How to Synthesize Written Information from Multiple Sources

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B.A., English Literature, University of Glasgow

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Saul Mcleod, PhD

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Saul Mcleod, PhD., is a qualified psychology teacher with over 18 years of experience in further and higher education. He has been published in peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

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When you write a literature review or essay, you have to go beyond just summarizing the articles you’ve read – you need to synthesize the literature to show how it all fits together (and how your own research fits in).

Synthesizing simply means combining. Instead of summarizing the main points of each source in turn, you put together the ideas and findings of multiple sources in order to make an overall point.

At the most basic level, this involves looking for similarities and differences between your sources. Your synthesis should show the reader where the sources overlap and where they diverge.

Unsynthesized Example

Franz (2008) studied undergraduate online students. He looked at 17 females and 18 males and found that none of them liked APA. According to Franz, the evidence suggested that all students are reluctant to learn citations style. Perez (2010) also studies undergraduate students. She looked at 42 females and 50 males and found that males were significantly more inclined to use citation software ( p < .05). Findings suggest that females might graduate sooner. Goldstein (2012) looked at British undergraduates. Among a sample of 50, all females, all confident in their abilities to cite and were eager to write their dissertations.

Synthesized Example

Studies of undergraduate students reveal conflicting conclusions regarding relationships between advanced scholarly study and citation efficacy. Although Franz (2008) found that no participants enjoyed learning citation style, Goldstein (2012) determined in a larger study that all participants watched felt comfortable citing sources, suggesting that variables among participant and control group populations must be examined more closely. Although Perez (2010) expanded on Franz’s original study with a larger, more diverse sample…

Step 1: Organize your sources

After collecting the relevant literature, you’ve got a lot of information to work through, and no clear idea of how it all fits together.

Before you can start writing, you need to organize your notes in a way that allows you to see the relationships between sources.

One way to begin synthesizing the literature is to put your notes into a table. Depending on your topic and the type of literature you’re dealing with, there are a couple of different ways you can organize this.

Summary table

A summary table collates the key points of each source under consistent headings. This is a good approach if your sources tend to have a similar structure – for instance, if they’re all empirical papers.

Each row in the table lists one source, and each column identifies a specific part of the source. You can decide which headings to include based on what’s most relevant to the literature you’re dealing with.

For example, you might include columns for things like aims, methods, variables, population, sample size, and conclusion.

For each study, you briefly summarize each of these aspects. You can also include columns for your own evaluation and analysis.

summary table for synthesizing the literature

The summary table gives you a quick overview of the key points of each source. This allows you to group sources by relevant similarities, as well as noticing important differences or contradictions in their findings.

Synthesis matrix

A synthesis matrix is useful when your sources are more varied in their purpose and structure – for example, when you’re dealing with books and essays making various different arguments about a topic.

Each column in the table lists one source. Each row is labeled with a specific concept, topic or theme that recurs across all or most of the sources.

Then, for each source, you summarize the main points or arguments related to the theme.

synthesis matrix

The purposes of the table is to identify the common points that connect the sources, as well as identifying points where they diverge or disagree.

Step 2: Outline your structure

Now you should have a clear overview of the main connections and differences between the sources you’ve read. Next, you need to decide how you’ll group them together and the order in which you’ll discuss them.

For shorter papers, your outline can just identify the focus of each paragraph; for longer papers, you might want to divide it into sections with headings.

There are a few different approaches you can take to help you structure your synthesis.

If your sources cover a broad time period, and you found patterns in how researchers approached the topic over time, you can organize your discussion chronologically .

That doesn’t mean you just summarize each paper in chronological order; instead, you should group articles into time periods and identify what they have in common, as well as signalling important turning points or developments in the literature.

If the literature covers various different topics, you can organize it thematically .

That means that each paragraph or section focuses on a specific theme and explains how that theme is approached in the literature.

synthesizing the literature using themes

Source Used with Permission: The Chicago School

If you’re drawing on literature from various different fields or they use a wide variety of research methods, you can organize your sources methodologically .

That means grouping together studies based on the type of research they did and discussing the findings that emerged from each method.

If your topic involves a debate between different schools of thought, you can organize it theoretically .

That means comparing the different theories that have been developed and grouping together papers based on the position or perspective they take on the topic, as well as evaluating which arguments are most convincing.

Step 3: Write paragraphs with topic sentences

What sets a synthesis apart from a summary is that it combines various sources. The easiest way to think about this is that each paragraph should discuss a few different sources, and you should be able to condense the overall point of the paragraph into one sentence.

This is called a topic sentence , and it usually appears at the start of the paragraph. The topic sentence signals what the whole paragraph is about; every sentence in the paragraph should be clearly related to it.

A topic sentence can be a simple summary of the paragraph’s content:

“Early research on [x] focused heavily on [y].”

For an effective synthesis, you can use topic sentences to link back to the previous paragraph, highlighting a point of debate or critique:

“Several scholars have pointed out the flaws in this approach.” “While recent research has attempted to address the problem, many of these studies have methodological flaws that limit their validity.”

By using topic sentences, you can ensure that your paragraphs are coherent and clearly show the connections between the articles you are discussing.

