Potentials and limitations

Harris Cooper, Larry Vernon Hedges

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

26 Scopus citations


We suspect that readers of this volume have reacted to it in one of two ways: they have been overwhelmed by the number and complexity of the issues that face a research synthesist or they have been delighted to have a manual to help them through the synthesis process. We further suspect that which reaction it was depended on whether the book was read while thinking about or while actually performing a synthesis. In the abstract, the concerns raised in this handbook must seem daunting. Concretely, however, research syntheses have been carried out for decades and will be for decades to come, and the problems encountered in their conduct do not really go away when they are ignored. Knowledge builders need a construction manual to accompany their blueprints and bricks. Further, there is no reason to believe that carrying out a sound research synthesis is any more complex than carrying out sound primary research. The analogies between synthesis and survey research, content analysis, or even quasi-experimentation fit too well for this not to be the case. Certainly, each type of research has its unique characteristics. Still, when research synthesis procedures have become as familiar as primary research procedures much of what now seems overwhelming will come to be viewed as difficult, but manageable. Likewise, expectations will change. As we mentioned in chapter 1, we do not expect a primary study to provide unequivocal answers to research questions, nor do we expect it to be performed without flaw. Research syntheses are the same. The perfect synthesis does not and never will exist. Synthesists who set standards that require them to implement all of the most rigorous techniques described in this book are bound to be disappointed. Time and other resources (not to mention the logic of discovery) will prevent such an accomplishment. The synthesist, like the primary researcher, must balance methodological rigor against practical feasibility.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Hand. of Res. Synthesis and Meta-Analysis, 2nd Ed.
PublisherRussell Sage Foundation
Number of pages12
ISBN (Print)9780871541635
StatePublished - Dec 1 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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