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Reviewing the Literature Room

Reviewing the literature is a major part of any research process. It is important for many reasons, including finding the basis for your research, checking the current knowledge and thinking in your subject area and demonstrating that you can find, read and synthesise a range of literature in your subject domain. As you create your literature review, you will also be building your skills in literature sourcing, retrieval and management. These include effective reading, synthesis, rationale-building, organisation and writing. As you study the constellations in this room, keep referring to the think map on the left. This will help you to see the relevance of a particular constellation to the overall picture.

Reviewing the literature > Synthesising the literature
Astronaut in water - synthesising environments

Reviewing the literature

Synthesising the literature

Synthesize means:

'To make a synthesis of; to put together or combine into a complex whole; to make up by combination of parts or elements' (Oxford English Dictionary 2007).

Synthesising literature involves pulling together all of the literature that you want to use to write your literature review or report, or to build a persuasive argument. You will therefore need to:

  • Compare - 'To mark or point out the similarities and differences of (two or more things); to bring or place together (actually or mentally) for the purpose of noting the similarities and differences' (Oxford English Dictionary 2007).
  • Combine - 'To couple or join two or more things together' (Oxford English Dictionary 2007).
  • Contrast - 'To set in opposition (two objects of like nature, or one with, rarely to, another) in order to show strikingly their different qualities or characteristics, and compare their superiorities or defects' (Oxford English Dictionary 2007).

It is neither sufficient nor practical to list each piece of literature in turn and interpret or discuss its findings and meaning. It is imperative that the literature is synthesised. However, it's important to evaluate each piece of literature, and not to accept the authors' claims at face value, before synthesising it with other literature. The materials here will help you to compare, combine and contrast the literature you source in order to produce a synthesised literature review.




1. Summarising the literature2. Comparing the literature3. Combining ideas from literature
4. Contrasting the literature
5. An example of synthesised literature
6. Descriptive versus critical synthesis
7. 'Being critical': what does it mean?8. Criticising - the research meaning
9. Literature mapping10. Citation relevance trees
11. Constructive and destructive interference
12. Constructive and destructive arguments in your research field
13. Building a consistent argument
14. Writing a synthesis report

Authors: Dr Olivia Billingham & Dr Liz Falconer, University of the West of England. Dr Steve Gough, University of Bath

Further reading