As you write your paragraphs, avoid quoting directly from sources: use your own words to explain the commonalities and differences that you found in the literature.

Don’t try to cover every single point from every single source – the key to synthesizing is to extract the most important and relevant information and combine it to give your reader an overall picture of the state of knowledge on your topic.

Step 4: Revise, edit and proofread

Like any other piece of academic writing, synthesizing literature doesn’t happen all in one go – it involves redrafting, revising, editing and proofreading your work.

Checklist for Synthesis

  •   Do I introduce the paragraph with a clear, focused topic sentence?
  •   Do I discuss more than one source in the paragraph?
  •   Do I mention only the most relevant findings, rather than describing every part of the studies?
  •   Do I discuss the similarities or differences between the sources, rather than summarizing each source in turn?
  •   Do I put the findings or arguments of the sources in my own words?
  •   Is the paragraph organized around a single idea?
  •   Is the paragraph directly relevant to my research question or topic?
  •   Is there a logical transition from this paragraph to the next one?

Further Information

How to Synthesise: a Step-by-Step Approach

Help…I”ve Been Asked to Synthesize!

Learn how to Synthesise (combine information from sources)

How to write a Psychology Essay

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How to Synthesise Sources – Steps and Examples

Published by Olive Robin at October 17th, 2023 , Revised On October 17, 2023

The ability to effectively incorporate multiple sources into one’s work is not just a skill, but a necessity. Whether we are talking about research papers, articles, or even simple blog posts, synthesising sources can elevate our content to a more nuanced, comprehensive, and insightful level. But what does it truly mean to synthesise sources, and how does it differ from the commonly understood techniques of summarising and paraphrasing?

Importance of Synthesising Sources in Research and Writing

When finding sources , it is imperative to distinguish between various available information types. Secondary sources , for example, provide interpretations and analyses based on primary sources. Synthesising goes beyond the mere gathering of information. It involves the complex task of interweaving multiple sources to generate a broader and richer perspective. When we synthesise, we are not just collecting; we are connecting. 

By merging various viewpoints and data, we provide our readers with a well-rounded understanding of the topic. This approach ensures that our work is grounded in credible sources  while also adding unique insights.

Summarising, Paraphrasing, and Synthesising

At first glance, these three techniques might seem similar, but they serve distinctly different purposes:


Synthesis is the art of blending multiple sources to create a unified narrative or argument. It is essential to use signal phrases to introduce these sources naturally, helping the reader follow the information flow. Block quotes can also be used for direct quotations, especially if they’re longer.


Here, we restate the original content using different words. While the wording changes, the essence and core meaning remain intact. This method is useful for clarifying complex ideas or for tailoring content to a specific audience.


Synthesis is the art of blending multiple sources to create a unified narrative or argument. It is not about echoing what others have said; it is about drawing connections, identifying patterns, and building a cohesive piece that holds its own merit.

What is Synthesising Sources?

Synthesising sources is a method used in research and writing wherein the author combines, interprets, and analyses information from various sources to generate a unified perspective, narrative, or argument. It involves a process that we can call source evaluation . It is an intricate process that goes beyond simply collecting data or quoting authors. Instead, it involves evaluating, integrating, and constructing a new narrative based on a collective understanding of all the sources under consideration.

Imagine a quilt where each piece of fabric represents a different source. Synthesising would be the act of sewing these individual pieces together in such a way that they form a beautiful, cohesive blanket. Each piece retains its uniqueness but contributes to the larger design and purpose of the quilt.

Objective of Synthesising

  • Synthesising allows writers to delve deeper into topics by using a multitude of perspectives. This offers a more robust and comprehensive view than any single source could provide.
  • By integrating diverse sources, authors can identify trends, consistencies, or discrepancies within a field or topic. This can lead to new insights or highlight areas needing further exploration.
  • By interlinking sources, writers can add layers of complexity to their arguments, making their content more engaging and thought-provoking.
  • While the sources themselves might not be new, the way in which they are combined and interpreted can lead to fresh conclusions and unique standpoints.
  • Relying on a single source or a few like-minded ones can inadvertently introduce biases. Synthesising encourages the consideration of diverse viewpoints, ensuring a more balanced representation of the topic.

Why is Synthesis Important?

The art of synthesis, while a nuanced aspect of research and writing, holds unparalleled significance in constructing meaningful, in-depth content. Here is a detailed exploration of why synthesis is pivotal:

Enhancing Comprehension and Knowledge Depth

  • Depth Over Breadth: While a vast amount of information exists on nearly any topic, true understanding isn’t about skimming the surface. Synthesising allows you to dive deeper, connecting various pieces of information and seeing the bigger picture.
  • Clarifying Complexity: Topics, especially those in research, can be multifaceted. By merging multiple sources, we can simplify and explain intricate subjects more effectively.
  • Reinforcing Concepts: By revisiting a concept from various sources and angles, the repetition, in a way, strengthens our grasp on the subject. It’s like studying from multiple textbooks; the overlap in content solidifies understanding.

