2.1. Summarizing

Summarizing theories

Synthesis Matrix

A synthesis matrix is used to contrast theoretical perspectives on different issues (2-3, max. 4, different authors, traditions or papers). Think for example “Chomsky vs. Saussure’s linguistics” or “Krashen vs. Ellis’ vision of input and output”. It works well when the selected authors or traditions (i.e., groups of authors) have very clear divergences (and eventual convergences) on specific aspects. Every column is one author or tradition or theoretical perspective. Every row is an aspect of the topic on which the authors either agree or disagree.

Aspect1What this author or this theoretical tradition has to say about this aspect.What about Author 2?Author 3 thinks otherwise…

Contrasting empirical studies

  • Understanding empirical results
  • Statistical significance and p-value
  • Effect size
  • Meta-analysis

Summary Table of Studies

A Table of studies works well for summarizing the main characteristics and findings of empirical studies, whether qualitative or—most often—quantitative. Many studies can be included (from 5 to 25, 40, 100…). Every line is one study, represented by one publication (reference).


ReferenceStudy designSampleInterventionDep. variableOutcome measureMain findings
Ellis & Doe, 2015Experimental$N=26$
High school
London, UK
Tasks vs. exercisesSpeakingSpeech rate (# words/min)Sig. effect, $d=0.54$
Martin, 2010Qualitative$N=6$
Language center
Cuenca, Ecuador
Pink et al, 2011Correlational$N=160$

Other random examples:

From ‘[Introduction to literature reviews](https://www.monash.edu/rlo/graduate-research-writing/write-the-thesis/writing-a-literature-review/process)’ at Monash University
From ‘Introduction to literature reviews’ at Monash University

Advanced example (in medical research): NIH summary of clinical trials on Ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19

  • Study
  • Methods
  • Results
  • Interpretation

Identifying gaps

Citing and quoting