Dissertation Writing: The Importance of Synthesis

by Dr. Cheryl Lentz

Writing a dissertation or a research article for publication in a scholarly journal as a doctoral scholar requires a specific writing technique known as synthesis.  When offering background research on which our argument is based, a literature review is offered to the reader to provide background, context, and relevancy to the current field of study to which the doctoral scholar is adding to the greater body of knowledge. The challenge is that often this idea of synthesis is not quite understood.

The best example of synthesis is to use the idea of a literature as part of a dissertation or a doctoral study.  The goal of this chapter/section is to provide a history lesson as well as context on which the current dissertation or study is based.  The goal of a literature review is to look at the reason and rational that supports the problem under study as outlined in the problem and purpose statements.  Our role as the researcher is to justify the need for our study beyond our personal interest or curiosity. Remember, it is not what we know that is important; but what we can prove.

Think of a CEO offering a state of the union address to its employees.  The CEO presents where a company has come from within the discussion of where the company is right now.  The CEO outlines the history and the framework, aligning the speech to the organization’s mission statements and core values as well as short-term and long-term strategy.  The goal isn’t just a book report or a history lesson.  Instead, the CEO exists as a funnel and filter to incorporate all of what has happened up to that moment in time to create meaning and understanding for the organization as it moves forward.  This concept is known as synthesis.

As writers, our intent is to interpret various research studies on which our argument or premise for our own research is based.  Our goal is not only offering a review of the study’s findings.  In addition, we need to integrate this particular study or studies within the greater body of knowledge in our particular field.  How does this study findings shape the path of a specific field of study such as leadership? How does this study build on what was known before to which this study adds? How does this study’s findings contribute to our specific research of study? What meaning might this hold? What relevancy might these findings offer?

The goal of a literature review is much more than a book report recitation of the findings.  In addition, our goal is to be a funnel for our reader, to help them put this new data into appropriate context to create meaning and interpretation.  Remember our goal as a writer is to avoid leaving questions in the minds of our reader.  Our intention is to build on what has come before our research to which we are adding our contributions to our field of study.