Avoiding Plagiarism

  • Original Thought Generation: While synthesising, you are compelled to merge ideas, compare viewpoints, and draw unique conclusions. This process naturally leads to producing original content rather than merely reproducing what one source says.
  • Skilful Integration: A well-synthesised piece does not heavily rely on long, verbatim quotes. Instead, it seamlessly integrates information from various sources, duly cited, minimising the chances of unintentional plagiarism.
  • Reflecting Authentic Engagement: When you synthesise, it showcases your genuine engagement with the material. It’s evident that you have not just copied content but have wrestled with the information, pondered upon it, and made it your own.

Developing a Holistic Perspective on a Topic

  • Seeing the Full Spectrum: Single sources can offer a limited or biased viewpoint. Synthesis, by its nature, compels you to consult multiple sources, allowing for a more balanced and comprehensive view.
  • Connecting the Dots: Life, society, and most academic subjects are interconnected. Synthesis helps recognise patterns, draw parallels, and understand how various elements interplay in the grand scheme of things.
  • Elevating Critical Thinking: The act of synthesis hones your critical thinking skills. You’re constantly evaluating the validity of sources, comparing arguments, and discerning the weight of different perspectives. This makes your current work stronger and sharpens your intellect for future projects.

Steps of Synthesizing a Source

Here is a step-by-step guide on how to synthesise sources. 

Step 1: Read and Understand

Before you can synthesise sources effectively, you must first understand them individually. A strong synthesis is built upon a clear understanding of each source’s content, context, and nuances.

Tips To Ensure Comprehension

  • Annotations: Make notes in the margins as you read, highlighting key points and ideas.
  • Summarisation: After reading a section or an article, write a brief summary in your own words.
  • Discussion: Talk about the content with peers or mentors. This can help clarify any confusion and deepen your understanding.
  • Questioning: Constantly ask questions as you read. If something is unclear, revisit the content or consult supplementary materials.

Step 2: Identify Common Themes

Sources will often touch upon similar themes, even if they approach them differently. Recognising these themes can act as a foundation for synthesis.

  • Mind Mapping: Visualise the interconnectedness of topics and subtopics.
  • Lists: Create lists of similar ideas or arguments from different sources.
  • Highlighting: Use colour codes to highlight recurring themes across different documents.

Step 3: Analyse and Compare

Different sources might have diverging opinions or findings. Recognising these differences is crucial to produce a balanced synthesis.

  • Side-by-Side Analysis: Put the information from various sources next to each other to see how they align or diverge.
  • Critical Evaluation: Ask yourself why sources might have different perspectives. Consider the methodology, context, or biases that could contribute.

Determining the Relevance of Each Source

Not all sources will hold equal weight or relevance in your synthesis.

  • Criteria Checklist: Establish criteria for relevance (e.g., publication date, author credentials) and evaluate each source against this.
  • Priority Setting: Decide which sources offer primary insights and which offer supplementary information.

Step 4: Organise Information

A clear structure is essential to guide your readers through the synthesised narrative.

  • Outlines: Create a traditional outline that sequences your main points and supports them with subpoints from your sources.
  • Flowcharts: For more complex topics, flowcharts can visually demonstrate the progression of ideas and their interconnections.

Step 5: Craft Your Narrative

This step involves the actual writing, where you combine the insights, evidence, and analysis into a singular narrative.

  • Transitional Phrasing: Use transitions to move between ideas and sources smoothly.
  • Voice Consistency: Even though you integrate multiple sources, ensure that the narrative maintains a consistent voice and tone.

Step 6: Cite Appropriately

Always credit original authors and sources to maintain integrity in your work and avoid plagiarism. Knowing how to cite sources is crucial in this process.

  • In-text Citations: Whenever you refer to, paraphrase, or quote a source, provide a citation.

Different Citation Styles and Choosing The Right One

There are multiple citation styles (e.g., APA, MLA, Chicago), and your choice will often depend on your discipline or the preference of your institution or publication.

  • Guideline Review: Familiarise yourself with the preferred citation style’s guidelines.

Citation Tools: Consider using tools like Zotero, Mendeley, or EndNote to help streamline and manage your citations.

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how to make synthesis on research

Examples of Source Synthesis

Let’s explore some examples of synthesising sources. 

Example 1: Synthesising sources on climate change

Scenario: You have sources that discuss the causes of climate change. Some sources argue for anthropogenic (human-caused) factors, while others emphasise natural cycles.

Synthesis Approach

  • Begin with an overview of climate change, its impacts, and its significance.
  • Introduce the anthropogenic viewpoint, citing research on the rise of CO2 from industrial processes, deforestation, etc.
  • Present the natural cycle perspective, highlighting periods in Earth’s history where temperature fluctuations were observed.
  • Discuss overlaps, such as how human activities might exacerbate natural cycles.
  • Conclude by emphasising the consensus in the scientific community about human contributions to recent climate change, but acknowledge the existence of natural cycles as part of Earth’s climate history.

Example 2: Merging Historical Texts on a Particular Event

Scenario: You are examining the Battle of Waterloo from British, French, and Prussian primary sources.

