Synthesis and Literature Reviews

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.

Or, another assignment that you may complete in college is a literature review, which applies your synthesis skills. Literature reviews are often found in the beginning of scholarly journal articles. Literature reviews synthesize previous research that has been done on a particular topic, summarizing important works in the history of research on that topic.

  • Literature reviews can be arranged by topic or theme, much like a traditional explanatory synthesis paper.
  • Literature reviews can also be arranged chronologically, according to various time periods of research on a topic (i.e., what was published ten years ago, five years ago, and within the last year, for example).
  • Finally, literature reviews can be arranged by discipline or field (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?).

Just like in an explanatory synthesis paper, 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.

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 authors have broad Literature Review, they demonstrate their credibility as researchers.