Copyright

How to Synthesize Written Information

Instructor: Elisha Madison

Elisha is a writer, editor, and aspiring novelist. She has a Master's degree in Ancient Celtic History & Mythology and another Masters in Museum Studies.

Synthesizing written information is the process of taking multiple sources and bringing them together into one cohesive idea, while bringing in a new idea or theory. This lesson explains different ways to do this effectively.

Synthesis Introduction

So, you have been asked to synthesize information, and other than look like a deer in headlights, what do you do? It's okay! Just remember that synthesizing written information is taking ideas and theories from two more more different sources and blending them together into one new combined idea. This is all guided by your thesis.

Your thesis is the sentence or paragraph that asserts your idea or hypothesis, which your paper will then prove or disprove. You do this with the sources you collect and then assess, compiling the information provided, and then coming up with a hypothesis. At this point, you determine connections, relatable information, or even directly contradictory data. Then you can use this to create a homogeneous thought process and final assertion for your thesis.

Remember that synthesizing is not summarizing; you are not just looking to create a summary of a subject. Instead, you are bringing many different ideas together to form a larger overarching theme.

Here are some things to remember about different sources:

  • Primary sources - These sources are original accounts or documents. A good example would be a firsthand written account of 9/11. Primary sources are the best sources to support any synthesizing process or research paper.
  • Secondary sources - A secondary source is an account that is not firsthand but has been retold. A good example would be a grandchild's account of their grandfather's experience in Vietnam. Sometimes you have to use these sources because there was no written documentation for an event, due to age or damage. However, you should always make sure to combine these sources with primary sources when using them for synthesizing.

The following are some examples to give you an idea of how to synthesize with different topics.

Example One

So let's start with two quotes about Stonehenge from different sources.

''We know that people were buried there, and that the stones are aligned in astronomically important ways. We also understand, because of the chemical composition of animal bones found nearby and the provenance of the stones, that people traveled hundreds of miles to visit Stonehenge.''

And

'''It was believed that these particular stones had many healing properties because in Preseli, there are many sacred springs that are considered to have health-giving qualities...''

To synthesize, we must consider the two main ideas:

  • Stonehenge was thought to be a burial ground due to bones being buried near the stones.
  • Stonehenge is also thought to have been used for its healing properties due to the stones on site.

Now, we have to combine these ideas into a new one.

Stonehenge was used a healing site for inhabitants and travelers that were unwell, and those that did not heal were buried near the monument.

Although we would need more sources to corroborate the theory, this is a good example of the process of synthesizing.

Stonehenge
Stonehenge

Example Two

Now here are two new quotes about Edgar Allen Poe.

''But its most marked feature is a preoccupation with death and the afterlife, or more accurately with death-in-life and life-in-death, for throughout Poe's works death would remain an ambiguous presence...''

And

'' He was also a socially displaced person, the child of strolling players, taken in but never adopted by a family of social-climbers in a community which placed great stress on family and ancestors''

Let's now synthesize these two statements by first considering each statement's main idea:

  • Poe's writing showed a fascination with death and the afterlife.
  • Poe was awkward, and never really accepted as a child.

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