  • Provide background on the Battle of Waterloo, setting the stage.
  • Introduce the British perspective, detailing their strategies, key figures, and their account of the battle’s progression.
  • Shift to the French viewpoint, noting their strategic decisions, challenges, and Napoleon’s role.
  • Explore the Prussian account, emphasising their contributions and coordination with the British.
  • Highlight areas of agreement among the sources (e.g., timeline of events) and areas of discrepancy or unique insights (e.g., differing reasons for the outcome).
  • Conclude with a comprehensive view of the battle, incorporating insights from all perspectives and its significance in European history.

Example 3: Synthesising Qualitative And Quantitative Research On A Social Issue

Scenario: You are researching the effects of remote learning on student performance and well-being during the pandemic.

  • Start with an introduction to the sudden shift to remote learning due to COVID-19.
  • Present quantitative data: statistics showcasing the drop or rise in student grades, attendance rates, and standardised test scores.
  • Introduce qualitative insights, like interviews or case studies, highlighting student sentiments, challenges faced at home, or feelings of isolation.
  • Discuss the interplay between numbers and narratives. For instance, a drop in grades (quantitative) could be related to a lack of motivation or home distractions (qualitative).
  • Compare outcomes across different demographics, using both types of data to show how remote learning might affect diverse student populations differently.
  • Conclude with a holistic understanding of the impacts of remote learning, noting areas that need further research or intervention.

Common Mistakes to Avoid when Synthesising Sources

  • Relying heavily on a single source limits the depth and breadth of your understanding. It may also inadvertently introduce bias if that source isn’t comprehensive or neutral.
  • How to Avoid: Ensure you consult various sources for a well-rounded view. This includes both primary and secondary sources, academic articles, and more accessible pieces like news articles or blogs, if relevant.
  • Every source comes with its own perspective. Identifying these biases can lead to a skewed understanding of your topic.
  • How to Avoid: Critical reading is key. Always consider who the author is, their potential motivations, the context in which they’re writing, and the methodologies they use.
  • Simply presenting what each source says without drawing connections or highlighting contrasts misses the essence of synthesis.
  • How to Avoid: As you research, actively look for common themes, conflicting viewpoints, and unique insights. Your goal is to weave a narrative that reflects a comprehensive understanding of all these elements.

Tools and Resources for Synthesising Sources

These are the different tools that can be used for synthesising sources. 

Citation Tools

Managing references can be cumbersome, especially when dealing with numerous sources. Citation tools can help organise, format, and insert citations with ease.

  • Zotero: A free, open-source tool that helps you collect, organise, cite, and share research.
  • Mendeley: A reference manager and academic social network that can help you organise your research, collaborate with others online, and discover the latest developments.

Mind-Mapping Software or Apps

Mind mapping helps visually organise and interlink ideas, making the synthesis process more intuitive.

  • MindMeister: An online mind-mapping tool that lets you capture, develop, and share ideas visually.
  • XMind: A popular mind mapping and brainstorming software with various templates to help structure your thoughts.

Note-Taking Apps and Strategies

Effective note-taking is fundamental to understanding and organising information from various sources. Digital note-taking apps often offer features like tagging, search functionalities, and integration with other tools.

  • Evernote: A cross-platform app designed for note-taking, organising, and archiving.
  • Microsoft OneNote: A digital notebook that allows you to gather drawings, handwritten or typed notes, and save web clippings.
  • Cornell Note-taking System: A structured method of note-taking that divides the paper into sections, encouraging active engagement with the material.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a literature review.

A literature review is a comprehensive survey of existing research on a particular topic, synthesising findings to provide an overview of key concepts, debates, and gaps in knowledge. It establishes a foundation for new research, highlighting relevant studies and contextualising them within the broader academic conversation.

How to synthesise a source?

To synthesise a source, thoroughly understand its content, and then integrate its insights with information from other sources. This involves comparing and contrasting viewpoints, identifying patterns, and constructing a cohesive narrative or argument that offers a broader perspective rather than merely echoing the original source’s content.

Why do I need to cite sources?

Citing sources acknowledges original authors, maintains academic integrity, and provides readers with a reference for verification. It prevents plagiarism by giving credit to the ideas and research of others, allowing readers to trace the evolution of thought and confirm the reliability and accuracy of the presented information.

What are topic sentences?

Topic sentences are the main statements that introduce and summarise a paragraph’s main idea or focus. They provide context and direction, helping readers follow the writer’s argument or narrative. Typically placed at the beginning of a paragraph, they act as signposts, guiding the flow of the discussion.

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Information literacy is more than just the ability to find information; it encompasses the skills to recognise when information is needed and the competence to locate, evaluate, use, and ethically disseminate it.

In academic writing and research, integrating sources plays a pivotal role in shaping the quality and credibility of your work.






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  • Synthesizing Sources | Examples & Synthesis Matrix

Synthesizing Sources | Examples & Synthesis Matrix

Published on July 4, 2022 by Eoghan Ryan . Revised on May 31, 2023.

Synthesizing sources involves combining the work of other scholars to provide new insights. It’s a way of integrating sources that helps situate your work in relation to existing research.

Synthesizing sources involves more than just summarizing . You must emphasize how each source contributes to current debates, highlighting points of (dis)agreement and putting the sources in conversation with each other.

You might synthesize sources in your literature review to give an overview of the field or throughout your research paper when you want to position your work in relation to existing research.

