answer the questions using the attached article as MAIN references
any additional citations should be peer reviewed
make sure to use attached articles for reference
answer the questions using the attached article as MAIN references
any additional citations should be peer reviewed
Question 1- Assessment Description
Some literature reviews read as “book reports” that simply provide a string of summaries of the articles reviewed. How is synthesis different than summarizing? How does developing and employing the skill of synthesis improve the quality of the literature review? Explain.
QUESTION 2- Assessment Description
Every household has a junk drawer (or some similar place) that serves as the “catch all” for items that have no designated place. Go to your junk drawer and randomly retrieve three items. Write one paragraph that summarizes the three items. Then write one-paragraph that compares and contrasts the three items. Finally write one paragraph that synthesizes the three items. Post the three paragraphs. What challenges did you experience in synthesizing the three objects? How do the skills of summarization, comparison and synthesizing differ? What questions do you have about synthesis techniques?
The three items to use in answer are
Developing Practitioner-Scholar Doctoral Candidates as Critical Writers
Barbara A. Klocko
Central Michigan University
Sarah M. Marshall
Central Michigan University
Jillian F. Davidson
Central Michigan University
In this study, we sought to understand how students perceived the dissertation as practitioner-scholars
and part-time doctoral students in advanced doctoral programs in educational leadership. The results
indicated that the expectations associated with scholarly writing present major hurdles for doctoral
students, and the dissertation process can be lengthy, filled with anxiety, stress, and doubt. Doctoral
faculty members are often called upon to advise students as they balance their personal and professional
demands with those of the academy. We found that the essential part in this process is supporting
practitioner students as they transform into doctoral level writers.
In the realm of academia, writing skills are imperative to creating a lasting career, putting truth to the
adage of publish or perish (Ferguson, 2009). Since publications are commonly associated with academic
prestige, it is fitting that researching and writing a dissertation is the culminating activity for doctoral
candidates (Kucan, 2011). In our research and experience, we found that the dissertation process is
lengthy, filled with anxiety, stress, and doubt. In particular, the expectations associated with scholarly
writing presented significant challenges to success for doctoral students.
For practitioner-scholars, there are additional stressors to completing coursework and the culminating
dissertation. Graduate students who are also full-time practitioners must carefully pilot the balance
between graduate school, employment and life (Belcher, 2009; Lavelle & Bushrow, 2007; Manalo, 2006;
Nielson & Rocco, 2002; Ondrusek, 2012). Additionally, the need to alternate between the mindset of a
practitioner and that of a scholar impacts both the writing process and the framework with which one
embraces inquiry (Labaree, 2003; Ondrusek, 2012). Doctoral faculty members, and particularly doctoral
dissertation advisers, are often called upon to instruct and advise students as they balance their personal
and professional demands with those of the academy. One key part in this process is supporting
practitioner students as they redefine their identity as doctoral level writers.
In 2013, we undertook a study designed to review the writing challenges experienced by doctoral
candidates in an educational leadership department at a Midwestern university. Our original study was
Journal of Higher Education Theory and Practice Vol. 15(4) 2015 21
written in response to the literature base about the stresses facing practitioner-scholars as they advance
through doctoral programs (Belcher, 2009; Ferguson, 2009; Kamler & Thomson, 2008; Nielsen & Rocco,
2002; Ondrusek, 2012; Wang & Li, 2011 ); the concerns for the quality of scholarly presentation by
doctoral candidates (Boote & Beile, 2005; Casanave & Hubbard, 1992; Kamler & Thomson, 2008) and
the possibilities that exist for educational leadership faculty to provide assistance to students with
expanded roles and responsibilities not normally associated with doctoral candidacy (Manalo, 2006;
Wang & Li, 2011).
According to Boote and Beile (2005), a lack of quality research in the field of education can be
attributed to the standards of educational doctoral programs. Graduate level discourse requires writers to
“integrate disparate ideas, synthesize perspectives, and extend theory” (Lavelle & Bushrow, 2007, p.
809). These concepts, which are uncommon in undergraduate coursework, are elusive to practitioner-
students who approach writing assignments from their perspective within their area of expertise.
Becoming a critical writer necessitates the development of a research lens with a focus on critical
inquiry. When analyzing an issue, the researcher’s position can be contrary to that of a practitioner and
therefore practitioner-doctoral students must be encouraged to separate from their professional identity in
the workplace in order to assess the underlying factors at play in education (Labaree, 2003). In essence,
doctoral students must detach from their pragmatism and subsequent practitioner beliefs in order to
develop a worldview with an unbiased lens to productively conduct objective research.
The importance of scholarly communication is well documented and understood as an influence to
one’s research output, which directly impacts a future academic career (Boote & Beile, 2005; Cafarella &
Barnett, 2000; Ferguson, 2009). Nevertheless, the education of doctoral students on the writing process is
neither a common practice in higher education nor represented in the body of literature (Ferguson, 2009;
Kamler & Thomson, 2006). Since the 1970s, the need for doctoral writing research has been noted and
continues still today (Lavelle & Bushrow, 2007; Manalo, 2006).
Doctoral Level Writing Dispositions
Two underlying stressors experienced by doctoral students when approaching writing include unclear
expectations of writing assignments and underdeveloped writing skills (Ferguson, 2009). Since
undergraduate faculty have different writing expectations than graduate programs, students do not have
the opportunity to learn the grammatical skills necessary to write at an academic level beyond the doctoral
program (Kucan, 2011). When students experience doubt about their ability to complete quality work, the
result can be lower scores on their writing submissions (Belcher, 2009; Lavelle & Bushrow, 2007;
Ondrusek, 2012; Wang & Li, 2011).
Emotional Response to Feedback and Critique
During the course of doctoral studies, students receive varied feedback from peers and professors on
writing projects. Due to low self-confidence of writing skills, students are unsure how to move forward
with the feedback while maintaining their voice (Cafarella & Barnett, 1997; Cafarella & Barnett, 2000).
Furthermore, critiques can be viewed as personal attacks instead of assistance towards a better product
(Nielson & Rocco, 2002). Wang and Li, (2011) noted:
Feedback in doctoral research is a social practice embedded in supervisory relationships.
This demands attention to the interpersonal aspect of feedback, focusing not only on the
what, that is, the text, but also on the how, that is, the way in which feedback is given and
received. (p. 102)
22 Journal of Higher Education Theory and Practice Vol. 15(4) 2015
Overall, the process of editing is not understood by some graduate students; instead of using feedback to
reevaluate the overall strength of the piece, attention is often paid to correcting minutiae such as spelling
and grammar (Ondrusek, 2012).
For practitioner-students, time management can be viewed as an insurmountable hurdle in the writing
process (Cafarella & Barnett, 2000). Nielson and Rocco (2002) noted that many doctoral students are
responsible not only for their studies but also a career or family. Accordingly, the age of students in
educational doctoral students is higher than other fields (Labaree, 2003). Thus, making research and
writing a priority amongst life’s many other duties and responsibilities can prove difficult for practitioner-
scholars (Belcher, 2009; Lavelle & Bushrow, 2007; Manalo, 2006; Nielson & Rocco, 2002; Ondrusek,
2012). The issue of time is more about making the most of limited time resources and prioritizing
coursework amongst life’s other requirements.
Researcher View of Writing
Developing a researcher lens can be challenging for practitioner-students because “writing for their
chosen disciplines requires them to make major adjustments in how they view knowledge, learning,
written expression, and themselves before they reach a comfort level in scholarly writing” (Ondrusek,
2012, p. 180). By changing viewpoints and ways of approaching inquiry, a level of dissonance ensues as
doctoral students vacate their work-life perspective for that of academia (Boote & Beile, 2005; Labaree,
2003). Less likely to be changed by their program in a transformative way through the research process,
many educational doctoral students do not plan to join the academy and publish original research but
desire to work in advanced practitioner roles in education (Labaree, 2003). The role of inquiry is therefore
viewed as a by-product of advanced coursework versus a separate goal.
