and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred.

If you have found some recurring central themes, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic.

For example, if you are reviewing literature about inequalities in migrant health outcomes, key themes might include healthcare policy, language barriers, cultural attitudes, legal status, and economic access.

Methodological

If you draw your sources from different disciplines or fields that use a variety of research methods , you might want to compare the results and conclusions that emerge from different approaches. For example:

  • Look at what results have emerged in qualitative versus quantitative research
  • Discuss how the topic has been approached by empirical versus theoretical scholarship
  • Divide the literature into sociological, historical, and cultural sources

Theoretical

A literature review is often the foundation for a theoretical framework . You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts.

You might argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach, or combine various theoretical concepts to create a framework for your research.

Like any other academic text , your literature review should have an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion . What you include in each depends on the objective of your literature review.

The introduction should clearly establish the focus and purpose of the literature review.

Depending on the length of your literature review, you might want to divide the body into subsections. You can use a subheading for each theme, time period, or methodological approach.

As you write, you can follow these tips:

  • Summarize and synthesize: give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
  • Analyze and interpret: don’t just paraphrase other researchers — add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
  • Critically evaluate: mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
  • Write in well-structured paragraphs: use transition words and topic sentences to draw connections, comparisons and contrasts

In the conclusion, you should summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance.

When you’ve finished writing and revising your literature review, don’t forget to proofread thoroughly before submitting. Not a language expert? Check out Scribbr’s professional proofreading services !

This article has been adapted into lecture slides that you can use to teach your students about writing a literature review.

Scribbr slides are free to use, customize, and distribute for educational purposes.

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If you want to know more about the research process , methodology , research bias , or statistics , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • Sampling methods
  • Simple random sampling
  • Stratified sampling
  • Cluster sampling
  • Likert scales
  • Reproducibility

 Statistics

  • Null hypothesis
  • Statistical power
  • Probability distribution
  • Effect size
  • Poisson distribution

Research bias

  • Optimism bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Implicit bias
  • Hawthorne effect
  • Anchoring bias
  • Explicit bias

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.

There are several reasons to conduct a literature review at the beginning of a research project:

  • To familiarize yourself with the current state of knowledge on your topic
  • To ensure that you’re not just repeating what others have already done
  • To identify gaps in knowledge and unresolved problems that your research can address
  • To develop your theoretical framework and methodology
  • To provide an overview of the key findings and debates on the topic

Writing the literature review shows your reader how your work relates to existing research and what new insights it will contribute.

The literature review usually comes near the beginning of your thesis or dissertation . After the introduction , it grounds your research in a scholarly field and leads directly to your theoretical framework or methodology .

A literature review is a survey of credible sources on a topic, often used in dissertations , theses, and research papers . Literature reviews give an overview of knowledge on a subject, helping you identify relevant theories and methods, as well as gaps in existing research. Literature reviews are set up similarly to other  academic texts , with an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion .

An  annotated bibliography is a list of  source references that has a short description (called an annotation ) for each of the sources. It is often assigned as part of the research process for a  paper .  

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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

948 Accesses

1 Citations

  • 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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06 february 2022.

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Cardoso Ermel, A.P., Lacerda, D.P., Morandi, M.I.W.M., Gauss, L. (2021). Literature Synthesis. In: Literature Reviews. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-75722-9_5

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Literature Review Basics

  • What is a Literature Review?
  • Synthesizing Research
  • Using Research & Synthesis Tables
  • Additional Resources

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About the Research and Synthesis Tables

Research Tables and Synthesis Tables are useful tools for organizing and analyzing your research as you assemble your literature review. They represent two different parts of the review process: assembling relevant information and synthesizing it. Use a Research table to compile the main info you need about the items you find in your research -- it's a great thing to have on hand as you take notes on what you read! Then, once you've assembled your research, use the Synthesis table to start charting the similarities/differences and major themes among your collected items.

We've included an Excel file with templates for you to use below; the examples pictured on this page are snapshots from that file.

  • Research and Synthesis Table Templates This Excel workbook includes simple templates for creating research tables and synthesis tables. Feel free to download and use!

Using the Research Table

Image of Model Research Excel Table

This is an example of a  research table,  in which you provide a basic description of the most important features of the studies, articles, and other items you discover in your research. The table identifies each item according to its author/date of publication, its purpose or thesis, what type of work it is (systematic review, clinical trial, etc.), the level of evidence it represents (which tells you a lot about its impact on the field of study), and its major findings. Your job, when you assemble this information, is to develop a snapshot of what the research shows about the topic of your research question and assess its value (both for the purpose of your work and for general knowledge in the field).

Think of your work on the research table as the foundational step for your analysis of the literature, in which you assemble the information you'll be analyzing and lay the groundwork for thinking about what it means and how it can be used.

