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Synthesizing the Articles

Literature reviews synthesize large amounts of information and present it in a coherent, organized fashion. In a literature review you will be combining material from several texts to create a new text – your literature review.

You will use common points among the sources you have gathered to help you synthesize the material. This will help ensure that your literature review is organized by subtopic, not by source. This means various authors' names can appear and reappear throughout the literature review, and each paragraph will mention several different authors.

When you shift from writing summaries of the content of a source to synthesizing content from sources, there is a number things you must keep in mind:

  • Look for specific connections and or links between your sources and how those relate to your thesis or question.
  • When writing and organizing your literature review be aware that your readers need to understand how and why the information from the different sources overlap.
  • Organize your literature review by the themes you find within your sources or themes you have identified. 

You can use a synthesis chart to help keep your sources and main ideas organized. Here are some examples:

California State University, Northridge. (2017). Literature Review How-To: Synthesizing Sources. Retrieved from

Things to Think About

Before you begin to analyze and synthesize the articles you have selected, read quickly through each article to get a sense of what they are about. One way to do this is to read the abstract and the conclusion for each article.

It is also helpful at this stage to begin sorting your articles by type of source; this will help you with the next step in the process. Many papers (but not all) fall into one of two categories:

  • Primary source: a report by the original researchers of a study.
  • Secondary source: a description or summary of research by somebody other than the original author(s), like a review article.

These are a selection of questions to consider while reading each article selected for your literature review. 

Primary Sources:

  • Title
  • Author and Year
  • Journal
  • Purpose of Study
  • Type of Study
  • Setting
  • Data Collection Method
  • Major Findings
  • Recommendations
  • Key thoughts/comments (eg. strengths and weaknesses)

Secondary Sources (ie. reviews)

  • Title
  • Author and year
  • Journal
  • Review questions/purpose
  • Key definitions
  • Review boundaries
  • Appraisal criteria
  • Synthesis of studies
  • Summary/conclusions
  • Key thoughts/comments (eg. strengths and weaknesses)

Cronin, P., Ryan, F., & Coughlan, M. (2008). Undertaking a literature review: A step-by-step approach. British Journal of Nursing, 17(1), 38-43. Retrieved from:

When Am I Done?

You are done with your literature review synthesis when :

  • You are not finding any new ideas,
  • When you encounter the same authors repeatedly, and/or
  • When you feel that you have a strong understanding of the topic
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