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How to Synthesise Sources – Steps and Examples

Published by at October 17th, 2023 , Revised On October 17, 2023

The ability to effectively incorporate multiple sources into one’s work is not just a skill, but a necessity. Whether we are talking about research papers, articles, or even simple blog posts, synthesising sources can elevate our content to a more nuanced, comprehensive, and insightful level. But what does it truly mean to synthesise sources, and how does it differ from the commonly understood techniques of summarising and paraphrasing?

Importance of Synthesising Sources in Research and Writing

When finding sources, it is imperative to distinguish between various available information types. Secondary sources, for example, provide interpretations and analyses based on primary sources. Synthesising goes beyond the mere gathering of information. It involves the complex task of interweaving multiple sources to generate a broader and richer perspective. When we synthesise, we are not just collecting; we are connecting. 

By merging various viewpoints and data, we provide our readers with a well-rounded understanding of the topic. This approach ensures that our work is grounded in credible sources while also adding unique insights.

Summarising, Paraphrasing, and Synthesising

At first glance, these three techniques might seem similar, but they serve distinctly different purposes:


Synthesis is the art of blending multiple sources to create a unified narrative or argument. It is essential to use signal phrases to introduce these sources naturally, helping the reader follow the information flow. Block quotes can also be used for direct quotations, especially if they’re longer.


Here, we restate the original content using different words. While the wording changes, the essence and core meaning remain intact. This method is useful for clarifying complex ideas or for tailoring content to a specific audience.


Synthesis is the art of blending multiple sources to create a unified narrative or argument. It is not about echoing what others have said; it is about drawing connections, identifying patterns, and building a cohesive piece that holds its own merit.

What is Synthesising Sources?

Synthesising sources is a method used in research and writing wherein the author combines, interprets, and analyses information from various sources to generate a unified perspective, narrative, or argument. It involves a process that we can call source evaluation. It is an intricate process that goes beyond simply collecting data or quoting authors. Instead, it involves evaluating, integrating, and constructing a new narrative based on a collective understanding of all the sources under consideration.

Imagine a quilt where each piece of fabric represents a different source. Synthesising would be the act of sewing these individual pieces together in such a way that they form a beautiful, cohesive blanket. Each piece retains its uniqueness but contributes to the larger design and purpose of the quilt.

Objective of Synthesising

  • Synthesising allows writers to delve deeper into topics by using a multitude of perspectives. This offers a more robust and comprehensive view than any single source could provide.
  • By integrating diverse sources, authors can identify trends, consistencies, or discrepancies within a field or topic. This can lead to new insights or highlight areas needing further exploration.
  • By interlinking sources, writers can add layers of complexity to their arguments, making their content more engaging and thought-provoking.
  • While the sources themselves might not be new, the way in which they are combined and interpreted can lead to fresh conclusions and unique standpoints.
  • Relying on a single source or a few like-minded ones can inadvertently introduce biases. Synthesising encourages the consideration of diverse viewpoints, ensuring a more balanced representation of the topic.

Why is Synthesis Important?

The art of synthesis, while a nuanced aspect of research and writing, holds unparalleled significance in constructing meaningful, in-depth content. Here is a detailed exploration of why synthesis is pivotal:

Enhancing Comprehension and Knowledge Depth

  • Depth Over Breadth: While a vast amount of information exists on nearly any topic, true understanding isn’t about skimming the surface. Synthesising allows you to dive deeper, connecting various pieces of information and seeing the bigger picture.
  • Clarifying Complexity: Topics, especially those in research, can be multifaceted. By merging multiple sources, we can simplify and explain intricate subjects more effectively.
  • Reinforcing Concepts: By revisiting a concept from various sources and angles, the repetition, in a way, strengthens our grasp on the subject. It’s like studying from multiple textbooks; the overlap in content solidifies understanding.

Avoiding Plagiarism

  • Original Thought Generation: While synthesising, you are compelled to merge ideas, compare viewpoints, and draw unique conclusions. This process naturally leads to producing original content rather than merely reproducing what one source says.
  • Skilful Integration: A well-synthesised piece does not heavily rely on long, verbatim quotes. Instead, it seamlessly integrates information from various sources, duly cited, minimising the chances of unintentional plagiarism.
  • Reflecting Authentic Engagement: When you synthesise, it showcases your genuine engagement with the material. It’s evident that you have not just copied content but have wrestled with the information, pondered upon it, and made it your own.