Issues of time management, doctoral level writing expectations, feedback and critique, and cognitive
dissonance between practitioner and scholar worldviews compound with the pressures of coursework and
elicit feelings of anxiety and a lack of confidence which can prove overwhelming in the dissertation
writing process (Cafarella & Barnett, 2000; Cuthbert & Spark, 2008; Ferguson, 2009; Ondrusek, 2012;
Nielson & Rocco, 2002). Figure 1 provides a conceptual model of the four stressors we examined in this
THE FOUR STRESSORS THAT GENERATE ANXIETY FOR DOCTORAL STUDENTS
Journal of Higher Education Theory and Practice Vol. 15(4) 2015 23
Often, doctoral students have past academic successes which have created high expectations for their
work. It is understandable then when they receive constructive feedback and lower grades in their
doctoral level coursework, why self-imposed anxiety may result (Caffarella & Barnett, 1997; Ondrusek,
2012; Wang & Li, 2011). Additionally, students can become frustrated when the feedback is limited,
contradictory or of low-quality since they are unable to clearly identify their missteps (Cafarella &
Barnett, 2000). However, not all work produces the same emotional responses. Belcher (2009) noted
graduate students experience intense pressure surrounding academic writing which can cause doubt,
depression, or guilt and result in a lack of writing progress. Nielson and Rocco (2002) explained “the
more important the writing, the greater the apprehension” (p. 313). Students experience increased anxiety
in proportion to the importance of the assignment in their courses building to the ultimate project of
dissertation writing. To that end, the purpose of this study was to ascertain doctoral students’ beliefs
regarding critical writing skills and the extent to which professors can alleviate or contribute to student
dissertation anxiety. The research questions that inform this study included: 1) What helps or hinders
practitioner students in their academic writing process? 2) What areas do students feel they need more
instruction? 3) What institutional or curricular changes can be made to increase the number of
practitioner students completing the doctoral program?
METHOD OF THE STUDY
In this mixed-methods study, we systematically examined the beliefs of practitioner-scholars who had
advanced in a doctoral program in a Midwestern state regarding their critical writing expectations and
stressors. We conducted this exploratory study in 2013 to measure differing trends and adjust curricular
practices and expectations accordingly. Specifically we were interested in whether students felt that
doctoral level coursework addressing remedial writing skills would be beneficial to themselves or their
peers. We designed a survey with both quantitative and qualitative inquiry in mind. Consequently, the
researchers were able to facilitate analysis by calculating numerical averages as well as extracting
emerging themes to provide a holistic interpretation of this problem under examination.
Advanced doctoral students and graduates were invited to participate in this electronic survey. Eligible
participants completed their doctoral core coursework from 2006 to 2013 in a doctoral program in
educational leadership at a Midwestern state (n=97). Participants are part-time doctoral students who
maintain full-time employment within an educational setting. Most serve as administrators or faculty.
Participants (n=47) consented to participate and completed the online questionnaire administered through
Survey Monkey®. This is not a longitudinal study and we only sought to determine generalities based on
the behaviors and attitudes of students and graduates as a cohort, not as individuals through this research
design. The sample size supports a 48% confidence level as ascertained by the responses received by the
researchers. Thus, we present a representative sample from the surveys to adequately make
generalizations about the perceptions of doctoral candidates in a Midwestern state regarding critical
writing skills and associated stress.
In order to establish construct validity of this survey, the variables were aligned with the literature
base of scholarly writing, the stress of doctoral candidates as defined in the literature, and the descriptors
based on the experiences that we had as researchers and professors. Thus, the researchers determined that
the survey instrument measured the theoretical constructs the instrument was designed to measure—
doctoral students’ beliefs regarding critical writing skills and the extent to which professors can alleviate
or contribute to student dissertation anxiety. Since we studied an array of variables that may be associated
with doctoral candidate stress and writing under the multiple constructs of knowledge, skills, and
dispositions, we anticipated a wide degree of variation in the response. Thus, there was a low but
acceptable level of internal consistency (.59 Cronbach alpha) among the variables.
24 Journal of Higher Education Theory and Practice Vol. 15(4) 2015
RESULTS OF THE STUDY
The final reporting of these data is presented as a descriptive narrative. While generalizable findings
may appear, this research is not seeking universals that exist free of context. Timely feedback from
instructors, thinking critically, and having a strong working vocabulary were essential elements for
success indicated by these doctoral candidates as shown in Table 1. We also found that respondents did
not agree that technology resources were essential to their writing acumen. However, candidates highly
valued the supports provided through the university library in securing literature, but seldom used the
intensive writing support offered by the campus writing center.
KNOWLEDGE, SKILLS AND SUPPORTS NECESSARY FOR
DOCTORAL WRITING SUCCESS
N Mean Std. Deviation
Timely feedback from my instructor helps me to improve my writing. 46 4.46 .75149
Thinking critically helps me to write in a scholarly manner. 46 4.37 .64494
Documents on Demand is an extremely helpful service for doctoral
46 4.30 .83983
I have a strong, working vocabulary. 46 4.22 .72765
It is easy to access the necessary resources for my research at the
46 4.17 .92627
Good lighting is important for me to be able to write. 46 4.12 .82269
My work/study environment must be free of distractions. 46 4.00 .94281
I have a good working knowledge of APA6 style and formatting
46 4.00 .47140
I outline my concepts before I begin the writing process. 46 3.83 .87697
My instructors clearly explained the scholarly writing expectations for
46 3.76 1.03676
I read regularly for pleasure. 45 3.56 1.27128
I like to play music when I am writing. 46 3.50 1.36219
I need to have beverages and snacks close at hand. 46 3.48 1.02717
Once I learned APA6, writing is a more pleasurable experience. 46 3.33 .81797
APA6 has helped me to be more organized in my writing. 46 3.28 .83435
I do all my pre-writing notes on the computer. 46 3.24 1.28556
Peer editing and review are helpful to me. 46 3.17 1.25263
I had to learn a whole new style of writing. 46 3.09 1.27934
APA6 has helped me to write with more clarity of expression. 46 3.07 .95224
I use graphic organizers to understand concepts prior to my writing. 46 3.02 1.18301
I use Post-It notes regularly to organize my thinking and writing. 46 2.85 1.15407
I Pads and other tablet devices are helpful tools in my pre-writing
45 2.71 1.12052
I use software to create my citations and references. 46 2.59 1.40754
I need to take frequent breaks. 46 2.52 1.11034
It is important to enjoy writing in order to be an effective writer. 46 2.50 1.00554
My Smartphone is a helpful tool in my pre-writing process. 46 2.20 1.00265
My work/study environment must be neat and organized. 46 2.17 1.01772
Note: 5=Strongly agree; 4=Agree; 3=Neither agree or disagree; 2= Disagree; 1=Strongly disagree
Journal of Higher Education Theory and Practice Vol. 15(4) 2015 25
Peer review provided interesting results in this study. When asked whether peer editing and review
are helpful, 45% of the respondents either agreed or strongly agreed. Conversely 26% either disagreed or
strongly disagreed and 24% of the respondents appeared ambivalent regarding peer editing and review.
When asked how often they asked a peer to review and comment on their writing, one third of the
respondents reported almost never, and only one respondent (2.22%) reported almost daily as shown in
Figures 2 and 3.
PERCEPTIONS REGARDING THE HELPFULNESS OF PEER REVIEW
PEER REVIEW FREQUENCY ANALYSIS
The overall mean score of 2.4 suggests that students seek peer support once in a while, perhaps one
occurrence per week as shown in Table 2. These data generate questions regarding why doctoral students
value peer review, and yet seldom take advantage of this support.
