Tips for the Literature Review: Synthesis and Analysis

Literature Review

This blog is about two important aspects of the literature review: synthesis and analysis. The literature review chapter typically contains an introduction, literature search strategy, a review of the literature, and a summary. It may also contain the theoretical or conceptual framework, so check your school’s template to be sure. Synthesis and analysis pertain to the review of the literature section, which is the bulk of the literature review chapter.

Let’s start by being clear about the purpose of the literature review. The purpose of the literature review is to synthesize and analyze previous research on your study topic to make a case for your research problem. The purpose of the literature review is not simply to provide a research context for your study or describe previous research. If that were the case, an annotated bibliography would suffice. Bringing the findings and conclusions of studies together (synthesis) and commenting on trends and shortcomings (analysis), as well as relating these to the need for your study, provide an overall argument for your research problem and why your study is needed.

Let’s dive a little deeper into synthesis and analysis.

Synthesis simply means the combination of parts to form a whole. For the literature review, this involves combining important information from studies to make your points. Important information from studies can include the purpose, participants, variables studied or major concepts, how data were analyzed, and findings or conclusions. Synthesize at the paragraph level using standard paragraph organizational strategies. This includes having a topic sentence, evidence or discussion of the topic (several sentences), and a summary sentence that may also lead into the next paragraph or topic. Professors may also refer to this organizational strategy as the MEAL plan: Main idea, Evidence, Analysis, and Lead out.

Here is an example of synthesis at the paragraph level, color coded by topic, evidence, and summary: topic sentence, evidence related to or discussion of the topic, and a summary or transition.

Recent research has mostly shown that health literacy is an important factor in diabetic self-control and positive outcomes (Anders et al., 2018; Gregory et al., 2018; Talbot et al., 2018). Anders et al. (2018) conducted a systematic review on the concept of health literacy and how it relates to self-efficacy, diabetic control, and diabetic outcomes. Anders et al. found that limited health literacy reduces effective self-management resulting in poor diabetes control and clinical outcomes among individuals with type 2 diabetes. Gregory et al. (2018) reviewed 117 recent studies on the relationship between health literacy and type 2 diabetes mellitus and found consensus on the definition of health literacy and health literacy measurement indices, helping to corroborate the relationship between health literacy and type 2 diabetes mellitus knowledge. In a quantitative study involving 55 patients with type 2 diabetes, Talbot et al. (2018) found a significant positive relationship between diabetes knowledge and glycemic control using an instrument that assessed patient knowledge. Unlike Anders et al. and Talbot et al., however, Philips et al. (2019) found no statistically significant relationship between diabetes knowledge and glycemic control, which they attributed to a small sample size and possibly errors associated with self-reported instruments. Empirical evidence from recent research largely supports that diabetic health literacy is a vital component of patients’ self-efficacy, diabetic control, and clinical outcomes.

You may notice that the paragraph above also contains some analysis. The text, “helping to corroborate the relationship between health literacy and type 2 diabetes mellitus knowledge” and “which they attributed to a small sample size and possibly errors associated with self-reported instruments” are examples of analysis. The first is a comment on how the study contributed to the literature and the second highlights the weaknesses of the study that may explain why the study’s findings do not align with the findings of the other studies. Also note the qualifying words, “mostly” and “largely,” in the first and last sentences to highlight that not all the research is in consensus. So, you can analyze the research (comment on weaknesses and trends or explain how the research relates to your study) throughout the synthesis, wherever there are opportunities to do so.

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