Table of contents

Example of synthesizing sources, how to synthesize sources, synthesis matrix, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about synthesizing sources.

Let’s take a look at an example where sources are not properly synthesized, and then see what can be done to improve it.

This paragraph provides no context for the information and does not explain the relationships between the sources described. It also doesn’t analyze the sources or consider gaps in existing research.

Research on the barriers to second language acquisition has primarily focused on age-related difficulties. Building on Lenneberg’s (1967) theory of a critical period of language acquisition, Johnson and Newport (1988) tested Lenneberg’s idea in the context of second language acquisition. Their research seemed to confirm that young learners acquire a second language more easily than older learners. Recent research has considered other potential barriers to language acquisition. Schepens, van Hout, and van der Slik (2022) have revealed that the difficulties of learning a second language at an older age are compounded by dissimilarity between a learner’s first language and the language they aim to acquire. Further research needs to be carried out to determine whether the difficulty faced by adult monoglot speakers is also faced by adults who acquired a second language during the “critical period.”

Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.

To synthesize sources, group them around a specific theme or point of contention.

As you read sources, ask:

  • What questions or ideas recur? Do the sources focus on the same points, or do they look at the issue from different angles?
  • How does each source relate to others? Does it confirm or challenge the findings of past research?
  • Where do the sources agree or disagree?

Once you have a clear idea of how each source positions itself, put them in conversation with each other. Analyze and interpret their points of agreement and disagreement. This displays the relationships among sources and creates a sense of coherence.

Consider both implicit and explicit (dis)agreements. Whether one source specifically refutes another or just happens to come to different conclusions without specifically engaging with it, you can mention it in your synthesis either way.

Synthesize your sources using:

  • Topic sentences to introduce the relationship between the sources
  • Signal phrases to attribute ideas to their authors
  • Transition words and phrases to link together different ideas

To more easily determine the similarities and dissimilarities among your sources, you can create a visual representation of their main ideas with a synthesis matrix . This is a tool that you can use when researching and writing your paper, not a part of the final text.

In a synthesis matrix, each column represents one source, and each row represents a common theme or idea among the sources. In the relevant rows, fill in a short summary of how the source treats each theme or topic.

This helps you to clearly see the commonalities or points of divergence among your sources. You can then synthesize these sources in your work by explaining their relationship.

Example: Synthesis matrix
Lenneberg (1967) Johnson and Newport (1988) Schepens, van Hout, and van der Slik (2022)
Approach Primarily theoretical, due to the ethical implications of delaying the age at which humans are exposed to language Testing the English grammar proficiency of 46 native Korean or Chinese speakers who moved to the US between the ages of 3 and 39 (all participants had lived in the US for at least 3 years at the time of testing) Analyzing the results of 56,024 adult immigrants to the Netherlands from 50 different language backgrounds
Enabling factors in language acquisition A critical period between early infancy and puberty after which language acquisition capabilities decline A critical period (following Lenneberg) General age effects (outside of a contested critical period), as well as the similarity between a learner’s first language and target language
Barriers to language acquisition Aging Aging (following Lenneberg) Aging as well as the dissimilarity between a learner’s first language and target language

If you want to know more about ChatGPT, AI tools , citation , and plagiarism , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • ChatGPT vs human editor
  • ChatGPT citations
  • Is ChatGPT trustworthy?
  • Using ChatGPT for your studies
  • What is ChatGPT?
  • Chicago style
  • Paraphrasing


  • Types of plagiarism
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  • Avoiding plagiarism
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how to make synthesis on research

Synthesizing sources means comparing and contrasting the work of other scholars to provide new insights.

It involves analyzing and interpreting the points of agreement and disagreement among sources.

You might synthesize sources in your literature review to give an overview of the field of research or throughout your paper when you want to contribute something new to existing research.

A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources (such as books, journal articles, and theses) related to a specific topic or research question .

It is often written as part of a thesis, dissertation , or research paper , in order to situate your work in relation to existing knowledge.

Topic sentences help keep your writing focused and guide the reader through your argument.

In an essay or paper , each paragraph should focus on a single idea. By stating the main idea in the topic sentence, you clarify what the paragraph is about for both yourself and your reader.

At college level, you must properly cite your sources in all essays , research papers , and other academic texts (except exams and in-class exercises).

Add a citation whenever you quote , paraphrase , or summarize information or ideas from a source. You should also give full source details in a bibliography or reference list at the end of your text.

The exact format of your citations depends on which citation style you are instructed to use. The most common styles are APA , MLA , and Chicago .

Cite this Scribbr article

If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the “Cite this Scribbr article” button to automatically add the citation to our free Citation Generator.

Ryan, E. (2023, May 31). Synthesizing Sources | Examples & Synthesis Matrix. Scribbr. Retrieved June 11, 2024, from

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Guide to Synthesis Essays: How to Write a Synthesis Essay

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Aug 19, 2021 • 4 min read

The writing process for composing a good synthesis essay requires curiosity, research, and original thought to argue a certain point or explore an idea. Synthesis essay writing involves a great deal of intellectual work, but knowing how to compose a compelling written discussion of a topic can give you an edge in many fields, from the social sciences to engineering.

how to make synthesis on research

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Get Organized

  • Lit Review Prep Use this template to help you evaluate your sources, create article summaries for an annotated bibliography, and a synthesis matrix for your lit review outline.