0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35
Neither Agree nor Disagree
0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35
Once in a while
26 Journal of Higher Education Theory and Practice Vol. 15(4) 2015
DOCTORAL CANDIDATE DISPOSITIONS TOWARD WRITING
Do you proofread an assignment thoroughly before submitting? 46 4.26 .71289
Do you schedule a sustained block of uninterrupted time (more than 2
hours) for writing? 46 3.35 1.09985
Do you read passages from your manuscript aloud as part of your
editing? 46 3.17 1.16054
Do you ever exercise “to clear your head” when writing becomes
difficult? 46 2.85 1.41370
Do you ask a peer to review and comment on your writing? 45 2.40 1.19469
Do you ever encounter writer’s block? 46 2.39 .77397
Do you get papers returned with APA style and format errors? 46 2.02 1.10532
Do you get papers returned with basic grammar errors such as tense,
fragments, agreement, pronoun use? 46 1.85 1.01033
Do you ever give up on writing because you find it too difficult? 46 1.59 .77678
Do you get papers returned with spelling errors? 46 1.46 1.02646
Note: 5=Almost Daily; 4=Frequently (4-5x weekly); 3=Sometimes (2-3x weekly); 2=Once in a while (1x
weekly); and 1=Almost never
This finding also corresponded with reports that 54% of the respondents answered N/A when queried
about the helpfulness of the writing center, suggesting that they had no experience or had never taken
advantage of the writing support offered by the university as shown in Figure 3. The writing center offers
support for editing and development of student manuscripts, and a mere 13% of the respondents agreed or
strongly agreed that this was a helpful support. It is interesting to note that 67% of the respondents
indicated that they agree that doctoral level class time should be used to teach writing skills and yet they
do not avail themselves of peer review, nor did they report problematic behaviors in their writing.
When asked to describe the challenges they face in developing their writing expertise, the respondents
consistently identified time and anxiety, over developing writing expertise. However the mean response
indicates that students schedule sustained blocks of uninterrupted time, more than two hours two to three
times weekly as shown in Table 2. In looking at the distribution, it appears that they are prioritizing their
writing time, but students still are distraught over the time requirements of scholarly writing. If these
practitioner students are indeed regularly scheduling more than two hours for writing daily (15%), four to
five times weekly (28%), two to three times weekly (28%), or even once a week (24%), time should not
pose a barrier to the completion of their dissertation.
As self-reported data from a small population, the qualitative results of this study posed interesting
findings that may inform faculty. The qualitative data were organized around four key themes entitled:
time, feedback and clear expectations, anxiety, and writing mechanics.
The first major finding related to effective use of time. According to the data, students are scheduling
time to complete their writing assignments yet they experience high levels of anxiety about the amount of
writing required in their doctoral program. If adequate time is being set aside, the efficient use of this
allocated time is called into question (Belcher, 2009). According to one participant, “I need long chunks
of time in my schedule. I need to immerse my brain in my material.” Students set aside sufficient time to
complete quality assignments yet failed to effectively utilize their time. Stress pertaining to writing and
Journal of Higher Education Theory and Practice Vol. 15(4) 2015 27
project completion lead to anxiety as a stumbling block to writing. As one participant commented, “I fear
not writing well. I struggle with writer’s block.” If students felt more capable to do the writing
assignments by improving their writing and researching skills, anxiety could be lessened and the amount
of time allocated for the projects would be sufficient. As one other participant added, “I am challenged by
organization. I never feel that I know enough about a topic to come up with a decent outline.”
Participants offered suggestions for lessoning anxiety associated with writing and time management.
These suggestions included meeting regularly with their advisor and/or faculty members for regular
feedback, writing strategies and encouragement. Participants in this study recognized the vital roles that
faculty play in developing students’ doctoral level writing skills but also in building their confidence.
Second, participants recommended the inclusion of organization tools to assist them in mapping out a
timeline for completion, developing milestones toward achieving their writing goals, and for learning how
to locate and abstract literature. Third, participants also identified the positive impact of peer editing or
peer writing groups. By receiving additional feedback from their peers, students were able to obtain
another perspective on their writing from a less-intimidating peer.
Feedback and Clear Expectations
The second key theme that emerged from the participants was the need to have clear, faculty
expectations and consistent, constructive feedback. Additionally, the expectations and feedback should be
consistent across faculty. For example, one faculty member would have high expectations for the proper
incorporation of and citation of literature and the next would devalue these elements and emphasize
grammar and organization. The contradictory feedback between instructors was confusing and frustrating
for participants. In the words of one participant, “The expectations for each professor and paper have not
always been clear. It would be beneficial for there to be ground rules within the department for grading
and paper component expectations.” The need for faculty consensus on grammar, citations, organizational
preferences, and other writing elements were frequently sought by participants.
Additionally, participants noted incompatibility between student and faculty expectations on writing
assignments. As one participant stated, “It seems each professor has a different hang up on writing…it
seems a common rubric would help… please stay consistent.” Ironically the quantitative data supported
clearly explained scholarly writing expectations on assignments, while the qualitative data spoke to a
clear disconnect between student and instructor expectations on writing assignments. In an effort to
ensure uniform, realistic expectations that are consistent between faculty and students, detailed rubrics
with specific assessment criteria were recommended.
Another theme that emerged from the qualitative data surrounded student anxieties surrounding the
writing process. At times the emotional response to the assignment would appear as writer’s block,
paralyzing even to the most seasoned writers, leading to a student’s inability to complete quality, timely
assignments. An additional contributing factor to their writing anxiety included receiving participant’s
responses to constructive feedback. Rather than appreciate faculty feedback, participants commented on
how the feedback only contributed to their feelings of writing. One student in particular discussed his
struggle after completing the comprehensive exam process, “After comps, I had an extremely difficult
time getting my confidence back. The first time I had to write I sat at the computer for an hour and
couldn’t get a word down. That had never happened to me before.” Rather than recognize the constructive
nature of faculty feedback, participants felt critiqued and their confidence shaken.
Participants offered strategies for reducing the anxiety associated with writing. These
recommendations included the implementation of peer review or peer writing groups where students
could offer support, encouragement and constructive feedback to one another. By supporting one another
through the obstacles associated with writing, participants recognized that they were not alone in their
challenges and could learn from one another.
Additionally, faculty become critical in building writing skills and self-assurance in students. As per
our participants, faculty should consider providing practice examples of quality writing. Additionally, one
28 Journal of Higher Education Theory and Practice Vol. 15(4) 2015
participant commented on how much she appreciated a faculty member who shared a recent review she
received from a journal. The faculty member received extensive feedback and planned to revise and
resubmit the article. The student commented knowing that a faculty member received feedback on her
writing validated the idea that everyone’s writing could be improved. Students recommended creating a
culture of demystifying the feedback process and welcoming the feedback as a way to improve their
writing rather than the feedback serving as an indication of their lack of understanding of scholarly
writing. Additionally, participants reinforced the need for positive, reinforcing feedback to help offset
some of the harsher constructive feedback. For the doctoral students, knowing what they are doing
correctly was just as important as understanding the improvements which needed to be made by providing
a boost to their confidence level. As one participant stated, “when a faculty member wrote ‘that is
doctoral level writing’ on my paper, I was ecstatic. This one comment really boosted my confidence.”
The fourth theme that emerged from the qualitative literature relates to the overall mechanics of
writing. Students noted that they struggled with the fundamentals of writing including proper citations,
grammar, verb-tense and passive voice. Since participants were practitioner-scholars with full-time jobs,
their work settings did not often require academic type writing. As a result, participants recognized the
need for remediation in the fundamentals of writing, citing and basic literature searches.
Participants recommended faculty administer and review practice tests related to writing basics. They
also endorsed allowing students to rewrite papers or submit drafts prior to the deadline. These
opportunities would allow them to improve their writing with each draft. Respondents suggested current
students use the university writing center, if that center has individuals qualified to assess and provide
feedback for doctoral-level writing. Understanding that the dissertation is a major hurdle to completion,
students recommended course assignments be created to specifically demystify the dissertation process
and allow them to prepare for the dissertation (Cuthbert & Spark, 2008). Students did recommend
additional writing support but most agreed that writing seminars or APA workshops should be optional as
not everyone needed remediation in this area.
As the findings from this study indicated, practitioner doctoral students struggle with efficiently using
writing time, ways to organize their writing projects, and high levels of emotional stress related to
producing writing for critique. Proactively addressing these challenges and infusing strategies for
overcoming these barriers throughout a doctoral program are vital to student writing success. As early as
program orientation, writing strategies should be taught and then reinforced throughout the doctoral
program. By focusing on the process of writing and critiquing to develop academic writing skills at the
beginning phase of doctoral studies, a culture of improvement is established during the initial
socialization of a doctoral program (Cafarella & Barnett, 2000). Training topics should include
establishing writing timelines, how to search the literature, concept mapping and outlining projects,
proper citation and a review of common grammatical mistakes. As evidenced in our findings, despite
being doctoral students, most students needed intentional instruction and practice related to basic
scholarly writing. By emphasizing quality writing throughout a doctoral program, faculty and students
alike have shared expectations for what it means to be a member of the learning body.