Using the Synthesis Table

Image of Model Synthesis Excel Table

This is an example of a  synthesis table  or  synthesis matrix , in which you organize and analyze your research by listing each source and indicating whether a given finding or result occurred in a particular study or article ( each row lists an individual source, and each finding has its own column, in which X = yes, blank = no). You can also add or alter the columns to look for shared study populations, sort by level of evidence or source type, etc. The key here is to use the table to provide a simple representation of what the research has found (or not found, as the case may be). Think of a synthesis table as a tool for making comparisons, identifying trends, and locating gaps in the literature.

How do I know which findings to use, or how many to include?  Your research question tells you which findings are of interest in your research, so work from your research question to decide what needs to go in each Finding header, and how many findings are necessary. The number is up to you; again, you can alter this table by adding or deleting columns to match what you're actually looking for in your analysis. You should also, of course, be guided by what's actually present in the material your research turns up!

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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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Writing a Literature Review: Organize, Synthesize, Evaluate

  • Literature Review Process
  • Literature Search
  • Record your Search
  • Organize, Synthesize, Evaluate
  • Getting help

Table of Contents

On this page you will find:

Organizing Literature and Notes

How to scan an article.

  • Reading for Comprehension
  • Synthesis Matrix Information

Steps to take in organizing your literature and notes:

  • Find common themes and organize the works into categories.
  • Develop a subject level outline with studies you’ve found
  • Expand or limit your search based on the information you found.
  • How the works in each category relate to each other
  • How the categories relate to each other and to your overall theme.

Available tools:

  • Synthesis Matrix The "synthesis matrix" is an approach to organizing, monitoring, and documenting your search activities.
  • Concept Mapping Concept Maps are graphic representations of topics, ideas, and their relationships. They allow users to group information in related modules so that the connections between and among the modules become more readily apparent than they might from an examination of a list. It can be done on paper or using specific software.
  • Mind Mapping A mind map is a visual representation of hierarchical information that includes a central idea surrounded by connected branches of associated topics.
  • NVIVO NVIVO is a qualitative data analysis software that can be applied for engineering literature review.

Synthesis Matrix

  • Writing A Literature Review and Using a Synthesis Matrix Writing Center, Florida International University
  • The Matrix Method of Literature Reviews Article from Health Promotion Practice journal.

Sample synthesis matrix

Synthesis matrix video

Skim the article to get the “big picture” for relevancy to your topic. You don’t have to understand every single idea in a text the first time you read it.

  • Where was the paper published?
  • What kind of journal it is? Is the journal peer-reviewed?
  • Can you tell what the paper is about?
  • Where are they from?
  • What are the sections of the article?
  • Are these clearly defined?  
  • Can you figure out the purpose of the study, methodology, results and conclusion?
  • Mentally review what you know about the topic
  • Do you know enough to be able to understand the paper? If not, first read about the unfamiliar concepts  
  • What is the overall context?
  • Is the problem clearly stated?
  • What does the paper bring new?
  • Did it miss any previous major studies?
  • Identify all the author’s assumptions.  
  • Analyze the visuals for yourself and try to understand each of them. Make notes on what you understand. Write questions of what you do not understand. Make a guess about what materials/methods you expect to see. Do your own data interpretation and check them against the conclusions.  
  • Do you agree with the author’s opinion?
  • As you read, write down terms, techniques, unfamiliar concepts and look them up  
  • Save retrieved sources to a reference manager

Read for Comprehension and Take Notes

Read for comprehension

  • After first evaluation of sources, critically read the selected sources. Your goal is to determine how much of it to accept, determine its value, and decide whether you plan to include it in your literature review.
  • Read the whole article, section by section but not necessarily in order and make sure you understand:

Introduction : What is known about the research and what is still unknown. Methods : What was measured? How was measured? Were the measurement appropriate? Did they offer sufficient evidence? Results : What is the main finding? Were there enough data presented? Were there problems not addressed? Discussions : Are these conclusions appropriate? Are there other factors that might have influenced? What does it need to be done to answer remaining questions?

  • Find answers to your question from first step
  • Formulate new questions and try to answer them
  • Can you find any discrepancies? What would you have done differently?
  • Re-read the whole article or just sections as many times you feel you need to
  • When you believe that you have understood the article, write a summary in your own words (Make sure that there is nothing left that you cannot understand)

As you read, take (extensive) notes. Create your own system to take notes but be consistent. Remember that notes can be taken within the citation management tool.

What to write in your notes:

  • identify key topic, methodology, key terms
  • identify emphases, strengths, weaknesses, gaps (if any)
  • determine relationships to other studies
  • identify the relationship to your research topic
  • new questions you have  
  • suggestions for new directions, new sources to read
  • everything else that seems relevant
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IMAGES

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  2. How to Write a Literature Review

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  4. How to Write a Synthesis Essay: Examples, Topics, & Synthesis Essay Outline

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  5. Synthesizing Research in a Literature Review

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  6. How to Write a Synthesis Essay: Examples, Topics, & Synthesis Essay Outline

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COMMENTS

  1. Synthesizing Sources

    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 ...

  2. Research Guides: How to Write a Literature Review: 6. Synthesize

    The Four Examples of Student Writing come from a synthesis exercise created by Candice Benjes-Small. Thanks also to Colleen Warwick for some of the original materials for this page that were adapted by J. Cleavenger 9/2011.

