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Research Guides

Information Literacy & Library Research: Information Synthesis

Information literacy is the ability to know when information is needed and to be able to identify, locate and evaluate, and then legally and responsibly use and share that information.

Introduction: Scholarship is a Conversation

the synthesize portion of the research process with the steps of: identify key ideas, synthesize key ideas, and cite information sources.Research is a social process where researchers exchange thoughts, ideas, and information through presentations and publications. When you are entering a research conversation (by writing a paper, or giving a presentation), you need to identify the ideas in that research area to make connections between sources, and use your own voice to write about your interpretation of these ideas. This activity is called information synthesis.

Information synthesis is the process of analyzing and evaluating information from various sources, making connections between the information found, and combining the recently acquired information with prior knowledge to create something new. Without information synthesis strategies, we cannot derive new knowledge from these large amounts of data. Effective information synthesis is also vital in developing effective writing and communication skills to share new knowledge.

Here is an example of a paragraph where the authors have synthesized information across several sources on the idea of information synthesis. Note also how connector words are used to make the writing flow.

Information synthesis is a key skill for participants in our knowledge society and requires complex processing (Fitzgerald, 2004; Goldman, 2004). Yet information literacy instruction and practice tend to favor easily-defined skills that often only emphasize the search component of the research process, leaving out higher order processes like information synthesis (Lloyd, 2007; Montiel-Overall, 2007). Similarly, in the writing classroom, teachers are largely unfamiliar with how to teach synthesis sometimes implying it is a linear process (McGinley, 1992), leading Mateos and Sole (2009) to call for a “unique, careful teaching approach” (p. 448).

Creating the Information Synthesis Matrix

Important questions to answer when you are reading your sources are: What are the major themes or ideas? How are these ideas related to each other? What are my assertions based on what I’ve learned about these ideas and my prior knowledge on this topic?

Keeping track of ideas gets more complex the more sources you are using. This is where the information synthesis matrix comes in. It is a table where the first column collects the ideas, and all the other columns are taken up by your sources, one source per column. Each row represents a unique idea. In the intersection of sources and ideas, the cells of the matrix, you provide 3-9 words on how this idea is represented in that source. You leave the cell blank if that idea does not appear in a source.

Here is an example of a blank synthesis matrix:
  Source #1 Source #2 Source #3 Source #...
Main Idea A        
Main Idea B        
Main Idea ...        

Note for INFO 1010:

The Module 5 assignment is a synthesis matrix using the sources you found for your paper. If you are in a co-rec'd class with ENGL 2010, you will have even more sources to use in the matrix. It is a good way to index your sources so you know where you stand with your research as you move forward to actually write a first draft. Make sure you understand how to create the matrix and what information to put into each cell.

Writing Using the Information Synthesis Matrix

Once you have read enough sources and you have added them to your synthesis matrix, it is time to use the matrix to write your paper. Because you have collected all the interesting ideas in your matrix (in first column, one idea per row), you can now use that first column to create an outline for your paper by determining a logical order in which to discuss the ideas. Next, you can use each row to write a paragraph or section on that idea, integrating information from all the sources that had something on that idea. Finally, you can also easily see when you don’t have enough sources for an idea. In some cases, the idea might not be that important for your paper. Other times the idea is something that you want to include in your paper so you go out and find more sources, specifically on that idea.

When you write a paragraph in which you synthesize ideas, you can use so-called transition words that: 1) add to an idea (e.g. furthermore, moreover, in addition); 2) introduce information (e.g. for example, for instance, including, as an illustration); 3) compare and contrast (e.g. similarly, in the same way, conversely, however); 4) make a concession (e.g. nevertheless, even though, despite this). See for more information.

A more detailed description on creating and using an information synthesis matrix in the writing process, was created by NC State University Writing and Speaking Tutorial Service: Writing A Literature Review and Using a Synthesis Matrix (