Additionally, peer review can be a helpful tool in doctoral writing, but students must first be educated
on how to provide meaningful and constructive feedback. Peer evaluation helps create a culture of
ongoing feedback and insights about what feedback means, how to emotionally respond, and what to do
with the feedback. Since everyone in the writing group follows the same processes and is then critiqued,
receiving feedback becomes de-stigmatized (Cafarella & Barnett, 2000). This is an important process
which can reduce some of the anxiety associated with writing over time when students frequently take
part in peer review assignments or group writings (Cuthbert & Spark, 2008; Cafarella & Barnett, 2000).
Journal of Higher Education Theory and Practice Vol. 15(4) 2015 29
Lastly, faculty members can help by defining writing expectations and holding individual student
conferences. Departmental consensus on writing expectations and priorities is imperative for student
success in learning the elements of scholarly writing. Clear expectations, detailed rubrics, and specific
feedback (Belcher, 2009) are aids in advancing student’s writing skills. When student’s skills improve
and their efficacy increases, they are more likely to view themselves as capable of completing a
dissertation and have the motivation to complete. If improving student writing and reducing writing
anxiety are departmental priorities, faculty must collectively discuss expectations and implement the
necessary changes. Furthermore, students should be encouraged to meet with course instructors and
advisors to receive feedback on their writing and suggestions for approaching writing assignments. By
regularly discussing writing projects with advisors, students will build writing confidence and improve
their writing skills (Cafarella & Barnett, 2000).
This study was intentionally limited to one doctoral program with students who work full-time as
educational leaders. This study is unique because of the lens of practitioner-scholars and their
perspectives on scholarly writing. Based on the findings from this survey, areas for future research
include identifying ways to embrace the diversity of perspectives brought to doctoral programs by
practitioners while prioritizing doctoral level writing. Moreover, further studies could examine how
institutions can strike a balance between creating an environment built to provide students with academic
success while still providing opportunities for transformative learning. Additionally, we have determined
that additional research is warranted regarding the role of the student in the dissertation writing process.
The ability to write critically is an essential component to becoming a member of the academic
community and, therefore, doctoral programs conclude with the ultimate writing task; a dissertation. For
many practitioner-students, the writing skills they bring to the classroom are reflections of their
undergraduate courses or workplace experiences and do not meet the expectations of doctoral programs.
This gap between skills and expectations, when not met during the initial stages of a doctoral program,
leads to doubt, anxiety and stress. For practitioner-scholars managing multiple responsibilities on top of
their coursework, the emotional duress can result in late assignments, lower scores, and even
discontinuation of the program. From our research, we have learned there are changes which can be made
by students and faculty to bridge the skills gap, create consistency and transparency, and build a program
focused on scholarly expression.
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Ondrusek, A. L. (2012). What the Research Reveals about Graduate Students’ Writing Skills: A Literature
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international doctoral students. Active Learning in Higher Education, 12(2), 101-112.
Journal of Higher Education Theory and Practice Vol. 15(4) 2015 31
Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without
By Patricia D’Urso
1. What is synthesis?
2. What is the difference between explanatory synthesis and argumentative synthesis?
3. How does synthesis differ from other processes or terms used in developing the literature review?
4. What is the difference between summary and synthesis?
5. What are some strategies one can use to synthesize research studies and literary articles?
6. How does synthesis �t into the literature review?
A primary aspect of writing the literature review is to focus and contextualize the study, which requires the
writer to generate information to substantiate the topic and problem as demonstrated in the publication of
prior knowledge in scholarly literature (Mertens & McLaughlin, 1995). In writing the literature review for a
dissertation study, the researcher needs to place the topic or problem in the broader scholarly literature as well
as in an appropriate historical context of the �eld. Additionally, the doctoral learner should distinguish what
research has been done in the �eld of study as well as what needs to be done. Articulation of important
variables and phenomena relevant to the topic should be included and synthesized to demonstrate a new
perspective on the literature and prior research on the topic. There will be inconsistencies and tension in the
literature, which should be clari�ed and discussed. The doctoral researcher must illuminate the scope and
discuss limitations of the existing literature. Achieving these goals requires a variety of writing and research
skills, one of which is synthesis. This chapter of the textbook presents information related to the skill of
synthesis and how it is a critical component of the literature review process.
What Is Synthesis?
Synthesis includes acts of constructing or bringing together the different elements or strands of information
that contribute to a body of knowledge on a topic. Synthesis in the literature review is the way the researcher
integrates the analysis and evaluation of the many research studies and literary works of authors who have
published on the topic. Researchers will approach synthesis in a variety of ways, sometimes in�uenced by
their own schemas.
Synthesis should include a critical analysis of the literature wherein the doctoral researcher identi�es the
most important ideas read, discusses the importance of those ideas within the context of his/her own study,
and integrates all or most of those ideas, whether they are similar or dissimilar (Paul & Elder, 2006). By doing
so, the literature review can provide the opportunity to look across many disciplines that include the same
concept or construct for a comparative or contrasting analysis.
The writer should corroborate,
compare, and contrast �ndings
among the many sources.
When synthesizing, the writer should go beyond describing philosophy or �ndings, using critical analysis to
compare and contrast works. Some strategies used for critical analysis of the research include:
Read diagnostically and comprehensively for the problem spaces in the literature.
Identify groups or situations that still need to be studied on the topic.
Identify what authoritative researchers and thought leaders in the �eld suggest still needs to be explored
Think about how a contrarian position on what is in the literature to date could be a worthy opponent.
Identify the precedents that exist in the literature on the topic.
Analyze to separate the literature into constituent parts and describe each part as it relates to other parts
(Hart, 2010). “Analysis activities are characteristically re�ective, such as investigating the problem,
perhaps discovering previous solutions … and reviewing solution candidates” (Att�eld, Blandford, &
Dowell, 2003, p. 13).
Compare to relate two or more concepts, philosophies, elements, techniques, practices or whatever the
fundamental issue of interest is in the spirit of constructing an argument, where the items to be
compared are similar.
Compare what one thought leader has offered, perhaps in theory, and what others have offered; seek to
understand the existing perspectives in the �eld of study to establish credibility.
Contrast to differentiate two or more concepts, philosophies, elements, techniques, practices or whatever
the fundamental issue of interest is in the spirit of constructing an argument, where the items to be
contrasted are dissimilar.
Draw conclusions to think about a restatement of the topic and thesis for the section of a literature
review. The conclusion should address alternate explanations and perspectives and should also outline
potential actions or new research directions. A conclusion is drawn from what has been written, and a
mention of the problem space(s) found in the research process should be explained.
Once the doctoral researcher has engaged in suf�cient reading and critical analysis to arrive at valid
information to make an argument, explanatory and argument synthesis can be crafted. The literature review
can inform the reader how the researcher’s study is different from the previous studies analyzed in the
literature review and how this study can extend previous research (Pyrczak & Bruce, 2011). This expression of
ideas moves the researcher from existing perspectives to emerging perspectives from which he/she could
form new plausible arguments.
Many synthesis sections will include the following:
Explanation and argument,
A conclusion that follows the premise of the study, and
A declaration of the realization that it is impossible (most times) to represent all of what is in the
According to Hart (2010), taking this realistic approach about one’s research enables the reader to understand
that the researcher’s inquisitive attitude prevails in order to facilitate ways of looking at different ideas and
synthesizing them into new ideas.
Doctoral researchers, researchers of empirical work, interested citizens, all bring individual perspectives to a
discussion of a topic. This is to be expected. One responsibility of the sophisticated doctoral researcher is to
present crucial source material in suf�cient detail to capture the attention of the reader about the topic and to
present this information in a logical �ow as the argument is developed. Transitioning from summaries of
existing material often requires the researcher to synthesize
information from more than one source to create the new
perspective. The steps more commonly used to synthesize
properly are organizing to combine information, recalling
from the research, recreating from summary, and forming a
different whole to provide different meaning. The writer
should corroborate, compare, and contrast �ndings among the many sources to identify the similarities, the
differences, and other subtleties that could be lost easily without this deep analysis. Once these tasks are
completed, the doctoral researcher can form a new perspective (synthesis).