  3. Literature Synthesis 101: How To Guide + Examples

    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. ... Related to the previous ...

  4. Synthesize

    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 ...

  5. How to Write a Literature Review

    This is the point where you sort articles by themes or categories in preparation for writing your lit review. You may find a synthesis matrix, like this one, or in the box below, helpful in understanding how this works. You can sort the literature in various ways, for example: by themes or concepts

  6. PDF Writing A Literature Review and Using a Synthesis Matrix

    The synthesis matrix is a chart that allows a researcher to sort and categorize the different arguments presented on an issue. Across the top of the chart are the spaces to record sources, and along the side of the chart are the spaces to record the main points of argument on the topic at hand. As you examine your first source, you will work ...

  7. Chapter 7: Synthesizing Sources

    A literature review is not an annotated bibliography, organized by title, author, or date of publication. Rather, it is grouped by topic to create a whole view of the literature relevant to your research question. Figure 7.1. Your synthesis must demonstrate a critical analysis of the papers you collected as well as your ability to integrate the ...

  8. How To Write Synthesis In Research: Example Steps

    Step 1 Organize your sources. Step 2 Outline your structure. Step 3 Write paragraphs with topic sentences. Step 4 Revise, edit and proofread. 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 ...

  9. Conducting a Literature Review: Synthesize

    Create your own literature review synthesis matrix using the Word or Excel files available in the Activity box. Organize and synthesize literature related to your topic using your synthesis matrix; Synthesize and Apply. When writing a literature review, your objective is to provide an overview of the current state of knowledge about your topic. ...

  10. LibGuides: Literature Review How To: Synthesizing Sources

    What is Synthesis? Synthesis writing is a form of analysis related to comparison and contrast, classification and division. On a basic level, synthesis requires the writer to pull together two or more summaries, looking for themes in each text. ... Literature reviews synthesize large amounts of information and present it in a coherent ...

  11. 3.2 Synthesizing literature

    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 ...

  12. LibGuides: Literature Reviews: 5. Synthesize your findings

    How to synthesize. In the synthesis step of a literature review, researchers analyze and integrate information from selected sources to identify patterns and themes. This involves critically evaluating findings, recognizing commonalities, and constructing a cohesive narrative that contributes to the understanding of the research topic. Synthesis.

  13. Synthesis

    Synthesis is an important element of academic writing, demonstrating comprehension, analysis, evaluation and original creation. With synthesis you extract content from different sources to create an original text. While paraphrase and summary maintain the structure of the given source (s), with synthesis you create a new structure.

  14. Research Guides: Write a Literature Review: Synthesize

    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 to help you see how they relate to each other, and apply to each of your themes or variables. By arranging your sources in a matrix by theme ...

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

    Types of Research Synthesis: Key Characteristics: Purpose: Methods: Product: CONVENTIONAL Integrative Review: What is it? "The integrative literature review is a form of research that reviews, critiques, and synthesizes representative literature on a topic in an integrated way such that new frameworks and perspectives on the topic are generated" [, p.356]. ...

  16. How to Write a Literature Review

    Examples of literature reviews. Step 1 - Search for relevant literature. Step 2 - Evaluate and select sources. Step 3 - Identify themes, debates, and gaps. Step 4 - Outline your literature review's structure. Step 5 - Write your literature review.

  17. Literature Synthesis

    As posed by Pawson et al. ( 2005 ), it consists of a technique composed of five steps: (1) explain the scope; (2) search for evidence; (3) evaluate primary studies and extract data; (4) synthesize evidence and conclude; and (5) disseminate, implement and evaluate. In the first step, the review question is defined.

  18. Review Of Related Literature Synthesis Example

    Examples 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 to help you see how they relate to each other. and apply to … A review of related literature (RRL) is a detailed review of existing literature ...

  19. Synthesizing Research

    Analyze what you learn in (4) using a tool like a Synthesis Table. Your goal is to identify relevant themes, trends, gaps, and issues in the research. Your literature review will collect the results of this analysis and explain them in relation to your research question. Analysis tips

  20. Synthesis

    In a summary, you share the key points from an individual source and then move on and summarize another source. In synthesis, you need to combine the information from those multiple sources and add your own analysis of the literature. This means that each of your paragraphs will include multiple sources and citations, as well as your own ideas ...

  21. Using Research & Synthesis Tables

    This is an example of a research table, in which you provide a basic description of the most important features of the studies, articles, and other items you discover in your research.The table identifies each item according to its author/date of publication, its purpose or thesis, what type of work it is (systematic review, clinical trial, etc.), the level of evidence it represents (which ...

  22. Synthesizing Sources

    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 ...

  23. Writing a Literature Review: Organize, Synthesize, Evaluate

    Steps to take in organizing your literature and notes: Find common themes and organize the works into categories. Develop a subject level outline with studies you've found. Expand or limit your search based on the information you found. Write brief paragraphs outlining your categories: How the works in each category relate to each other.