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HON 201: Plant Medicine from Rainforest to Metropolis - A Legacy for the Future: Bringing it all together

How to synthesize literature

Citation Managers and Annotations

Once you've gathered literature from multiple databases and sorted your citations into a citation manager (Zotero, RefWorks, or EndNote), you may feel you have a lot of literature. Regularly exporting to and annotating within your citation manager will help as you process all of the information to synthesize your findings. As you scroll through your article citations, create notes in a separate Word or Google document to identify:

1. What each article is about

2. What are the key points

3. How does it relate to your topic/How will it add value to your project

4. Are there any gaps, missing elements, or questions you have

Identifying what each article addresses will illuminate gaps in the literature, and show you what scholars currently believe about a topic. You do not have to agree with what each article says, but considering their research and opinions can help you address other viewpoints within your presentation or literature review. This process is about ascertaining and understanding what currently exists in published literature and how the scholarly conversation reflects, adds to, or contradicts something else you may have found. 

Processing each article does not mean you must sit and read through every word of every article, but you need to read enough of it to understand what the authors are saying, and what factors influenced their claim so that you can incorporate that if it is relevant to your topic. 

Consideration of Compiled Annotations

As you compile annotations for the information resources you have gathered, you'll need to consider the overarching themes that you see consistently reinforced throughout the research you have read. As you gather and consider this information, your annotations will help you recognize what many authors are writing about, what their beliefs and findings have been, and perhaps some areas that have not been as deeply explored in existing research. This may be the "gap" in the literature that you can address, making your research unique and distinctive (whether you write or present the material). This evaluation requires you to read through and analyze information critically. Take note of anything that seems relevant as you read it and keep those notes going as you proceed through your annotations.

Additionally, you will not catch everything the first time you read through something. Having your annotations document can act as a "Key" for you to keep track of which pieces you want to revisit later or take another look at later in the process to dive deeper into certain authors' content. As you write, you reflect, and then you will be able to write and present your material with a better understanding and well-rounded perspective. 

If you have questions about this process or would like further clarification, please reach out to your instructor or a librarian. 

Literature Review Process

Summarize Themes, and Incorporate Your Insight

In any kind of literature review (written or presented), you aim to summarize what has already been published on your topic, note the main findings of major papers that address this topic, identify what you noticed throughout your evaluation of these works and what you aim to address in your paper or presentation. Use the literature, and your analysis of these works to set the stage for your main content. Your literature review should be well cited, but it is also space for you to address your interpretation and evaluation of the existing research on a subject. Introduce the major ideas of what you have found as common themes throughout the body of literature you evaluated, and then include your voice in the scholarly conversation. 

Begin with Previously Published Works

Introducing what has already been published on a subject serves multiple purposes. 

1. It demonstrates how deeply you have investigated a topic...Therefore, how well-informed or authoritative your research will be

3. Introduces your audience to material that you now understand and can present with confidence

4. Gives the audience a framework for what research has been done, and the focus of your presentation

5. Provides future researchers with an idea of where to look for additional resources 

Mention Common Themes

If you notice many authors are discussing similar content, this is important to note and address as a common theme in existing research. If your findings align or contradict these common themes, this may cue you to reconsider or it may be a sign that your findings are unique and later you may address why these perspectives are distinctive. Recognizing common themes is a way of showing how well you perceive the overarching messages present in the research and what those insights are based on.

Convey Your Interpretation

While the literature review needs to be sufficiently cited and well informed, this is also a space for you to share your evaluation of what you found within the evaluation process of the existing literature. As a researcher, you engaged with the material and absorbed what you could to inform a perspective of your own. Share your perspective about what you noticed and help readers understand the implications or consequences of the gaps and recommendations of these expert authors that came before you. Give credit where appropriate and establish purposeful transitions into your own discussion or main argument.