Synthesis should be grounded in a strong comprehension of the literature reviewed. For example, in practice, a
journalist has an assignment to get the story. This is like reviewing the literature and getting the facts as
written in scholarly journals about the dissertation topic. Not until all the facts are uncovered about the story,
and this could take months, even years, can the readers/viewers of this story be convinced of the a priori
assertion. At the time that all or most of the facts are revealed, a reader/viewer may change his/her mind from
the a priori formation because the facts revealed are grounded in a strong comprehensive investigation, which
includes corroborating, comparing, and contrasting the facts with other players in the scenario and, perhaps,
receives full exposure in a courtroom trial proceeding. This process requires the writer to develop both an
explanatory and argument synthesis of the facts and details related to the story. Explanatory synthesis or
argument synthesis, or a combination of both, can also be appropriate for the dissertation study. An
explanatory synthesis will provide information for the reader to understand the topic. In contrast, argument
synthesis, is used to present the focus and defend the problem statement from the many sources chosen to
analyze, realizing that any argumentative writing could be debated. There will be situations where two
doctoral researchers will present factual source materials and arrive at opposite theses (Att�eld, Blandford, &
Dowell, 2003). Many GCU doctoral learners use both explanatory and argument synthesis in their dissertation
Often, explanatory synthesis is used in the initial parts of the dissertation literature review as the researcher
presents background information related to the topic. For example, conducting educational research
pertaining to the learner achievement gap before and after the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 will
immerse the researcher within Title I provisions applied to disadvantaged learners. Explanatory synthesis, in
this respect, may also include associated problems of statewide testing, local �exibility, and accountability
systems. The implementation of the NCLB Act impacted education in many ways, particularly with regard to
learner achievement. A literary non�ction account will present a perspective on problems associated with
NCLB (Quinton, 2015). Moreover, the researcher will understand that debates related to the implementation of
the act. Sections that incorporate information to enable reader understanding in the literature review will
again implement explanatory synthesis; however, argument synthesis is used in the literature review as well.
The GCU doctoral learner will use argument synthesis to focus and defend the problem statement. Here, the
researcher will identify a problem space from prior research on the topic. Therefore, the research studies must
be synthesized or categorized in some like manner, such as by method, data-collection instrument, sample, or
results. As part of the literature review, the researcher must present and analyze studies that have been
conducted on the topic. Here, the researcher will take the studies and will identify similarities among them
and present an argument for the problem under study. This process will be presented in more detail later in
this chapter and the dissertation template (https://dc.gcu.edu/dissertation/dissertation-templates).
There are a number of steps to take to establish a convincing and logical argumentation synthesis. The writer
should consider what the structure of the argument will look like and how the argument will be built,
analyzed, and evaluated relative to the dissertation topic. The tools and process of developing a logical
argument and then the defense of the argument are essential to understand if the doctoral researcher is
attempting to in�uence the reader. According to Hart (2010) “argumentation analysis and evaluation …
deconstructs and then reconstructs differently the ideas of other people” (p. 97). Deconstructing and
reconstructing is part of the overall process, and these steps are necessary for the doctoral researcher to
develop the argument, support (or refute) the argument, and synthesize all the information analyzed.
Tools and Tips
Capture factual statements to demonstrate something is true (cite your work).
Check the facts. Is one set of facts better than another to establish something is true?
State the premise or problem statement clearly. Check that the claim the argument is
making is reasonable.
Check the literature for other sources.
Early in the literature review, the doctoral researcher will start with a topic in mind, but that topic is subject to
change as the researcher gets deeper into the subject matter and experiences a deeper understanding. It is
advisable not to make unequivocal statements at any stage of the argument construction unless you can
substantiate such statements from the literature review. A good practice is to assess the information at stages
and synthesize the information to determine if a priori thoughts still hold up, or if, after rede�ning and
rethinking, the researcher discovers so much more about the problem that he/she realizes a need to critically
evaluate his/her own original perceptions or misconceptions. An example of this type of problem solving in
decision science is Bayes theorem. A priori information is available upon which the decision maker makes a
decision, but when new evidence is available the decision maker can update his/her beliefs and perhaps
change the original decision. In linear analysis, Bayes theorem, a derivative of theory of probability, can be
applied in the activity of the literature review, in that probability of an event measures a degree of one’s belief
(Lind et al., 2012). Capturing this information in an authentic whole requires the ability to synthesize. There are
several strategies one can use to structure the literature review in such a way that effectively combines
summary with synthesis.
What Is the Difference Between Summary and Synthesis?
One issue that doctoral learners experience when writing the literature review includes learning how to
synthesize information rather than summarizing or writing in a book report format. When writers summarize,
they highlight the main ideas of a written work and paraphrase them in their own words. They also give
credit to those individuals who expounded the original work. In contrast, when writers synthesize, they
engage in higher level thinking, combining information into a new whole. Table 3.1 highlights the differences
between synthesis and summary.
Differences Between Summary and Synthesis
When summarizing, the writer will �rst read two or more articles or research studies and annotate them,
highlighting key words and main ideas, making notes in the margins, writing down main ideas, and
identifying headings and categories. After reading and annotating, the writer will then make an outline or
summary of each article separately, to include the main content, main claims, and author’s purpose as well as
details, such as the population, methodology, and results of an empirical study. To demonstrate the summary
process, consider the following simple exercise: Every household has a junk drawer that serves as the “catch
all” for items. Have a friend or family member go to that junk drawer and randomly extract three items. For the
purposes of this discussion, a writer has taken the following three items from an of�ce desk drawer: a
computer mouse, a tube of lotion, and a wooden stamp set. The following is one possible summary of the three
Lower level thinking Higher level thinking
Lists facts or main ideas from a single source Integrates information from more than one source
into a new whole
Entails restating the information in writers’
Compares and contrasts information from sources
Summarize: “Summarizing is an essential
activity in literature reviewing. It is also an
essential part of managing the literature and
provides the basis for the organizing,
analyzing and synthesizing which follow”
(Punch, 2009, p. 101).
Combines information from more than one source
in writers’ own words.
Multiple sources in a paragraph in which “findings
are compared/contrasted/analyzed, and if
possible synthesized, along with a discussion on
how these references relate to your study” (Simon
& Goes, 2013, p. 277).
The computer mouse is used to navigate the computer. It is about 3 inches long and 1.5 inches wide.
It is purple on top with black sides and bottom. It has a wheel on the top that the writer can use to
move the page on the computer screen up and down. There are indentations on the side for the
thumb and �ngers. On the bottom one will �nd a removable door for the battery and an on/off
switch, which also indicates whether or not the battery is working.
The tube of lotion is about 3 inches tall and holds healing, aloe lotion. The cover says the lotion has
a clean scent, contains vitamins A, C, and E, and is nongreasy. The lid to the tube is gold and the
actual tube is cream colored. The tube contains blue symbols that look like molecules and writing.
The lotion itself is white, creamy, and smells like coconut oil.
The wooden stamp set comes in a square box that is pink and white with gold lettering. There are
six stamps in the box, which offer words of af�rmation: thank you, hi, to: from, hooray, and
congratulations. The stamps are in three different sizes: two are rectangular, two are cubes and one
In the above sample, the author describes three separate items from a desk drawer for the reader. However, as
stated earlier in this chapter, synthesis entails the writer including information from more than one source in
his or own words. This requires the writer to compare, contrast, and analyze the information. The following
paragraph represents a synthesis of the three objects from the desk drawer. First, the writer combines all three
summaries into one paragraph. Then, the writer includes a paragraph that discusses the similarities and
differences of the items. Finally, the writer writes a conclusion that highlights the main themes from the
articles and how they relate to the overall topic. The writer may suggest areas for further consideration or
research in the conclusion, as well. The next example shows a synthesis of the three items from the desk
In this synthesis, the writer �rst compares all three items from the desk drawer and then contrasts them.