Developing a Holistic Perspective on a Topic

  • Seeing the Full Spectrum: Single sources can offer a limited or biased viewpoint. Synthesis, by its nature, compels you to consult multiple sources, allowing for a more balanced and comprehensive view.
  • Connecting the Dots: Life, society, and most academic subjects are interconnected. Synthesis helps recognise patterns, draw parallels, and understand how various elements interplay in the grand scheme of things.
  • Elevating Critical Thinking: The act of synthesis hones your critical thinking skills. You’re constantly evaluating the validity of sources, comparing arguments, and discerning the weight of different perspectives. This makes your current work stronger and sharpens your intellect for future projects.

Steps of Synthesizing a Source

Here is a step-by-step guide on how to synthesise sources. 

Step 1: Read and Understand

Before you can synthesise sources effectively, you must first understand them individually. A strong synthesis is built upon a clear understanding of each source’s content, context, and nuances.

Tips To Ensure Comprehension

  • Annotations: Make notes in the margins as you read, highlighting key points and ideas.
  • Summarisation: After reading a section or an article, write a brief summary in your own words.
  • Discussion: Talk about the content with peers or mentors. This can help clarify any confusion and deepen your understanding.
  • Questioning: Constantly ask questions as you read. If something is unclear, revisit the content or consult supplementary materials.

Step 2: Identify Common Themes

Sources will often touch upon similar themes, even if they approach them differently. Recognising these themes can act as a foundation for synthesis.

  • Mind Mapping: Visualise the interconnectedness of topics and subtopics.
  • Lists: Create lists of similar ideas or arguments from different sources.
  • Highlighting: Use colour codes to highlight recurring themes across different documents.

Step 3: Analyse and Compare

Different sources might have diverging opinions or findings. Recognising these differences is crucial to produce a balanced synthesis.

  • Side-by-Side Analysis: Put the information from various sources next to each other to see how they align or diverge.
  • Critical Evaluation: Ask yourself why sources might have different perspectives. Consider the methodology, context, or biases that could contribute.

Determining the Relevance of Each Source

Not all sources will hold equal weight or relevance in your synthesis.

  • Criteria Checklist: Establish criteria for relevance (e.g., publication date, author credentials) and evaluate each source against this.
  • Priority Setting: Decide which sources offer primary insights and which offer supplementary information.

Step 4: Organise Information

A clear structure is essential to guide your readers through the synthesised narrative.

  • Outlines: Create a traditional outline that sequences your main points and supports them with subpoints from your sources.
  • Flowcharts: For more complex topics, flowcharts can visually demonstrate the progression of ideas and their interconnections.

Step 5: Craft Your Narrative

This step involves the actual writing, where you combine the insights, evidence, and analysis into a singular narrative.

  • Transitional Phrasing: Use transitions to move between ideas and sources smoothly.
  • Voice Consistency: Even though you integrate multiple sources, ensure that the narrative maintains a consistent voice and tone.

Step 6: Cite Appropriately

Always credit original authors and sources to maintain integrity in your work and avoid plagiarism. Knowing how to cite sources is crucial in this process.

  • In-text Citations: Whenever you refer to, paraphrase, or quote a source, provide a citation.

Different Citation Styles and Choosing The Right One

There are multiple citation styles (e.g., APA, MLA, Chicago), and your choice will often depend on your discipline or the preference of your institution or publication.

  • Guideline Review: Familiarise yourself with the preferred citation style’s guidelines.

Citation Tools: Consider using tools like Zotero, Mendeley, or EndNote to help streamline and manage your citations.

The research done by our experts have:

  • Precision and Clarity
  • Zero Plagiarism
  • Authentic Sources

Examples of Source Synthesis

Let’s explore some examples of synthesising sources. 

Example 1: Synthesising sources on climate change

Scenario: You have sources that discuss the causes of climate change. Some sources argue for anthropogenic (human-caused) factors, while others emphasise natural cycles.

Synthesis Approach

  • Begin with an overview of climate change, its impacts, and its significance.
  • Introduce the anthropogenic viewpoint, citing research on the rise of CO2 from industrial processes, deforestation, etc.
  • Present the natural cycle perspective, highlighting periods in Earth’s history where temperature fluctuations were observed.
  • Discuss overlaps, such as how human activities might exacerbate natural cycles.
  • Conclude by emphasising the consensus in the scientific community about human contributions to recent climate change, but acknowledge the existence of natural cycles as part of Earth’s climate history.

Example 2: Merging Historical Texts on a Particular Event

Scenario: You are examining the Battle of Waterloo from British, French, and Prussian primary sources.