Synthesize your Information

Synthesize: combine separate elements to form a whole.

Synthesis Matrix

A synthesis matrix helps you record the main points of each source and document how sources relate to each other.

After summarizing and evaluating your sources, arrange them in a matrix or use a citation manager to help you see how they relate to each other and apply to each of your themes or variables.  

By arranging your sources by theme or variable, you can see how your sources relate to each other, and can start thinking about how you weave them together to create a narrative.

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Literature Syntheis 101

How To Synthesise The Existing Research (With Examples)

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) | Expert Reviewer: Eunice Rautenbach (DTech) | August 2023

One of the most common mistakes that students make when writing a literature review is that they err on the side of describing the existing literature rather than providing a critical synthesis of it. In this post, we’ll unpack what exactly synthesis means and show you how to craft a strong literature synthesis using practical examples.

This post is based on our popular online course, Literature Review Bootcamp . In the course, we walk you through the full process of developing a literature review, step by step. If it’s your first time writing a literature review, you definitely want to use this link to get 50% off the course (limited-time offer).

Overview: Literature Synthesis

  • What exactly does “synthesis” mean?
  • Aspect 1: Agreement
  • Aspect 2: Disagreement
  • Aspect 3: Key theories
  • Aspect 4: Contexts
  • Aspect 5: Methodologies
  • Bringing it all together

What does “synthesis” actually mean?

As a starting point, let’s quickly define what exactly we mean when we use the term “synthesis” within the context of a literature review.

Simply put, literature synthesis means going beyond just describing what everyone has said and found. Instead, synthesis is about bringing together all the information from various sources to present a cohesive assessment of the current state of knowledge in relation to your study’s research aims and questions .

Put another way, a good synthesis tells the reader exactly where the current research is “at” in terms of the topic you’re interested in – specifically, what’s known , what’s not , and where there’s a need for more research .

So, how do you go about doing this?

Well, there’s no “one right way” when it comes to literature synthesis, but we’ve found that it’s particularly useful to ask yourself five key questions when you’re working on your literature review. Having done so,  you can then address them more articulately within your actual write up. So, let’s take a look at each of these questions.

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1. Points Of Agreement

The first question that you need to ask yourself is: “Overall, what things seem to be agreed upon by the vast majority of the literature?”

For example, if your research aim is to identify which factors contribute toward job satisfaction, you’ll need to identify which factors are broadly agreed upon and “settled” within the literature. Naturally, there may at times be some lone contrarian that has a radical viewpoint , but, provided that the vast majority of researchers are in agreement, you can put these random outliers to the side. That is, of course, unless your research aims to explore a contrarian viewpoint and there’s a clear justification for doing so. 

Identifying what’s broadly agreed upon is an essential starting point for synthesising the literature, because you generally don’t want (or need) to reinvent the wheel or run down a road investigating something that is already well established . So, addressing this question first lays a foundation of “settled” knowledge.

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2. Points Of Disagreement

Related to the previous point, but on the other end of the spectrum, is the equally important question: “Where do the disagreements lie?” .

In other words, which things are not well agreed upon by current researchers? It’s important to clarify here that by disagreement, we don’t mean that researchers are (necessarily) fighting over it – just that there are relatively mixed findings within the empirical research , with no firm consensus amongst researchers.

This is a really important question to address as these “disagreements” will often set the stage for the research gap(s). In other words, they provide clues regarding potential opportunities for further research, which your study can then (hopefully) contribute toward filling. If you’re not familiar with the concept of a research gap, be sure to check out our explainer video covering exactly that .

how to make synthesis on research

3. Key Theories

The next question you need to ask yourself is: “Which key theories seem to be coming up repeatedly?” .

Within most research spaces, you’ll find that you keep running into a handful of key theories that are referred to over and over again. Apart from identifying these theories, you’ll also need to think about how they’re connected to each other. Specifically, you need to ask yourself:

  • Are they all covering the same ground or do they have different focal points  or underlying assumptions ?
  • Do some of them feed into each other and if so, is there an opportunity to integrate them into a more cohesive theory?
  • Do some of them pull in different directions ? If so, why might this be?
  • Do all of the theories define the key concepts and variables in the same way, or is there some disconnect? If so, what’s the impact of this ?

Simply put, you’ll need to pay careful attention to the key theories in your research area, as they will need to feature within your theoretical framework , which will form a critical component within your final literature review. This will set the foundation for your entire study, so it’s essential that you be critical in this area of your literature synthesis.

If this sounds a bit fluffy, don’t worry. We deep dive into the theoretical framework (as well as the conceptual framework) and look at practical examples in Literature Review Bootcamp . If you’d like to learn more, take advantage of our limited-time offer to get 60% off the standard price.

how to make synthesis on research

4. Contexts

The next question that you need to address in your literature synthesis is an important one, and that is: “Which contexts have (and have not) been covered by the existing research?” .