Finally, the writer draws conclusions about the three items. This paragraph moves beyond the summary
description of the three items to analyze the purpose and functionality between the items, along with the
choices of those items.
In Chapter 2 of the dissertation, the literature review, doctoral learners often summarize research studies
related to their dissertation topics. The following passage shows an example of how one writer summarized a
is long and rectangular in shape. The stamps have black, cursive lettering.
The �rst item described is a purple, computer mouse, which is used to navigate the computer. The
mouse is approximately 3 inches long and 1.5 inches wide, with a wheel on the top the writer can
use to move the page on the computer screen up and down. There are indentations on the side for
the thumb and �ngers and the bottom there is a removable door for the battery and a power switch.
The second item is tube of cream and blue tube of healing, aloe lotion, which is approximately 3
inches tall. The lotion contains vitamins A, C, and E and is nongreasy. The lotion is white, with a
coconut scent. The third item is a box of six wooden stamps that come in a square box that is pink
and white with gold lettering. The six stamps have phrases with black cursive letting: thank you, hi,
to: from, hooray, and congratulations. The stamps are three different sizes: two rectangular, two
cubes, and one long rectangular.
All three, colorful, compact objects were retrieved from one of�ce desk drawer and are used during
the course of the day. Two of the objects (the stamps and the mouse) are used for daily work tasks,
whereas the tube of lotion is used for personal reasons. The items are different shapes. Two items,
the mouse and lotion are bene�cial for the worker. The mouse helps navigate the computer, and the
hand lotion eases dry skin. The stamp set is “fun” and not a necessity for the of�ce.
In sum, desk objects offer some similarities and differences. They are all used in the of�ce setting,
but for different purposes. They also re�ect the worker’s or owner’s personality in that they are
colorful, cheerful, and to a degree, whimsical. One may conclude that the of�ce worker wants some
variety in her day, so she chose fun, colorful items and maintain her soft hands to get their job done.
Cross (2014) conducted a quantitative study designed to determine what, if any, impact “grit” had on
learner success in the doctoral program. Grit was de�ned as the persistence, determination, and
passion the learners had to reach their long-term goal of completing the doctoral degree (Duckworth
et al., 2007). Cross (2014) used a correlational design to determine if learner “grit” was related to
learners’ current GPA. The independent variable for the study was learner “grit” scores as measured by
the Grit-S survey developed by Duckworth and Quinn, (2009). The dependent variable was learners’
current GPA in the doctoral program. Other controlling variables of learner gender and age were
collected and tested in the study. The sample consisted of 669 doctoral learners from a private, for-
pro�t university in the United States. Results of Pearson R correlations showed a statically signi�cant
relationship existed between learner grit scores and their GPA. When speci�c demographic factors
were tested, the results revealed a statistically signi�cant relationship between the grit scores of
females and GPA, but not males. Furthermore, results showed that a learner’s age was not signi�cantly
related to GPA, but grit scores were. Grit was positively related to GPA, but only for the female learners.
Cross (2014) concluded that in some ways, grit is a factor associated with the success of the online
doctoral learners in this sample, warranting need for further research on the topic.
This passage represents a summary of a research study on a speci�c topic, that of learner grit. The author has
highlighted the key components of the study; however, the passage does not re�ect synthesis, because the
author has not compiled information on more than one study within a passage and offered a comparison or
contrast of those studies. While it is important to summarize and fully present studies to identify a potential
limitation and problem space, synthesis is also important for certain parts of the literature review as the
author attempts to pull together components from more than one source and combine them in a new “whole”
to present information and set context for the study.
In order to determine what synthesis is, one might consider what it is not. First, synthesis is not accomplished
when a writer lists information from three or four authors in one paragraph (Craigo, 2003). Consider the
following example using �ctitious sources (Note: The example presented refers to purely �ctitious studies. As
such, references for these studies do not appear in the reference list at the end of the chapter.):
This paragraph, while containing valuable information on the attributes of leaders, does not compare or
contrast the attributes presented by the three authors. Instead, the writer summarizes the respective attributes
of leaders. Likewise, synthesis is not achieved when the writer quotes three or more authors in a paragraph.
When synthesizing, the writer will integrate information from more than one source to present his/her
position on the topic, as seen in this �ctitious passage (Note: The presented refers to purely �ctitious studies.
As such, references for these studies do not appear in the reference list at the end of the chapter.):
There are many attributes of great leaders. Great leaders are value-based, not fear-based (Smith, 2009).
Great leaders provide the opportunity to be heard, as in a democratic organization (Johnson, 2013). Other
great leaders give employees a voice, emphasizing their values (Brown, 1985).
A fundamental statement of the Rushmorean principle is that trust derives from the respect a leader
displays for followers. Respect for employees is evidenced when leaders actively listen and loyally
represent employee interests. Great leaders are values-based, not fear-based, provide employees a voice
with opportunities to be heard, keep promises, and promote employee dreams and aspirations to achieve
cause, without harm (Brown, 1985; Johnson, 2009; O’Malley 2003). If the Rushmorean principle were
adopted authentically in a workplace where there exists con�ict, dissention, and hostility, over time, it
could take a longer to realize improvement. Employees at all levels should observe and engage in
behaviors that emanate directly from listening to one another, responding with care and representing
In this passage, the author synthesizes information on great leaders from four different sources, and then
connects these perspectives to her own study on the Rushmorean principle, providing context and evidence of
her position. Thus, the difference between summary and synthesis lies in the details. Summary includes the
writer’s own recount of information from one source. Synthesis, on the other hand, includes the writer’s own
recount of information from more than one source, presented as critical thought through comparison and
contrast. The following section describes some approaches writers use to synthesize information.
What Strategies Can Writers Use to Synthesize Information?
Several strategies may be used to synthesize information. When beginning the research process, the writer
must consider what other authors have published on the topic, what that writing entailed, and how those
works were related (Bowling Green State University, 2011). Then, the writer re�ects on how the view of others
can be incorporated into his/her own views in a new and meaningful work. A synthesis extends beyond a
summary or series of summaries; it includes several works woven together with the author’s unique
perspective on the topic. Additionally, the writer can discuss how the sources or results relate to the study,
argument, or topic.
The key to synthesis is to use several different sources to support one main idea but discuss the relationship
between the sources. Considering the following questions may also help the writer synthesize:
Do the authors or study results agree?
Do the authors or study results disagree?
Does the work of one author or results of one study add to or advance an idea or results presented by the
other? (Bowling Green State University, 2011).
In the synthesis, the writer may also address the following:
How are the studies similar (compare)? Different (contrast)?
How accurate and valid are the measurements?
Are the conclusions supported based on the data and analysis?
What are the strengths and weakness of the studies?
What is known and not known – identify the overlaps and problem spaces in the knowledge?
Thus, synthesis allows the writer to take information from more than one source and create a new and
meaningful whole. The new whole demonstrates the doctoral learner’s ability to identify the interrelationships
between and among the literature and research on the topic.
Writers can also use graphic organizers to organize and compare and contrast ideas during the synthesis
process. To create a Venn diagram (see Figure 3.1), draw overlapping circles and place each signi�cant element
of the discussion of empirical works so that in the section where the elements overlap, those traits or
attributes are presented that make a difference or contribute to the basic or central part of the argument of the
others’ welfare, and managers and employees alike at all levels staying true to their word. “I’ve got your
back” would be an anthem for such a workplace. Oberon and Adams (2006) found that organizational
citizenship behavior was positively related to intrinsic motivators, which contribute to a positive work
attitude. The Rushmorean principle, which espouses values, such as respect, honor, integrity, justice, can
change worker attitudes, beliefs, and goals.
