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Literature Reviews: Synthesis

Synthesise Information

So, how can you create paragraphs within your literature review that demonstrates your knowledge of the scholarship that has been done in your field of study?  

You will need to present a synthesis of the texts you read.  

Doug Specht, Senior Lecturer at the Westminster School of Media and Communication, explains synthesis for us in the following video:  

Synthesising Texts 

What is synthesis? 

Synthesis is an important element of academic writing, demonstrating comprehension, analysis, evaluation and original creation.  

  • With synthesis you extract content from different sources to create an original text. While paraphrase and summary maintain the structure of the given source(s), with synthesis you create a new structure.  

  • The sources will provide different perspectives and evidence on a topic. They will be put together when agreeing, contrasted when disagreeing. The sources must be referenced.  

  • Perfect your synthesis by showing the flow of your reasoning, expressing critical evaluation of the sources and drawing conclusions.  

  • When you synthesise think of "using strategic thinking to resolve a problem requiring the integration of diverse pieces of information around a structuring theme" (Mateos and Sole 2009, p448). 

  • Synthesis is a complex activity, which requires a high degree of comprehension and active engagement with the subject. As you progress in higher education, so increase the expectations on your abilities to synthesise. 

How to synthesise in a literature review: 

  • Identify themes/issues you'd like to discuss in the literature review. Think of an outline.  

  • Read the literature and identify these themes/issues.  

  • Critically analyse the texts asking: how does the text I'm reading relate to the other texts I've read on the same topic? Is it in agreement? Does it differ in its perspective? Is it stronger or weaker? How does it differ (could be scope, methods, year of publication etc.). Draw your conclusions on the state of the literature on the topic.  

  • Start writing your literature review, structuring it according to the outline you planned.  

  • Put together sources stating the same point; contrast sources presenting counter-arguments or different points.  

  • Present your critical analysis.  

  • Always provide the references. 

The best synthesis requires a "recursive process" whereby you read the source texts, identify relevant parts, take notes, produce drafts, re-read the source texts, revise your text, re-write... (Mateos and Sole, 2009). 

What is good synthesis?  

The quality of your synthesis can be assessed considering the following (Mateos and Sole, 2009, p439):  

  • Integration and connection of the information from the source texts around a structuring theme. 

  • Selection of ideas necessary for producing the synthesis. 

  • Appropriateness of the interpretation.  

  • Elaboration of the content.  

Example of Synthesis

Original texts (fictitious): 

Animal testing is necessary to save human lives. Incidents have happened where humans have died or have been seriously harmed for using drugs that had not been tested on animals (Smith 2008).   

Animals feel pain in a way that is physiologically and neuroanatomically similar to humans (Chowdhury 2012).   

Animal testing is not always used to assess the toxicology of a drug; sometimes painful experiments are undertaken to improve the effectiveness of cosmetics (Turner 2015) 

Animals in distress can suffer psychologically, showing symptoms of depression and anxiety (Panatta and Hudson 2016). 

  

Synthesis: 

Animal experimentation is a subject of heated debate. Some argue that painful experiments should be banned. Indeed it has been demonstrated that such experiments make animals suffer physically and psychologically (Chowdhury 2012; Panatta and Hudson 2016). On the other hand, it has been argued that animal experimentation can save human lives and reduce harm on humans (Smith 2008). This argument is only valid for toxicological testing, not for tests that, for example, merely improve the efficacy of a cosmetic (Turner 2015). It can be suggested that animal experimentation should be regulated to only allow toxicological risk assessment, and the suffering to the animals should be minimised.   

Bibliography

Mateos, M. and Sole, I. (2009). Synthesising Information from various texts: A Study of Procedures and Products at Different Educational Levels. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 24 (4), 435-451. Available from http://sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0260691712003930 [Accessed 29 June 2021].