Synthesizing Information: Step-by-Step Instructions For Learners

You can teach yourself how to evaluate, synthesize, and organize information from various sources.  Follow these steps.

1.  Make photocopies or printouts of all of the articles you gather, so you can write on them.  Be sure each item has the information you need to cite it in your final report and bibliography (author, title of article, title of publication, pages, date) or (URL, title, author, date of web page, date accessed).

2.  Read through each article.  Highlight the main facts, concepts, and ideas.  You may need to read some articles several times.

3.  If you are working in a group, now is the time to share what you learned with others in the group.  Ask questions about what you don't understand from your reading.  Teach each other so everyone becomes an "expert" on the topic.

     If you are working on your own, make a list of words or topics you don't understand well enough to explain to someone else.  Use dictionaries or encyclopedias, or ask people to help you understand these parts that are difficult for you.

4.  Post-Its.*
Create Post-It notes for the highlighted parts of each article.
The highlighted parts let you review the key points of the article. Upon rereading, you can see if these are still key points, you can put these ideas into context and into perspective, and you can summarize complex issues or ideas into 3-5 words.

If you don't have many articles, you can use the same color of Post-It note for all the highlights from the same article.  That way you can tell by looking at the Post-It note which article the note came from.  If you have a lot of articles and need more colors, add a symbol or colored mark so that you will know which article the Post-It note represents.

*You don't have to use actual Post-Its, you can use any kind of paper.  Keep the pieces small (3" x 3"), and mark them with symbols or colors so you can identify which article the Post-It note represents.

5.  "Cluster".  Go back to the Synthesis page and look at the examples.

6.  Name the clusters.  Think of a nickname that describes the cluster.  Go back to the Synthesis page and look at the examples.

7.  Review the information.

8.  Find a sequence that works with the kind of story you want to tell.   Go back to the Synthesis page and look at the examples.

9.  Conclusion of this process.

  • When you read the articles and highlighted them, you were analyzing and evaluating information.
  • When you met in "expert" groups and discussed the articles, you were evaluating and synthesizing information.
  • When you clustered the facts and concepts on the Post-It notes and named them, you were analyzing, synthesizing, and organizing information.

  • 10.  Write the story in your own words.  The way you have clustered facts and concepts, the sequence in which you present them, your new comparisons, ideas, and conclusions—this is all your own original work.  Be proud.  But remember:  you need to attribute facts, ideas, and quotations to their original sources.  Give credit to the work that inspired you.

    11.  Practice.  Research and writing are both lifelong skills that improve with practice and feedback.  The more you do, the better skilled you become.   You will also be able to work faster and enjoy the process more each time.