Evaluating, Interpreting, and Distilling Evidence from Primary Studies

Research synthesists engage in varied and detailed methods for evaluating, interpreting, and distilling evidence across primary studies and other forms of published scholarship. In some cases, analytic methods are determined by particular syntheses methodologies. In other cases, research synthesists design their own analytical processes, applying them reiteratively to the selected corpus of studies. Thus, the method used is contingent on the type of review conducted, the questions asked, and the methodology' adapted.

If a synthesis project is designed to evaluate research studies, review synthesists might identify evaluative criteria to guide that analysis. Criteria might be based on analyses of exemplar studies, characteristics of highly cited studies, and/or methodological design elements recommended by expert researchers.

If the research synthesists focus on the findings presented in primary studies, they require different analytical tools. These tools must help the researcher to identify claims and patterns within primary studies as well as categories of findings across the studies. This might entail comparing and analyzing findings and attending to findings reiterated across studies, time, and epistemology to understand the targeted phenomenon. Finally, as is the case for meta-ethnography, research synthesists might attend to the metaphors that primary researchers use to reference the phenomenon of interest.

Thus, research syntheses do not end with analyses of individual primary studies. Synthesists look across the corpus of identified studies and the patterns they have discerned to compare and contrast how primary scholars have collectively made sense of the phenomenon of interest. As part of this crosscase analytic process, research synthesists might reveal disagreements, confluences of findings, and emerging lines of argument across studies and over time. Looking across studies may reveal voices and perspectives that have been ignored and or place attention on critical issues that have defined people’s lives and experiences.

Communicating with Audiences

Audience is an important consideration for research synthesists. In our own work, we have sometimes revisited our research syntheses to craft what we have learned for a new audience. This requires careful rethinking of how information is framed and presented. For example, we recently re-wrote our critical integrative literature review (Compton-Lilly et al., 2012), which was published in a highly ranked scholarly journal, for a teacher audience (Compton-Lilly et al., 2019). As part of this process, we omitted much of our methodological detail, adopted a more conversational voice, and identified implications for teachers and educators working with families. Public knowledge projects which aim to make research syntheses accessible to multiple audiences are becoming more common. CITE-ITEL - a repository for storing and accessing research related to teacher education - is an example of one such public knowledge project.

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