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Lesson I-1

Overview of Integrating Across Studies

Synthesize Graphic
A good review of research literature does not just describe and assess the applicable studies. It also integrates across them.  The integration stage forges something new from the prior studies.  This introductory lesson and the following five Integration lessons (I-2 to I-6) will help you several ways of doing this.

The "new" may come from a redefinition of a research problem, modification of conceptual framework applied to the problem, identification of methodological shortcomings in a body of research, or a best guess about the "truth" of some issue from a body of research with inconsistent results.  The Search and Assessment stages of a literature review provide the foundation for the Integration stage. 

There are many ways of approaching integration.  They can be grouped into the following six categories.  Rarely would all six approaches be used simultaneously, but these indicate the range of possibilities:

  • Portray: Paint a picture.  Indicate the surface similarities and differences.  Map out surface relationships.  Identify the gaps. 
  • Trace History: Describe changes over time.  Identify lineage.  Situate the evolving research in a larger historical context.  Identify causes and consequences of the evolution.
  • Categorize: Sort into a taxonomy based on similarities and differences of underlying characteristics. 
  • Summarize: Identify main commonalities and central tendencies.  Generalize and simplify.
  • Undermine: Break up existing paradigms of thought by documenting obscure inadequacies that are widespread.  Identify chaos in apparent order.  Show the variation and complexity of the situation.
  • Synthesize: Pull together into a new whole.  Explain and reconcile apparent contradictions.  Redefine.  Identify order in apparent chaos. 
Enlightening integration rarely is achieved mechanically.  It benefits from intuition, inspiration, and insight.  It also requires verification and documentation.  A scholar is expected to substantiate his or her integrations so that others can second-guess their validity and merit.

As with the Search and Assessment stages of a literature review, a scholar's beliefs, hopes, predispositions, and opinions can unintentionally, and sometimes intentionally, bias the results of the Integration stage, making them invalid, misleading, and dysfunctional.  To avoid this, be cognizant of your biases and rigorously verify and document the resulting integrations.  As a final check, ask yourself: were there any surprises in your integrations?  If not, you may have proceeded with blinders. 

The integration of research is a scholarly endeavor.  Accordingly, your conclusions are considered of little importance without careful documentation of the evidence upon which they are based. 

There are at least five domains where integration can be undertaken during reviews of the research literature. They are:

  • Research Problem: Undesirable human or social conditions, unsatisfactory findings of prior research, or inadequacies in conceptual frameworks or methodology of prior research.
  • Conceptual Framework: The lens through which the problem is viewed-the worldviews, theories, perspectives, and/or constructs of prior research studies.
  • Methodology: The research design, sampling, data collection, and analysis of prior research studies.
  • Interventions: The experimental treatments, the innovative practices being demonstrated, and the naturally occurring events whose impacts are of interest.
  • Findings: The results, conclusions, interpretations, predictions, and recommendations of prior research studies.
Some reviews of research seek to integrate in only one of the five domains.   Reviews in preparation for major research studies, including dissertation research, should usually undertake some integration in all five areas, thus providing the best basis for new research that is likely to make a real contribution to knowledge. 

Although the steps in research normally begin with a research problem, followed in order by a conceptual framework, methodology, and findings, in the following lessons, integration of research problems will be discussed last because it usually draws heavily on integrations of the other domains.

Other Integration Lessons

This is the first of six brief lessons on integrating across research studies. The other lessons are as follows: 

Lesson I-2: Integrating Conceptual Frameworks
Lesson I-3: Integrating Methodology
Lesson I-4: Integrating Interventions
Lesson I-5: Integrating Findings
Lesson I-6: Integrating Research Problems

Treasure Chest on Integration 

Last Update: June 29, 2000Link to the George Washington UniversitySend feedbackLink to Education Policy Page