A literature review requires a synthesis of different subtopics to come to a greater understanding on a larger issue. It works very much like a jigsaw puzzle. The individual pieces (arguments) must be put together to reveal the whole (state of knowledge).
A literature review should be organized according to each subtopic. For example, one section of a literature review might read “Researcher A suggests that X is true. Researcher B also argues that X is true, but points out that the effects of X may be different from those suggested by Researcher A.” It is clear that subtopic X is the main idea covered in these sentences. Researchers A and B agree that X is true, but they disagree on X’s effects. There is both agreement and disagreement, but what links the two arguments is the fact that they both concern X.
Here is an example of synthesis from the literature review titled “World War Two and its Effect on Women.” This excerpt synthesizes information without summarizing.
“While the articles used in this research agree that women made many advances during the Word War II period, it is crucial to realize that not all these changes were welcomed. In most cases women faced discrimination from just about everyone around them. Women in the workplace were often placed in positions of inferiority or treated as being less physically able to do the same work the men did. Many women were often not trained because they were viewed as temporary employees who were only there for the duration of the war (Bruley, 2003, pp.221-222). Women were very rarely given equal pay as men, even though some of them did the same work. Women in the military faced not only mental abuse but also physical harm from their male counterparts. According to Cornelsen (2005), there were many instances where female aviators were injured or killed due to being made to fly ill-maintained aircrafts or aircrafts that had been sabotaged. (p.114)”
"Notice how when transitioning from Bruley article to the Cornelsen article the writer notes not only that the two articles are similar, but also how they are similar. The writer goes into detail about Bruley’s discussion of women in industry facing discrimination while noting that Stewart deals with prejudice in the military. The author also transitions well between Bruley and Cornelsen; rather than summarizing, the author draws comparisons between the two articles, giving relevant information and at the same time synthesizing the two works".
-- Example taken from North Carolina Writing and Speaking Tutorial.
-- Courtesy Andrew Davis, Dept. of Writing & Rhetoric, University of Mississippi