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Writing: Synthesis

What is Synthesis?

Synthesis is an important writing skill. When you synthesize a number of articles, you note the shared issue amongst all of them that you want to call attention to.   It may help to think about it like this:   a synthesis takes a bunch of parts and creates a new whole.  A good synthesis will draw information from each article to demonstrate how it addresses the shared issue or theme. A synthesis may also call attention to any relevant differences.

  • A synthesis is not a description.
  • It is not a review.
  • It is not a summary of each article, written one after the other.

A synthesis should give enough information about each article for the reader to understand how the article addresses the shared theme, and it should highlight what is really important about each one.

Key Features of Synthesis

  • Accurately reports information from the sources using a full arsenal of varying phrases and sentences.
  • Organized in such a way that readers (audience) can immediately see where the information from the sources overlap.
  • Makes sense of the sources and helps the reader (audience) understand them in greater depth.

Here's what you should try to do.

1. Once you've done your research, try to start by carefully formulating your thesis. Know what point you are trying to prove and then make sure the rest of your essay sticks to that point and supports it. This is probably good advice for any kind of essay, but especially important for this kind. Synthesized essays require that you draw on more source material than you might be used to. Having a well-formulated thesis will keep you and your readers from getting bogged down in competing facts and opinions.

2. Try to write complete sentences stating each of the supporting points you want to use to support your main point—or thesis. Then use these sentences as topic sentences for your paragraphs. This way each paragraph can proceed from the general supporting point of the topic sentence to specific facts, quotes, and paraphrases from your sources (material that gives authority to your own points). You can draw on points from your sources in order to expand, develop, support, and/ or illustrate your main ideas.

3. For specific facts, quotations, and paraphrases, always identify your sources. Introduce quotations by putting the name of the writer you drew the material from into your text whenever possible, preferably before the quoted material. If you are quoting someone, it's always a good idea to tell your reader why he or she should listen to that person. Tell your reader something about the quoted writer to establish him or her as an expert or an authority. Remember, for any borrowed material you use, you will need to be sure to provide citations in the text that will direct your audience to more complete information about your sources on the References page.

4.  Finally, remember that your sources are supposed to work together to form a coherent discussion of the idea expressed in the topic sentence through the efforts of another independent writer. And yes, it is your job to be that addtional "synthesizing," independent writer.

Methods of Synthesis

Organization Strategies for Synthesis

Once you have your literature, it's time to make it all come together.  It can be challenging to make a large body of literature connect in a meaningful way.  Synthesizing literature can be done in several ways.  Choose the method that is most appropriate for your purpose.


By themes or concepts

Thematic reviews of literature are organized around a topic or issue, rather than the progression of time. However, progression of time may still be an important factor in a thematic review. The only difference here between a "chronological" and a "thematic" approach is what is emphasized the most: time versus topic.  Note however that more authentic thematic reviews tend to break away from chronological order. A review organized in this manner would shift between time periods within each section according to the point made.


 Historically or chronologically, by tracing a research question across time.

If your review follows the chronological method, you could write about the materials according to when they were published.   It's kind of the "time travel" approach to a literature review.  This approach should only be followed if a clear path of research building on previous research can be identified and that these trends follow a clear chronological order of development. 


 By methodology

A methodological approach focuses on the methods utilized by the researcher.  A methodological scope will influence either the types of documents in the review or the way in which these documents are discussed.