Chapter 5: Writing a Summary and Synthesizing
Literature Reviews : Synthesis and Research
Why do we seek to understand the ways that authors or sources “converse” with one another? So that we can synthesize various perspectives on a topic to more deeply understand it.
In academic writing, this understanding of the “conversation” may become the content of an explanatory synthesis paper – a paper in which you, the writer, point out various various themes or key points from a conversation on a particular topic. Notice that the example of synthesis in “What Synthesis Is” acknowledges that guns and gun control inspire passionate responses in Americans, that more than one kind of weapon is involved in gun violence, that guns in America are both legally and illegally owned, and that there are many constituencies whose experience with guns needs to considered if sound gun-control policy is to be achieved. The writer of this synthesis isn’t “pretending” to be objective (“Although gun violence is a problem in American today, people who want to increase gun control clearly don’t understand the Second Amendment”); nor is the writer arguing a point or attempting to persuade the audience to accept one perspective. The writer is making a claim about gun control that demonstrates his or her deepest understanding of the issue.
Another assignment that you may complete that also applies your synthesis skills is a literature review. Literature reviews are often found in the beginning of scholarly journal articles to contextualize the author’s own research. Sometimes, literature reviews are done for their own sake; some scholarly articles are just Literature reviews.
Literature reviews (sometimes shortened to “lit reviews”) synthesize previous research that has been done on a particular topic, summarizing important works in the history of research on that topic. The literature review provides context for the author’s own new research. It is the basis and background out of which the author’s research grows. Context = credibility in academic writing. When writers are able to produce a literature review, they demonstrate the breadth of their knowledge about how others have already studied and discussed their topic.
- Literature reviews are most often arranged by topic or theme, much like a traditional explanatory synthesis paper.
- If one is looking at a topic that has a long history of research and scholarship, one may conduct a chronological literature review, one that looks at how the research topic has been studied and discussed in various time periods (i.e., what was published ten years ago, five years ago, and within the last year, for example).
- Finally, in some instances, one might seek to craft a literature review that is organized by discipline or field. This type of literature review could offer information about how different academic fields have examined a particular topic (i.e., what is the current research being done by biologists on this topic? What is the current research being done by psychologists on this topic? What is the current research being done by [insert academic discipline] on this topic?).
A Literature Review offers only a report on what others have already written about. The Literature Review does not reflect the author’s own argument or contributions to the field of research. Instead, it indicates that the author has read others’ important contributions and understands what has come before him or her. Sometimes, literature reviews are stand alone assignments or publications. Sometimes, they fit into a larger essay or article (especially in many of the scholarly articles that you will read throughout college. For more information on how literature reviews are a part of scholarly articles, see chapter 10.5)