What is synthesis? 

The term “synthesis” means to combine separate elements to form a whole. Faculty often use this term when assigning students a literature review or other paper that requires the use of a variety of sources. Faculty expect that students write papers that make a variety of connections among source material so that their papers are not organized source- by-source but are organized topic-by-topic to create a whole text.  

Synthesis occurs when you use evidence from multiple sources within one paragraph or section of a paper to support a larger objective argument or conclusion based on a body of research. The goal of synthesis is to support claims by providing a holistic sense of the research available. This means a writer must not only cite multiple sources, but must make relationships between sources clear. 

For example, a writer should be clear about which sources completely support the writer’s conclusion, which slightly disagree or deviate from the conclusion, which offer a new angle or approach to the conclusion, and how sources/findings might agree or disagree with one another. Synthesis words (see below) are used to emphasize relationships among sources. After reading a synthesis, a reader should have a comprehensive understanding of the research findings and how they do or do not support the writer’s conclusion. 

Synthesis is not: 

  • Summarizing individual sources one by one 
  • Ignoring conflict in research findings or only presenting one side 

What does synthesis look like structurally? 

The argument or conclusion the writer has formed based on research findings appears in the topic sentence of the paragraph. Multiple sources are used throughout the paragraph to support the claim made. Within the paragraph, a writer may use multiple sources within each sentence to show how a body of research supports the claim. 

Synthesis Words: 

Agrees; Concurs; Supports; Also; Similarly; Disagrees; Conversely; In opposition to; Diverges from; Differs; Expounds on; Adds to; Expands on; Clarifies 

Summary: The Building Block of Synthesis 

  • Identify the thesis or main point(s) of each reading. Make sure that these are articulated clearly. 
  • Identify the key ideas used by the author(s) to support these points. Note any theories, methodological approaches, evidence, etc. that the author uses. 
  • Restate the ideas in YOUR OWN words. Try closing your book temporarily while you sketch out the first draft of these ideas. You'll be much less tempted to borrow too much you can always check later to make sure that your summary is accurate or to add direct quotations. 
  • Make it brief. In a short paper, try to summarize the main points in two to three sentences or less. In a long paper, try to limit yourself to a paragraph or two per source. A general rule of thumb is to limit yourself to roughly 15% of summary per paper. 
  • Remember that summary is intended to provide background for your analysis of the links and patterns that connect the texts. You only need to summarize the points that are relevant to those links and patterns. 
  • Figure out how much information your audience needs. An novice audience that is unfamiliar with your topic will need more summary and explanation; an expert audience will need only the crucial points. 

Moving from Summary to Synthesis 

When you move from writing summaries of your texts to synthesis of them, there are a number of points you must keep in mind: 

  •  Look for connections and links between your readings in order to create your thesis. 
  • Write and organize your paper in such a way that your readers understand where the information from the different sources overlap. 
  • Organize your paper by the themes you find within your sources. 
  • Your paper should consist of subtopics surrounding the themes and traits you are addressing.
  • Your goal is to look for, find, and address gaps in the research and how your own thesis and research will address these gaps.  


Anson, C. M., Schwegler, R. A., & Muth, M. F. (2006). The longman pocket writer's companion. Longman Publishing Group.