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SOCL 302: Sociological Research

Synthesis Matrix

Using a synthesis matrix, is an easy way to organize important information for your literature review.

Make a copy of this Synthesis Matrix Google Doc to use for your literature review!

Synthesizing Information

Now that you've found sources, you need to synthesize the most relevant works into your literature review. Watch this video on what it means to synthesize various resources together. 

Remember synthesis is not:

  • just comparing & contrasting,
  • using a lot of direct quotes,
  • merely critiques of sources.

Synthesis requires you to formulate your own thoughts and analysis, so that you organize your papers idea by idea instead of source by source. It's often a messy process, but don't be intimidated! Here are some tips to help:

  • Jot down your thoughts as you read so its easy to remember when you go to write
  • Think about gaps and weaknesses
  • Look for common themes in the conversation; what do scholars agree upon?
  • Look for disagreements in the conversation; what do scholars disagree about?

Identifying Themes

As you begin synthesizing your literature, you will begin identifying themes in the literature. A theme is a concept or topic that occurs in the literature. Typically, themes will stand out as being an important aspect of the journal article.

A single article may have several themes. What you want to do is read the article and record the possible themes in your synthesis matrix. Once you do this for each article, you will be able to see which articles have similar themes.

Things to look for:

  • Trends and patterns (in theory, method or results): do certain approaches become more or less popular over time?

  • Themes: what questions or concepts recur across the literature?

  • Debates, conflicts and contradictions: where do sources disagree?

  • Pivotal publications: are there any influential theories or studies that changed the direction of the field?

    1. Check “Cited by” in Google Scholar to get a sense of how influential the research 

  • Gaps: what is missing from the literature? Are there weaknesses that need to be addressed?

Additional Resources

Writing literature reviews can be challenging. Here are some additional resources that have different ways of describing how to conduct a literature review.

OWL Purdue: Writing a Literature Review

University of North Carolina Writing Center: Literature Reviews

Video: Literature Review Step by Step Guide

Video: How to Write a Literature Review Step by Step series