Sylvester et al. (2011) Beyond Synthesis: Re-presenting Heterogeneous Research Literature


This article examines the nature, role and function of the literature review in academic discourse. Researchers in information systems (IS) are often advised to espouse a neutral viewpoint and adapt the goal of synthesising previous literature when conducting a literature review. However, since research literature in many areas of IS is diverse and heterogeneous, this synthesis is not value neutral, but is a construction of the researchers. We suggest that other goals and viewpoints for reviewing and presenting previous literature are possible, and in some cases, desirable. Using the example of service quality literature, we use a lens of historical discourse, and techniques of soft systems analysis and rich pictures, to present previous research literature on ServQual-related research in IS and electronic commerce. We identify seven ‘stories' from service quality research literature and analyse the clients, actors, transformations, world-view (weltanschauung), owners and environment in each story. We conclude that alternative presentations of research literature can offer fresh insights, especially in areas where the research literature is diffuse, contradictory and heterogeneous.

Citation Allan Sylvester, Mary Tate, David Johnstone (2011). Beyond Synthesis: Re-presenting Heterogeneous Research Literature. Behaviour & Information Technology, vol. 32 no. 12, pp. 1199–1215. DOI

BibTex entry for this article:

BibTex entry for this article:

author = {Sylvester, Allan and Tate, Mary and Johnstone, David},
doi = {10.1080/0144929X.2011.624633},
issn = {0144-929X},
journal = {Behaviour & Information Technology},
number = {12},
pages = {1199--1215},
title = {{Beyond Synthesis: Re-presenting Heterogeneous Research Literature}},
volume = {32},
year = {2011}

Key ideas


INF6001W, Literature Review, historiography, literature review, service quality, soft systems analysis