The Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing

Original Article 

The Language of Scholarship: Synthesis of the Literature

Wyona M. Freysteinson, PhD, MN; JoAnn Stankus, PhD

Abstract

The purpose of this article is to educate nurses and nursing students on the meaning and location of scholarly literature. Select resources are identified to assist with identifying high-quality evidence-based publications, which is a vital competency to enhance scholarship for evidence-based practice in professional nursing practice. [J Contin Educ Nurs. 2020;51(8):384–386.]

Abstract

The purpose of this article is to educate nurses and nursing students on the meaning and location of scholarly literature. Select resources are identified to assist with identifying high-quality evidence-based publications, which is a vital competency to enhance scholarship for evidence-based practice in professional nursing practice. [J Contin Educ Nurs. 2020;51(8):384–386.]

The American Nurses Credentialing Center's (n.d.-a) Magnet® and Pathway to Excellence® (n.d.-b) programs call for practicing nurses to review, synthesize, and disseminate research literature that is pertinent to their areas of practice to enhance evidence-based practice. This synthesis of the literature can help direct a nurse in advocating for new or updating of clinical procedures, creation of new hospital policy, or positively influence those who work for change in national health care policies.

This article offers a tool for organizing and synthesizing research study articles. Methodologically arranging research results onto one comprehensive document allows for greater insight into how to blend or combine the data into a literature review that provides new knowledge for the nursing field. This article also describes the basic components of a review for use in drafting a scholarly paper, developing a scholarly poster, or preparing an oral presentation with an overhead slide presentation of the research results.

Working Spreadsheet File

Developing a working spreadsheet file allows the greatest flexibility in collecting research studies. Use Microsoft Excel® or a similar product to create four spreadsheets (Table 1).

Spreadsheet Tabs

Table 1:

Spreadsheet Tabs

Use the first spreadsheet to collect basic information for all articles (author/year, type of paper) found in the databases that are related to the review topic. After gathering and evaluating the articles, copy and paste the lines of the research articles that meet the inclusion criteria to a second spreadsheet. Add headings across the first row of this spreadsheet: author/year, country, study design, aims/question, population, sample, data collection, data analysis, findings, limitations, and level of evidence. Also, add a column for study type (Table 2). The information in this column can be reviewed and sorted to discern whether studies with a related focus exist. Using the first spreadsheet, copy and paste the lines of articles that will be useful in writing the introduction (i.e., statistics, theory, literature reviews) to the third spreadsheet. Reserve the last spreadsheet for developing a table for publication.

Study Type Examples

Table 2:

Study Type Examples

Synthesis

There are no standardized rules for synthesis. Typically, the first step is to summarize the characteristics of the research studies under review. For example, using the spreadsheet, count and describe the total number and types of studies in the review (i.e., randomized control trial, qualitative and quantitative). Review and provide a description of the types of populations used in the studies, the sample size range, and total sample across all studies. Determine and describe the range of ages of the participants and the mean age across studies.

After this overarching view of the research, look for categories or themes within the research articles. Categories that may be interesting to review are the definitions of key variables and theories used to ground quantitative studies. Qualitative study findings may be beneficial in understanding the information. Add columns to the spreadsheet for these categories. Continue to search for categories or themes and create a column when each potential theme is uncovered. Return to the articles to see if these categories appear in other studies.

As every research study is unique, categories may not be in all the studies under review. For example, in a fictitious literature review aimed at determining the best urinary catheter to use, the categories of catheter type and complications were easy to find. After reviewing the articles, a theme of self-care having been taught was found in a study, suggesting a correlation between education and prevention of urinary tract infections (Table 3).

Catheter Education and Catheter Type

Table 3:

Catheter Education and Catheter Type

Writing the Literature Review

A literature review has five basic sections: introduction, method, results, discussion, and conclusion. The introduction presents basic information on the problem under study and supporting literature (i.e., statistics, theory, previous literature reviews). Typically, the final line or slide of the introduction is the review question or aim statement.

The methods section is used to describe the literature methodology guiding the review (Joanna Briggs Institute, 2019). In this section, add a subheading for the search strategy and include inclusion and exclusion criteria, years of the studies under review, and the databases and MeSH headings that were used. The literature results section begins with a description of the overarching characteristics of the studies. This is followed by each category or theme uncovered in the review that is considered valuable practice-based evidence. In our example, we would use the themes of catheter type, urinary tract infections associated with a catheter type, and finally—for effect—we would discuss nursing education. A literature review ends with a discussion section that links the themes found in the review to other studies or information in the literature. The discussion section also includes limitations of the review and implications for evidence-based nursing practice.

Literature review articles and posters often include a table of the studies under review. A handout can be provided to audience members in oral presentations. A table provides readers with a visual picture of the information. Editors stress that a published table should supplement the narrative text and contain pertinent information to enhance the trustworthiness of the review. A straightforward way to create this table is to copy and paste the working spreadsheet to a new spreadsheet, delete duplicate information, and edit the information to create an organized, uncluttered table.

Conclusion

The use of a working spreadsheet allows one to lay out findings and thoughts in a manner that allows for the synthesis of considerable amounts of data. Use this information to develop the literature review narrative. A concise, clean, published table will offer the reader a clear snapshot of the literature. Most importantly, a literature review offers evidence that could influence or change nursing practice.

References

Spreadsheet Tabs

First TabSecond TabThird TabFourth Tab
All ArticlesResearchIntroductionPublication

Study Type Examples

Causation: cause and effect
Cost: estimated price
Definition: exact meaning of concepts
Educational: teaching and learning
Experience: qualitative, perspectives
Intervention: efficacy, effectiveness
Leadership: style, power
Prevalence: prevalence of a condition
Psychometric: attitudes, beliefs
Screening: assessment
Statistics: significance
Symptoms: identification of symptoms
Theoretical: theoretical base

Catheter Education and Catheter Type

AuthorEducationCatheter TypeComplications
1AUTI
2XB
4AUTI
5XB
6XA
Authors

Dr. Freysteinson is Professor, Nelda C. Stark College of Nursing, Texas Woman's University, Houston, and Dr. Stankus is Coordinator RN BS/MS Program, and Assistant Professor, College of Nursing, Texas Woman's University, Denton, Texas.

The authors have disclosed no potential conflicts of interest, financial or otherwise.

Address correspondence to Wyona M. Freysteinson, PhD, MN, Professor, Nelda C. Stark College of Nursing, Texas Woman's University, 6700 Fannin Street, Houston, TX 77030; email: wfreysteinson@twu.edu.

Received: July 22, 2019
Accepted: January 28, 2020

10.3928/00220124-20200716-09

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