Synthesis Approach

  • Provide background on the Battle of Waterloo, setting the stage.
  • Introduce the British perspective, detailing their strategies, key figures, and their account of the battle’s progression.
  • Shift to the French viewpoint, noting their strategic decisions, challenges, and Napoleon’s role.
  • Explore the Prussian account, emphasising their contributions and coordination with the British.
  • Highlight areas of agreement among the sources (e.g., timeline of events) and areas of discrepancy or unique insights (e.g., differing reasons for the outcome).
  • Conclude with a comprehensive view of the battle, incorporating insights from all perspectives and its significance in European history.

Example 3: Synthesising Qualitative And Quantitative Research On A Social Issue

Scenario: You are researching the effects of remote learning on student performance and well-being during the pandemic.

Synthesis Approach

  • Start with an introduction to the sudden shift to remote learning due to COVID-19.
  • Present quantitative data: statistics showcasing the drop or rise in student grades, attendance rates, and standardised test scores.
  • Introduce qualitative insights, like interviews or case studies, highlighting student sentiments, challenges faced at home, or feelings of isolation.
  • Discuss the interplay between numbers and narratives. For instance, a drop in grades (quantitative) could be related to a lack of motivation or home distractions (qualitative).
  • Compare outcomes across different demographics, using both types of data to show how remote learning might affect diverse student populations differently.
  • Conclude with a holistic understanding of the impacts of remote learning, noting areas that need further research or intervention.

Common Mistakes to Avoid when Synthesising Sources

  1. Relying heavily on a single source limits the depth and breadth of your understanding. It may also inadvertently introduce bias if that source isn’t comprehensive or neutral.
  • How to Avoid: Ensure you consult various sources for a well-rounded view. This includes both primary and secondary sources, academic articles, and more accessible pieces like news articles or blogs, if relevant.
  1. Every source comes with its own perspective. Identifying these biases can lead to a skewed understanding of your topic.
  • How to Avoid: Critical reading is key. Always consider who the author is, their potential motivations, the context in which they’re writing, and the methodologies they use.
  1. Simply presenting what each source says without drawing connections or highlighting contrasts misses the essence of synthesis.
  • How to Avoid: As you research, actively look for common themes, conflicting viewpoints, and unique insights. Your goal is to weave a narrative that reflects a comprehensive understanding of all these elements.

Tools and Resources for Synthesising Sources

These are the different tools that can be used for synthesising sources. 

Citation Tools

Managing references can be cumbersome, especially when dealing with numerous sources. Citation tools can help organise, format, and insert citations with ease.


  • Zotero: A free, open-source tool that helps you collect, organise, cite, and share research.
  • Mendeley: A reference manager and academic social network that can help you organise your research, collaborate with others online, and discover the latest developments.

Mind-Mapping Software or Apps

Mind mapping helps visually organise and interlink ideas, making the synthesis process more intuitive.


  • MindMeister: An online mind-mapping tool that lets you capture, develop, and share ideas visually.
  • XMind: A popular mind mapping and brainstorming software with various templates to help structure your thoughts.

Note-Taking Apps and Strategies

Effective note-taking is fundamental to understanding and organising information from various sources. Digital note-taking apps often offer features like tagging, search functionalities, and integration with other tools.


  • Evernote: A cross-platform app designed for note-taking, organising, and archiving.
  • Microsoft OneNote: A digital notebook that allows you to gather drawings, handwritten or typed notes, and save web clippings.
  • Cornell Note-taking System: A structured method of note-taking that divides the paper into sections, encouraging active engagement with the material.

Frequently Asked Questions

A literature review is a comprehensive survey of existing research on a particular topic, synthesising findings to provide an overview of key concepts, debates, and gaps in knowledge. It establishes a foundation for new research, highlighting relevant studies and contextualising them within the broader academic conversation.

To synthesise a source, thoroughly understand its content, and then integrate its insights with information from other sources. This involves comparing and contrasting viewpoints, identifying patterns, and constructing a cohesive narrative or argument that offers a broader perspective rather than merely echoing the original source’s content.

Citing sources acknowledges original authors, maintains academic integrity, and provides readers with a reference for verification. It prevents plagiarism by giving credit to the ideas and research of others, allowing readers to trace the evolution of thought and confirm the reliability and accuracy of the presented information.

Topic sentences are the main statements that introduce and summarise a paragraph’s main idea or focus. They provide context and direction, helping readers follow the writer’s argument or narrative. Typically placed at the beginning of a paragraph, they act as signposts, guiding the flow of the discussion.

About Olive Robin

Avatar for Olive RobinOlive Robin, a master of English literature, is an academic researcher and author at ResearchProspect. Passionate about words, she delves into literature nuances with scholarly depth and precision.