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Common Assignments: Synthesizing Your Sources

Synthesizing Your Sources

In order to demonstrate your knowledge on a field through a review of literature, the key component is synthesis. To synthesize is to combine independent elements and form a cohesive whole; in essence, your literature review should integrate your sources and

  • Identify patterns
  • Critically discuss strengths and weaknesses of sources or the field
  • Compare and contrast methods, approaches, and findings of authors
  • Evaluate and interpret what is known in your field and what, if anything, is missing

A Metaphor for Synthesis

Imagine you are at a dinner party with other researchers and theorists from your field. Everyone is sitting around the table and discussing the state of your field of research. The beginning portion of your literature review would be similar to those dinner party guests who started the conversation by discussing foundational research and theories. The body of your literature review could take many forms: What guests are agreeing, and which are arguing? What are the debatable issues, and are there any subtopics of those key topics? Does one particular guest keep interrupting the table's conversation? The final portion of your literature review would be similar to the host of the dinner party ending the debate with a comprehensive speech that touches on all opinions yet provides closure for the conversation.