3. Synthesize Literature
Create a synthesis tree that shows what is known about your issue in the literature
Now that you’ve got a practical argument (from assignment 1), it’s time to start reviewing the literature. But why would you want to do this in the first place?
- To avoid reinventing the wheel. If you have an idea about how to solve an educational problem, probably others have had similar ideas and a bunch of other ideas you never thought about--learn from the people that went before so you can benefit from their experience.
- To contribute! If you are a researcher, are working in innovation, or want to be a thought leader, you are not just trying to solve the problem in front of you. You want to increase EVERYONE’s ability to solve many kinds of problems. When you are building on others’ ideas, you are far more likely to discover something new that no one else has figured out before. If you sit by yourself and generate ideas without reference to what has come before, you will find that your ideas have already been covered by researchers and theorists who have worked harder and more carefully than you sitting and thinking to yourself.
The nice thing about academic literature is that much of it takes a written form,allowing people to participate in a theoretical and empirical dialogue across space and time. The bad thing about academic literature is that it takes a written form so it’s really hard to comprehensively follow what people have said across space and time. When you review the literature, you are basically making sense of the conversation by “mapping the debate” on a particular issue. Your literature review allows your audience to understand what we as a society understand about an issue, and to become aware of, interested in, and confident in how you as an innovator/research are going to add to our understanding.
- You might find an outliner tool like OminOutliner useful for taking notes and a diagramming tool like Omingraffle useful for visualizing the line of argument and creating synthesis trees.
- In this step of your lit review you’ll be building a synthesis tree. You may want to read about how to create an argument grid and build a synthesis tree (and read Part III of Arguing from Sources for more detail).
To map the conversation for building your practical and research arguments, as you search and summarize articles you need to iteratively:
- synthesize the different perspectives (using a synthesis tree) to understand what we know about solving the design problem
Each time you summarize an new article, figure out which of the major milestones it fits into (it can be more than one) and incorporate it into your tree by relating it to the other articles. Maintain your synthesis/approach tree -- we’ll review this to suggest next steps to build your argument. The first week, try to synthesize 3 articles, the second week 6, the third week 9.
For your synthesis tree (Kauffer et al. 1989, p173),make sure that a reviewer could tell you:
- What is issue being addressed?
- Why should be concerned with issue? Are you convinced?
- Who are the major author taking positions?
- What is the relationship between the positions taken by 1st and 2nd authors?
- Between the 2nd and the 3rd?
- Between the 3rd and the 4th?
- Between the 4th and the 5th?
- Between any other included?
- What is the overall state of the issue?
- Are there any authors whose positions you don’t understand? List them.
- Circle all the words you don’t understand
Upload, your master design document with
- Your synthesis tree
- Any revisions to other parts of your argument resulting from the literature you’ve synthesized
How do I make a synthesis tree (and why?)
A synthesis tree is the backbone of your literature review, it is literally a tree that maps about the argument. Trying to go straight from reading articles to writing a literature review is just asking for a world of pain--the synthesis tree lets you quickly develop the argument without wasting time. This article will tell show you how to develop a synthesis tree and common patterns you will see in design disciplines like LS.