Many GCU doctoral learners and faculty use a matrix to help synthesize writing. A comparison matrix can
help learners keep large amounts of information focused and organized. It also provides a place to view
selected notes side-by-side for comparison and analysis. By itself, it is simply an empty table, but once
learners assign categories to compare, then it becomes an effective research tool. The columns represent the
selected articles, and the rows contain the different sections the learner wants to compare. More rows and
columns can be added as the research expands. The comparison matrix allows learners to recognize
similarities and differences between the articles. Once learners have identi�ed the sections and input their
�ndings in each box, they are able to examine and analyze the information. Ultimately, learners will
synthesize the data in the rows and columns into a written document that demonstrates their analytic
abilities and understanding of the subject material. A comparison matrix is only as good as the learner’s
ability to adequately identify each section and produce comprehensive notes that communicate the necessary
information that can be synthesized later into sound analysis. A synthesis matrix is similar to a comparison
matrix, as it is a tool to help learners identify patterns and themes within the literature. For a synthesis paper
in a course, students identify themes to support a thesis, and while the task is comparable to a dissertation, it
is more complex.
In developing the literature review, a writer usually develops a detailed outline. For each section of that outline,
or topic/theme, the researcher can identify appropriate studies and/or literary articles on the topic. Speci�c to
the GCU literature review, learners must present a section critiquing methods used in prior studies as well as
instruments. Thus, a synthesis matrix can be bene�cial for this purpose. An example of a synthesis matrix on
the topic of community college succession planning is in Table 3.2. After recording information from these
studies, the researcher is prepared to summarize each study and then synthesize the information to develop
one section of the literature review.
Example of Comparing Shared Variance Among Three Related Elements
Sample Completed Synthesis Matrix
records not full
wish to capture a
Betak, A. K. (2010). “Community College
Succession Planning: Preparing the Next
Generation of Women for Leadership Roles.” View
Shantz, J. K.
“A Study of the
Impact of a
Program on a
Compare and Contras
steps of change
Transformational leadership Kouzes and
colleges in New
going to see
the future due
Purpose: Investigate strategies that will help
community colleges to develop and cultivate
women who were employed in middle level
management positions to assume executive level
Significance: Retirement rates of community
college leaders exceed the pace at which these
positions are being filled.
of a “Grow
program on the
college in the
of Grow Your
of all three is
leaders in the
future due to
1. Focuses on
how leaders in
2. Focuses on
3. Focuses on
planning in the
4. Focuses on
structure in the
1. Focuses on how community colleges plan for
the succession of females to senior level
2. Focuses on the variables that community
colleges face to make certain that females and
other underrepresented populations are
considered as candidates in the succession
3. Ascertains if a specific incident or situation
triggers leaders in community colleges to develop
a succession plan and also to develop females for
4. Focuses on how shared governance structure in
the community colleges influences succession
the effect that
on middle level
whether or not
more of an
3. Explores the
was the most
4. Focuses on
skill that was
Materials and Method
colleges in the
leaders in three
Mixed methods (concurrent, also labels study as a
Four senior level community college administrators
(interviews); 18 responses to a survey
for the study
managers at a
All three have
All three use
all leaders at
some level in
Method: New Jersey Likert-scale survey which asked about perceptions Quantitative:
related to planning for the advancement of women
senior level leadership positions in rural Illinois
Survey was online one month; 12 responses (24%
Interviews with four community college leaders
Analysis: Descriptive statistics for the survey;
coding and themes for interviews
after one year
in the program.
in the GYO
LPI self. Only
29 of the
well on 48
and three of
selected by the
used to run
rotation on the
LPI –pre and
on the LPI
Points 1, 2, 3 =
Points 4, 5 =
Points 6, 7 =
Points 8, 9, 10
Theme 1: Lack
of planning for
gave priority to
related to daily
Interview results: Four themes.
Theme 1. Succession planning is a good idea, but
actually developing and implementing a plan is
wrought with obstacles and challenges. A process
must be in writing and approved by board of
trustees. Difficult to do due to budgets. Collective
bargaining units present challenges. Institutions
use a formal procedure for advancement,
regardless of gender. Limited time and staff make
succession planning difficult. Fair play and equity
Mentoring: Women need to be mentored and
developed. Little time for leaders to develop and
cultivate others. Good idea, but a plan must be in
place to select equitably, the participants.
of the GYO
age, or years
planning is a
was more on
issues to be
Focus was on
Theme 5: Lack
showed lack of
existed at the
and aligned to
Mentoring is an obligation of senior leaders.
Board of Trustee support is critical, but often a
low-level priority (succession planning). Involves a
level of trust, not to micromanage. Educate
trustees on benefits of succession plans.
Challenges to succession planning: finding
qualified candidates in rural areas is difficult.
Women must be flexible and open to change,
mobility. Find those with less experience and train
them… attract those less qualified to rural areas.
Dialogue in place, but nothing specific. Employees
wear multiple hats.
pre to posttest.
was the skill
they used most
felt their skills
as a result of
but noted not
program had a
on the future of
was small and
limited to one
years after the
the reliability of
that data may
be in question.
at the college
in a leadership
was not a
priority due to
in the GYO
LPI scores of
job positions as
higher levels of
About half of
felt that if they
retired or left
that one or
than half of the
fourths of those
idea that their
had occurred in
over the last
five years, had
sum, plenty of
to transition to
an executive or
position at the
valid based on
the data and
the practice of
reflective of the
and aligned to
Results of this
Trustees at the
rarely took the
Rural Illinois community colleges understand the
value in succession planning, but there are many
variables and challenges that prohibit
Community colleges do offer leadership
development opportunities, but those opportunities
were not linked to strategic planning.
Being in rural areas makes the process of
recruiting qualified individuals difficult, including
women. Other challenges include lower pay for
qualified applicants, isolated campuses, and a lack
of diverse students and community members.
Pending retirements and leadership transitions
take precedence over development of women to
take on leadership positions.
Succession planning can happen, but there must
be a deliberate plan to make it happen.
Women who desire to access leadership roles
must be proactive and seek out training and
opportunities, including mentors.
College must have a common vision to enact a
succession plan and it should be part of the
strategic plan. and it should
This research concludes that even publically
funded community colleges can
move forward with the development and
implementation of a succession plan if the
following two things occur: (a) community college
leaders must present a unified vision
of the succession plan and (b) provide opportunity
appears to be
the District and
training but is
to the District
were all valid.
need for the
planning in the
college, but felt
give priority to
to the demands
a lack of
not have a
plan, nor did
they intend to
minimal to no
for feedback and accept criticism
with a shared
Few colleges have a specific succession plan in
Grow your own
should look at
not evident in
the first two
studies. In the
creation of a
will create a
in a time of
colleges in the
individuals to fill
scarcer. Lack of
stability, at least
in the short
input as to
inclusion of a
would put a
great deal of
effort into the
they may be
LPI scores did
evidence of a
of growth in
need for more
the topic or a
review of the
in a ru
Instructions for Including Synthesis in One Section of the
After completing the synthesis matrix on one topic or theme in the literature review, the writer can then write
a synthesis section. To develop one section of the literature review, the researcher selects the topic or section
of the outline or literature review to develop. For the purposes of this example, the researcher has selected and
read three primary source research studies on succession planning and has completed the synthesis matrix.
Then the writer must complete the 10 steps to synthesizing the literature.
Ten Steps to Synthesizing the Literature
For each subtopic or theme related to the research topic (each theme or topic in the) literature
1. Select and read three primary sources (empirical, peer-reviewed) articles.
2. As you read articles, use a synthesis matrix to make notes in the appropriate column
about the key elements of each study, including the conceptual framework, study
purpose and signi�cance, research questions, design, subjects, method (i.e.,
instrumentation procedure, statistics, and limitations/assumptions), results, and
conclusions. Label the columns across the top of your chart with your topic, a few key
words from the title of each article and/or the primary author’s last name.
a. A synthesis matrix helps to (a) clarify how the studies relate to one another and to
your research question and purpose, and (b) compare and contrast the research
methods, results, and conclusions among authors.
3. Next, write a four-part abstract (half a page for the introduction; one page on method,
one page on analysis, one page on discussion/conclusions) for each study using your
synthesis matrix notes, with focus on the methods and results.
4. The fourth step is to reduce the four-part abstract to a one-paragraph summary for each
study. Use your competed synthesis matrix to assist in this process.
was issued by
GCU and target
Participants in this study were ensured anonymity
as each are currently serving in senior
-level administrative positions in Illinois community
colleges. A signed consent form was provided
prior to each interview. The consent form was
approved by the
Research Review Board
5. Logically order the paragraphs so that the �ow makes sense and shows the
development of knowledge.