For example, sticking with our earlier hypothetical topic (factors that impact job satisfaction), you may find that most of the research has focused on white-collar , management-level staff within a primarily Western context, but little has been done on blue-collar workers in an Eastern context. Given the significant socio-cultural differences between these two groups, this is an important observation, as it could present a contextual research gap .

In practical terms, this means that you’ll need to carefully assess the context of each piece of literature that you’re engaging with, especially the empirical research (i.e., studies that have collected and analysed real-world data). Ideally, you should keep notes regarding the context of each study in some sort of catalogue or sheet, so that you can easily make sense of this before you start the writing phase. If you’d like, our free literature catalogue worksheet is a great tool for this task.

5. Methodological Approaches

Last but certainly not least, you need to ask yourself the question: “What types of research methodologies have (and haven’t) been used?”

For example, you might find that most studies have approached the topic using qualitative methods such as interviews and thematic analysis. Alternatively, you might find that most studies have used quantitative methods such as online surveys and statistical analysis.

But why does this matter?

Well, it can run in one of two potential directions . If you find that the vast majority of studies use a specific methodological approach, this could provide you with a firm foundation on which to base your own study’s methodology . In other words, you can use the methodologies of similar studies to inform (and justify) your own study’s research design .

On the other hand, you might argue that the lack of diverse methodological approaches presents a research gap , and therefore your study could contribute toward filling that gap by taking a different approach. For example, taking a qualitative approach to a research area that is typically approached quantitatively. Of course, if you’re going to go against the methodological grain, you’ll need to provide a strong justification for why your proposed approach makes sense. Nevertheless, it is something worth at least considering.

Regardless of which route you opt for, you need to pay careful attention to the methodologies used in the relevant studies and provide at least some discussion about this in your write-up. Again, it’s useful to keep track of this on some sort of spreadsheet or catalogue as you digest each article, so consider grabbing a copy of our free literature catalogue if you don’t have anything in place.

Looking at the methodologies of existing, similar studies will help you develop a strong research methodology for your own study.

Bringing It All Together

Alright, so we’ve looked at five important questions that you need to ask (and answer) to help you develop a strong synthesis within your literature review.  To recap, these are:

  • Which things are broadly agreed upon within the current research?
  • Which things are the subject of disagreement (or at least, present mixed findings)?
  • Which theories seem to be central to your research topic and how do they relate or compare to each other?
  • Which contexts have (and haven’t) been covered?
  • Which methodological approaches are most common?

Importantly, you’re not just asking yourself these questions for the sake of asking them – they’re not just a reflection exercise. You need to weave your answers to them into your actual literature review when you write it up. How exactly you do this will vary from project to project depending on the structure you opt for, but you’ll still need to address them within your literature review, whichever route you go.

The best approach is to spend some time actually writing out your answers to these questions, as opposed to just thinking about them in your head. Putting your thoughts onto paper really helps you flesh out your thinking . As you do this, don’t just write down the answers – instead, think about what they mean in terms of the research gap you’ll present , as well as the methodological approach you’ll take . Your literature synthesis needs to lay the groundwork for these two things, so it’s essential that you link all of it together in your mind, and of course, on paper.

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  • University of Oregon Libraries
  • Research Guides

How to Write a Literature Review

  • 6. Synthesize
  • Literature Reviews: A Recap
  • Reading Journal Articles
  • Does it Describe a Literature Review?
  • 1. Identify the Question
  • 2. Review Discipline Styles
  • Searching Article Databases
  • Finding Full-Text of an Article
  • Citation Chaining
  • When to Stop Searching
  • 4. Manage Your References
  • 5. Critically Analyze and Evaluate

Synthesis Visualization

Synthesis matrix example.

  • 7. Write a Literature Review


  • Synthesis Worksheet

About Synthesis

What is synthesis? What synthesis is NOT:

Approaches to Synthesis

You can sort the literature in various ways, for example:

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How to Begin?

Read your sources carefully and find the main idea(s) of each source

Look for similarities in your sources – which sources are talking about the same main ideas? (for example, sources that discuss the historical background on your topic)

Use the worksheet (above) or synthesis matrix (below) to get organized

This work can be messy. Don't worry if you have to go through a few iterations of the worksheet or matrix as you work on your lit review!

Four Examples of Student Writing

In the four examples below, only ONE shows a good example of synthesis: the fourth column, or  Student D . For a web accessible version, click the link below the image.

Four Examples of Student Writing; Follow the "long description" infographic link for a web accessible description.

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  • Download a copy of the "Four Examples of Student Writing" chart

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Click on the example to view the pdf.

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A Guide to Evidence Synthesis: What is Evidence Synthesis?

  • Meet Our Team
  • Our Published Reviews and Protocols
  • What is Evidence Synthesis?
  • Types of Evidence Synthesis
  • Evidence Synthesis Across Disciplines
  • Finding and Appraising Existing Systematic Reviews
  • 0. Develop a Protocol
  • 1. Draft your Research Question
  • 2. Select Databases
  • 3. Select Grey Literature Sources
  • 4. Write a Search Strategy
  • 5. Register a Protocol
  • 6. Translate Search Strategies
  • 7. Citation Management
  • 8. Article Screening
  • 9. Risk of Bias Assessment
  • 10. Data Extraction
  • 11. Synthesize, Map, or Describe the Results
  • Evidence Synthesis Institute for Librarians
  • Open Access Evidence Synthesis Resources

What are Evidence Syntheses?

