Writing A Literature Review and Using a Synthesis Matrix
My professor says I have to write a literature review, what do I do? Well, to begin, you have to know that when writing a literature review, the goal of the researcher is to determine the current state of knowledge about a particular topic by asking, “What do we know or not know about this issue?” In conducting this type of research, it is imperative to examine several different sources to determine where the knowledge overlaps and where it falls short. A literature review requires a synthesis of different subtopics to come to a greater understanding of the state of knowledge on a larger issue. It works very much like a jigsaw puzzle. The individual pieces (arguments) must be put together in order to reveal the whole (state of knowledge). So basically I just read the articles and summarize each one separately? No, a literature review is not a summary. Rather than merely presenting a summary of each source, a literature review should be organized according to each subtopic discussed about the larger topic. For example, one section of a literature review might read “Researcher A suggests that X is true. Researcher B also argues that X is true, but points out that the effects of X may be different from those suggested by Researcher A.” It is clear that subtopic X is the main idea covered in these sentences. Researchers A and B agree that X is true, but they disagree on X’s effects. There is both agreement and disagreement, but what links the two arguments is the fact that they both concern X. This sounds like a lot of information, how can I keep it organized? Because a literature review is NOT a summary of these different sources, it can be very difficult to keep your research organized. It is especially difficult to organize the information in a way that makes the writing process simpler. One way that seems particularly helpful in organizing literature reviews is the 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 vertically in the column belonging to that source, recording as much information as possible about each significant idea presented in the work. Follow a similar pattern for your following sources. As you find information that relates to your already identified main points, put it in the pertaining row. In your new sources, you will also probably find new main ideas that you need to add to your list at the left. You now have a completed matrix!
2 As you write your review, you will work horizontally in the row belonging to each point discussed. As you combine the information presented in each row, you will begin to see each section of your paper taking shape. Remember, some of the sources may not cover all of the main ideas listed on the left, but that can be useful also. The gaps on your chart could provide clues about the gaps in the current state of knowledge on your topic.
CREATING YOUR SYNTHESIS MATRIX
It is probably best to begin your chart by labeling the columns both horizontally and vertically. The sample chart below illustrates how to do this. Topic: ______________________________________ Source #1 Main Idea A Source #2 Source #3 Source #4
Main Idea B
Label the columns across the top of your chart with the author’s last name or with a few keywords from the title of the work. Then label the sides of the chart with the main ideas that your sources discuss about your topic. As you read each source, make notes in the appropriate column about the information discussed in the work, as shown in the following chart.
3 Topic: Women in WWII
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