What Possible Reasons Might Scholars Have for Writing Research Syntheses?

In this volume, we explore various purposes for writing research syntheses. In particular, we explore motivations that include establishing credibility for particular claims; identifying gaps, trends, and historical patterns; highlighting areas of controversy or suggesting resolutions; and reflecting on historical or current ways of thinking that provide a mirror on a given body of work. We argue that research syntheses can present arguments about what we know and what we need to learn. Specifically, we argue that a scholarly review can persuade, convince, direct policy, serve busy educators, synthesize large bodies of work, or reveal invisible patterns (Suri, 2014).

4 Reviewing Bodies of Literacy Scholarship

Synthesists as Reflexive Researchers

As with every other form of qualitative research, attention to the biases and assumptions that qualitative research synthesists bring to projects is critical. Just as qualitative researchers must recognize and reveal their alliances, affiliations, and experiences, the same is true of scholars who aspire to review scholarship within a field. Thus, research syntheses always reflect particular experiences, bodies of knowledge, and positionings.They are intrinsically tentative and open to negotiation, reinterpretation, and debate.

Reflexivity is a critical consideration for research synthesists. Savin-Baden and Major (2010) explain:

Reflexivity in qualitative synthesis therefore means seeking to continually challenge our biases and examining our stances, perspectives, and views as a researcher. This is not meant to be a notion of‘situating oneself’as formulaic as pronouncing a particular positioned identity connected with class, gender or race for example, but rather situating oneself in order to interpret data demands so to engage with critical questions (p. 82).

Threaded throughout this book is our own reflexive analysis of our journeys as research synthesists - from novice doctoral researchers to seasoned academic scholars. We use examples from our own research syntheses as touchstones to make our decisions, logic, process, and procedures transparent. We use these examples to critique our own assumptions, bias, and silences. We make the case that refining our understanding of the available types of research synthesis designs will support conceptual, methodological, and ethical advances in the field of literacy studies.

Attending to researcher reflexivity has not always been considered relevant in conducting research syntheses. Research synthesists began explicitly attending to selection and publication biases starting in the 1980s (e.g.,Wade, 1983) and more commonly in the 2000s (e.g., Slavin & Cheung, 2005; Swanson, Trainin, Necoechea, & Hammill, 2003;Torgerson, Porthouse, & Brooks, 2005) that could affect what types of research studies were published. However, it was not until the most recent decade when research synthesists began to acknowledge personal and cultural biases within the context of their published synthesis (e.g., Compton- Lilly et al., 2012;Wetzel et al., 2019; Rogers & Schaenen,2014). Fisher (2005) - in a review of teacher-child interactions during the teaching of reading — argued that research syntheses are limited by not only who the authors are but also by who they are not. He wrote, “it is important to recognize that the present paper is written from the perspective of a researcher in literacy education. I am not a linguist, a psychologist, a sociologist, or a philosopher - all of whom have contributed to our understanding of speech in the classroom and how it may impact the teaching of reading” (pp. 16-17).

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