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Synthesising

 

What is synthesising?

Synthesising is an important and complex skill required in academic writing. Synthesising involves combining ideas from a range of sources in order to group and present common ideas or arguments. It is a necessary skill used in essays, literature reviews and other forms of academic writing.

Unlike summarising and paraphrasing, which only uses one author's ideas at a time, synthesising combines ideas from more than one text or source.
Synthesising allows you to:

  • combine information and ideas from multiple sources to develop and strengthen your argument(s)
  • demonstrate that you have read widely on the topic
  • use and cite multiple sources.

How to synthesise

Use the following steps to synthesise information from different sources.

  • Read relevant material.
  • Make brief notes using keypoints/keywords. This makes it easier to compare and contrast relevant information.
  • Identify common ideas.
  • Cite (reference) all the authors you have used.

Note-taking for synthesising

Write down the main points. Remember to cite the references.

Topic: English is the dominant world language

Text 1 (Watson 2019)
  • international language for business
  • used for international forums (e.g. UN)
  • second language in many countries
Text 2 (Lui 2018)
  • used in worldwide technology
  • computers key factor in spread of English
  • internationalisation of education
Text 3 (Hannan 2017)
  • small number of speakers worldwide
  • importance of English linked to US power, i.e. 'Political'
  • more people speak Chinese worldwide
Text 4 (Dowd 2019)
  • minority of speakers in world
  • Chinese dominant especially in future
  • English will decline in future

Writing a synthesis from notes

Look at your notes and identify similar and contradictory arguments. Group these together to develop/support your arguments. Cite references appropriately.

Supporting the contention that English is the dominant world language, Watson (2019) and Lui (2018) point out its importance as the medium of international communication in business, technology and other global forums. However, others argue that despite its apparent dominance, English is not the global language when the number of native speakers of other languages, for example Chinese, are considered (Dowd 2019; Hannan 2017).

Supporting ideas of Watson and Lui
Reference citations
Weaving together similar ideas that contradict the previous statement
Legend
  • 'Support': supporting ideas of Watson and Lui
  • 'Reference': reference citations 
  • 'Similiarity': weaving similiar ideas that contradict the previous statement 
Paragraph

[Support: Supporting the contention that English is the dominant world language], [reference: Watson (2019) and Lui (2018)] [Support: point out its importance as the medium of international communication in business, technology and other global forums.] [Similiarity: However, others argue that despite its apparent dominance, English is not the global language when the number of native speakers of other languages, for example Chinese, are considered] [Reference: (Dowd 2019; Hannan 2017).]

Example

In the example below, notice the way the writer has organised and referenced information from multiple sources. Several authors' ideas on extroversion are grouped in pink and the other authors' ideas on introversion are grouped in blue. References are in orange.


Individuals are classified as either an extrovert or an introvert. Extroversion describes people who are outgoing, sociable, assertive, and optimistic and are in search of excitement (McAdams 2014; McShane & Travaglione 2015). Extroverts are confident in their abilities to accomplish tasks effectively and have faith in themselves. They enjoy risk taking, but can be unreliable and can lose their temper easily (Mathews, Deary & Whiteman 2013). Extroverts also focus more on the positive aspects and outcomes of life and therefore they have a greater level of self confidence. On the other hand, introverts are described as being shy, quiet, withdrawn, less likely to make bad impulsive decisions and are more cautious in their actions (Matthews, Deary & Whiteman 2013; McAdams 2014; McShane & Traviglione 2015). As a consequence, introverts are more likely to place weight on the negative outcomes and aspects of social situations (McAdams 2014) and prefer to be alone, whereas extroverts have the ability to make friends quickly.

Legend
  • 'Extroversion': Several authors' ideas on extroversion are grouped
  • 'Introversion': Other authors' ideas on introversion are grouped
  • 'Reference': References made
Paragraph

Individuals are classified as either an extrovert or an introvert. [Extroversion: Extroversion describes people who are outgoing, sociable, assertive, and optimistic and are in search of excitement] [Reference: (McShane & Travaglione 2015; McAdams 2014). [Extroversion: Extroverts are confident in their abilities to accomplish tasks effectively and have faith in themselves. They enjoy risk taking, but can be unreliable and can lose their temper easily] [Reference: (Mathews, Deary & Whiteman 2013)]. [Extroversion: Extroverts also focus more on the positive aspects and outcomes of life and therefore they have greater level of self confidence.] [Introversion: On the other hand, introverts are described as being shy, quiet, withdrawn, less likely to make bad impulsive decisions and are more cautious in their actions] [Reference: (McAdams 2014; McShane & Traviglione 2015; Matthews, Deary & Whiteman 2013)]. [Introversion: As a consequence, introverts are more likely to place weight on the negative outcomes and aspects of social situations] [Reference: (McAdams 2014)] [Introversion: and prefer to be alone, whereas extroverts have the ability to make friends quickly.]


Please note: the above examples use Harvard in-text referencing. Please check your course handbook or speak to your teacher/lecturer on the exact referencing conventions required in your area of study.