6. Add introductory and concluding sentences to each summary paragraph. Next write
paragraph links, and short transition paragraphs to connect your summary paragraphs
to each other.
7. Using the synthesis matrix, write a synthesis of your three research articles (two to
a. Compare/contrast the research. Look for similarities and differences.
b. How accurate and valid are the measurements?
c. Are the conclusions supported based on the data and analysis?
d. What are the strengths and weakness of the studies?
e. What is known and not known? Identify the overlaps and problem spaces in the
8. Write a conclusion (do this before writing your introduction).
a. Overview the main idea.
b. Articulate the contributions of this literature to the �eld (based on your synthesis).
c. Identify the controversy in the literature. What is missing?
d. Formulate questions for future research.
9. Write an introduction.
a. Overview the main idea, why is it important, what are the themes and trends in
research questions, methodology, and �ndings. This should be similar to your
concluding paragraph overview.
b. Describe the relevance of this literature to your research topic.
10. Organize your written work to look something like this:
a. Introduction (one to two paragraphs)
i. Study 1 – summary paragraph
ii. Transition paragraph (links Study 1 to Study 2)
iii. Study 2 – summary paragraph
iv. Transition paragraph (links Study 2 to 3)
v. Study 3 – summary paragraph
vi. Repeat for additional studies
c. Synthesis of the studies (two to three paragraphs)
d. Conclusion (one to two paragraphs)
After the synthesis is complete, the researcher should write a conclusion before writing the introduction. This
includes an overview of the main idea of the section. The writer should articulate the contributions of the
studies to the �eld, identify controversies in the literature, what is missing, and formulate questions for future
research. In the example of community college succession planning, the controversy is quite clear. There is an
impending shortage of quali�ed individuals to occupy executive leadership roles because of a large number of
expected retirements. The controversy outlined in the studies within the synthesis matrix, shows that while
the existing leaders value succession planning, they simply do not place priority on establishing processes
whereby their successors are identi�ed and trained. This is not due to a lack of want, but other factors, such as
time, budget, and daily operations, that occupy the job role.
Based on the earlier example of desk drawer items, a synthesis is included below:
Employees in of�ces around the country are required to complete tasks on a daily basis. In the course of
their work, employees acquire personal and professional tools to help complete job goals. Many of these
tools can be found in the employee’s desk drawer. These tools often offer a glimpse into the job role and
personality of the employee. This passage discusses the similarities and differences in items retrieved
from one desk in the College of Doctoral Studies: a computer mouse, a tube of lotion, and a set of wooden
The �rst item retrieved was a computer mouse. The computer mouse is used to navigate the computer. It
is about 3 inches long and 1.5 inches wide. It is purple on top with black sides and bottom. It has a wheel
on the top that the writer can use to move the page on the computer screen up and down. There are
indentations on the side for the thumb and �ngers. One the bottom, one will �nd a removable door for the
battery and an on/off switch, which also indicates whether or not the battery is working. The computer
mouse is used during the day as the GCU employee serves learners and faculty in the College of Doctoral
Employees who use the computer on a daily basis can use the mouse to help navigate documents and
email; therefore, they must have soft, healthy hands. A tube of lotion is helpful in making sure that hands
are not cracked and dry. Thus, it may come as no surprise to �nd lotion in the desks of many GCU
The second item retrieved from the desk in the College of Doctoral Studies was a tube of lotion. The tube of
lotion is about 3 inches tall and holds healing, aloe lotion. The label says the lotion has a clean scent,
contains vitamins A, C and E, and is nongreasy. The lid to the tube is gold, and the actual tube is cream
colored. The label contains blue symbols that look like molecules and writing. The lotion itself is white,
creamy, and smells like coconut oil. Given that the lotion contains vitamins, it can ensure that employees
have access to the essential nutrients for healthy hands.
As doctoral researchers, making a logical argument for a study is a central requirement for completing the
dissertation. To accomplish that, the researcher synthesizes information to illuminate the research problem
space and create logical support for the dissertation study. However, doing synthesis is not a simple task. To
that end, this chapter presented the concept of synthesis in the context of the literature review and discussed
strategies for performing the synthesis required by the dissertation literature review. As with all skills, a
researcher’s ability to perform synthesis will improve with continuing practice and experience. Doctoral
learners, then, should take every opportunity to engage in the practice of synthesis.
Check for Understanding
Employees can use necessary tools such as the computer mouse and hand lotion to ensure that they are
able to complete daily work tasks on time. However, working in an of�ce environment all day can get
rather routine as employees do the same tasks over and over. Thus, employees need to have items in their
desk that can offer cheer and offer a break from the routine. Some employees enjoy having wooden
stamps to offer af�rmation to faculty members and doctoral learners.
The third item recovered from the desk in the College of Doctoral Studies, a wooden stamp set, offers a
symbol of cheer and break from routine. The wooden stamp set comes in a square box that is pink and
white with gold lettering. There are six stamps in the box that offer words of af�rmation: thank you, hi, to:
from, hooray, and congratulations. The stamps are in three different sizes: two are rectangular, two are
cubes, and one is long and rectangular in shape. The stamps have black, cursive lettering. The employee
may use these stamps to offer “fun,” af�rmative messages to coworkers and learners.
Items found in desks in the College of Doctoral Studies and elsewhere can offer a glimpse into the work
environment and personality of the employee or desk owner. All employees have a variety of professional
and personal tools in their workspace to facilitate completing daily roles and tasks. Additionally, as
employees work in the same of�ce, at the same desk, each day, they acquire items that both help them to
do the job, but also that re�ect the employee’s character. Employees, therefore, acquire both personal and
professional items that help add variety to the work day and complete job assignments at the same time.
Three, colorful, compact objects were retrieved from one of�ce desk drawer in the College of Doctoral
Studies. These items, which are used during the course of the day, help the employee do their job, but also
add variety to the day and re�ect the personality of the worker. Two of the objects (the stamps and the
mouse) retrieved from the desk are used for daily work tasks, whereas the tube of lotion is used for
personal reasons. The items are different shapes. Two items, the mouse and lotion are bene�cial for the
worker. The mouse helps navigate the computer, and the hand lotion eases dry skin. The stamp set is “fun”
and not a necessity for the of�ce. However, the stamp and purple color of the mouse portray the “cheerful”
temperament of an employee, who also may enjoy offering af�rmations to others and a colorful
environment. While these items simplify the work for employees and are colorful and personal, the
inferences reached by the writer may not be accurate. Therefore, more research is merited on this topic in
order to determine if contents of other employee desks offer data to support this inference.
In sum, items retrieved from desks may highlight the personality and work tasks of an employee in the
College of Doctoral Studies. The three items used as data in this paper were used in the of�ce setting, but
for different purposes. They may re�ect the worker’s or owner’s personality in that they are colorful,
cheerful, and to a degree, whimsical. One may conclude that the of�ce worker wants some variety in their
day, so they choose fun items, fun colors, and maintain her soft hands to get their job done. At the same
time, the worker chose items that allow her to complete daily tasks. This conclusion was reached based
on three items from one desk drawer in the College of Doctoral Studies. Therefore, the inferences reached
may not be applicable to other desks or employees in the college or in other settings. More research on the
topic is recommended to determine if an analysis of more items from more desks in other settings offer
1. Operationalize the term synthesis for use in the literature review of a dissertation.
2. How does synthesis differ from other processes or terms used in developing the literature review?
3. What are some strategies one can use to synthesize research studies and literary articles?
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1. In the literature review, synthesis is operationalized as the researcher’s incorporation of
evidence from two or more sources to give voice to his or her own unique position.
2. For a researcher to analyze, compare, contrast, or summarize requires the application of
critical thought to the accurate restatement of factual information. To synthesize, the
researcher must move beyond surface critique to combine the ideas in a unique yet
cogent manner that gives credence to the position of the researcher as expressed in
3. Read widely and deeply. Think critically. Employ a synthesis matrix to organize ideas
and connect information.
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