Monday, 27 February 2017

Synthesing literature review material

A literature review needs to be a synthesis of all the ideas we have been exploring in our secondary research trawl.

It should match our concept map. It should not be a pile of parts, but a blend of themed ideas which collectively support and explore our research question.

Think of our literature review as a smooth, creamy and consistent mix. There are no lumps, no unemulsified areas. It is a complete creation in its own right, with, aside from the references, few hints of its component parts.

Alternatively we could think of each separate aspect of our concept map, or each key expert, as being a different colour. When we have written up our literature well, each colour will merge harmoniously into the next, like the middle of the image above. Our sources - citations - will still point to the underlying resources, but our thinking and writing will shape those ideas into something new.

For those of us who get stuck with blending our literature review seamlessly, we can have a go at some of the suggestions gathered by Chris Deason in a LinkedIn thread by the posters below.
  • Jessica Gordon suggested that we should "Try a Synthesis Matrix. Put your research question at the top. Create a table with 4-8 columns and a row for every source. At the top of each column, write one answer to your research question (one way some sources a answer it). On the left of each row, write the title or author(s) for each source. Now fill in the blanks, showing how each source provides evidence to support each answer. If a source does not address a particular answer, leave it blank. In the end you can visualize/see if you have enough info to substantiate each answer. This works an an outline when writing and makes writing a lot review way faster and easier". A template is available here
  • .
  • Anita Leffel had more to add to this, pointing out that there was a "module on literature matrix assignments:" available.

  • Sarah Caldwell took a metaphorical approach, with "A literature review should be like a funnel. Start with the general work in your field that speaks to your issue. Then become more and more specific as you refer to articles that are more specifically pertinent. Ideally, your research is the logical outcome of all the research that comes before".

  • Mirjam Godskesen suggested some theory reading; that we "check out this blog:"

  • Scott Schneider proposed that we should "be sure to draw from multiple perspectives - those that support your hypothesis and those that do not. It is important to demonstrate to your reviewers that you have performed an exhaustive review of the literature. Lastly, be sure that your lit review has a logical flow. Write the review in a manner that makes a case for your research plan and insert the reference or references that support your statements. Do not let your literature references dictate the flow."

  • Mike Lambert had a paper for us to read, which is brilliant. "See:", which can also be accessed online here.
To see other posts on this topic, go here and here. You can also download an article on writing up your literature review by Lavallée et al here.

Finally, Pat Thomson, a great academic, has a blog post on creating direction and meaning here.

These ideas may help us create something that is a true blend of all our material. It takes time, but it is in doing this that we truly create something that adds to the body of knowledge.


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