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How to Write a Literature Review

A self-guided tutorial that walks you through the process of conducting a Literature Review.


6. SynthesizeThis is the point where you sort articles by themes or categories in preparation for writing your lit review. You may find a synthesis matrix (see the example in the third box below) or this Synthesis Worksheet to be helpful in understanding how to synthesize multiple sources of information. Download the MS Word file for a copy of the worksheet:

About Synthesis

What is synthesis? What synthesis is NOT:
  • Combining elements of several sources to help you make a point
  • Describing how sources converse each other
  • Organizing similar ideas together so readers can understand how they overlap
  • Synthesis helps readers see where you add your own new ideas to existing knowledge
  • Critiquing a source
  • Simply comparing and contrasting sources
  • A series of summaries 
  • Direct quotes without using your own voice

Approaches to Synthesis

You can sort the literature in various ways, for example:

light bulb image  by themes or concepts

clock image  historically or chronologically (tracing a research question across time),or

diverging arrows image  by methodology

How to Begin?

  • Read your sources carefully and find the main idea(s) of each source

  • Look for similarities in your sources – which sources are talking about the same main ideas? (for example, sources that discuss the historical background on your topic)

  • Use the worksheet (above) or synthesis matrix (below) to get organized

  • This work can be messy. Don't worry if you have to go through a few iterations of the worksheet or matrix as you work on your lit review!

The Four Examples of Student Writing come from a synthesis exercise created by Candice Benjes-SmallThanks also to Colleen Warwick for some of the original materials for this page that were adapted by J. Cleavenger 9/2011. Thanks also to Kristin Buxton and Annie Zeidman-Karpinski for introducing them to UO Libraries.

Synthesis Visualization

Four Examples of Student Writing

In the four examples below, only ONE shows a good example of synthesis: the fourth column, or Student D. For a web accessible version, click the link below the image.

Red X markStudent A uses quotes from only ONE source and fails to use her own voice to make any arguments


Red XStudent B cherry picks quotes from THREE sources and uses block quotes instead of making his own point


Red XStudent C quotes from THREE sources but does not show how the sources interact or converse with one another and does not provide sources for their arguments in the final paragraph

Green checkmarkStudent D synthesizes from FIVE sources, shows how they relate to one another, and makes their own point about the amount of royalties Taylor Swift should receive from Spotify

Synthesis Matrix Example

Click on the example to view the pdf.

Personal Learning Environment chart


From Jennifer Lim