What are evidence syntheses.

According to the Royal Society, 'evidence synthesis' refers to the process of bringing together information from a range of sources and disciplines to inform debates and decisions on specific issues. They generally include a methodical and comprehensive literature synthesis focused on a well-formulated research question.  Their aim is to identify and synthesize all  of the scholarly research on a particular topic, including both published and unpublished studies. Evidence syntheses are conducted in an unbiased, reproducible way to provide evidence for practice and policy-making, as well as to identify gaps in the research. Evidence syntheses may also include a meta-analysis, a more quantitative process of synthesizing and visualizing data retrieved from various studies. 

Evidence syntheses are much more time-intensive than traditional literature reviews and require a multi-person research team. See this PredicTER tool to get a sense of a systematic review timeline (one type of evidence synthesis). Before embarking on an evidence synthesis, it's important to clearly identify your reasons for conducting one. For a list of types of evidence synthesis projects, see the next tab.

How Does a Traditional Literature Review Differ From an Evidence Synthesis?

How does a systematic review differ from a traditional literature review.

One commonly used form of evidence synthesis is a systematic review.  This table compares a traditional literature review with a systematic review.


Review Question/Topic

Topics may be broad in scope; the goal of the review may be to place one's own research within the existing body of knowledge, or to gather information that supports a particular viewpoint.

Starts with a well-defined research question to be answered by the review. Reviews are conducted with the aim of finding all existing evidence in an unbiased, transparent, and reproducible way.

Searching for Studies

Searches may be ad hoc and based on what the author is already familiar with. Searches are not exhaustive or fully comprehensive.

Attempts are made to find all existing published and unpublished literature on the research question. The process is well-documented and reported.

Study Selection

Often lack clear reasons for why studies were included or excluded from the review.

Reasons for including or excluding studies are explicit and informed by the research question.

Assessing the Quality of Included Studies

Often do not consider study quality or potential biases in study design.

Systematically assesses risk of bias of individual studies and overall quality of the evidence, including sources of heterogeneity between study results.

Synthesis of Existing Research

Conclusions are more qualitative and may not be based on study quality.

Bases conclusion on quality of the studies and provide recommendations for practice or to address knowledge gaps.

Video: Reproducibility and transparent methods (Video 3:25)

Reporting Standards

There are some reporting standards for evidence syntheses. These can serve as guidelines for protocol and manuscript preparation and journals may require that these standards are followed for the review type that is being employed (e.g. systematic review, scoping review, etc). ​

  • PRISMA checklist Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) is an evidence-based minimum set of items for reporting in systematic reviews and meta-analyses.
  • PRISMA-P Standards An updated version of the original PRISMA standards for protocol development.
  • PRISMA - ScR Reporting guidelines for scoping reviews and evidence maps
  • PRISMA-IPD Standards Extension of the original PRISMA standards for systematic reviews and meta-analyses of individual participant data.
  • EQUATOR Network The EQUATOR (Enhancing the QUAlity and Transparency Of health Research) Network is an international initiative that seeks to improve the reliability and value of published health research literature by promoting transparent and accurate reporting and wider use of robust reporting guidelines. They provide a list of various standards for reporting in systematic reviews.

Video: Guidelines and reporting standards

PRISMA Flow Diagram

The  PRISMA  flow diagram depicts the flow of information through the different phases of an evidence synthesis. It maps the search (number of records identified), screening (number of records included and excluded), and selection (reasons for exclusion).  Many evidence syntheses include a PRISMA flow diagram in the published manuscript.

See below for resources to help you generate your own PRISMA flow diagram.

  • PRISMA Flow Diagram Tool
  • PRISMA Flow Diagram Word Template
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Literature Review Basics

  • What is a Literature Review?
  • Synthesizing Research
  • Using Research & Synthesis Tables
  • Additional Resources

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Synthesis: What is it?

First, let's be perfectly clear about what synthesizing your research isn't :

  • - It isn't  just summarizing the material you read
  • - It isn't  generating a collection of annotations or comments (like an annotated bibliography)
  • - It isn't  compiling a report on every single thing ever written in relation to your topic

When you  synthesize  your research, your job is to help your reader understand the current state of the conversation on your topic, relative to your research question.  That may include doing the following:

  • - Selecting and using representative work on the topic
  • - Identifying and discussing trends in published data or results
  • - Identifying and explaining the impact of common features (study populations, interventions, etc.) that appear frequently in the literature
  • - Explaining controversies, disputes, or central issues in the literature that are relevant to your research question
  • - Identifying gaps in the literature, where more research is needed
  • - Establishing the discussion to which your own research contributes and demonstrating the value of your contribution

Essentially, you're telling your reader where they are (and where you are) in the scholarly conversation about your project.

Synthesis: How do I do it?

Synthesis, step by step.

This is what you need to do  before  you write your review.

  • Identify and clearly describe your research question (you may find the Formulating PICOT Questions table at  the Additional Resources tab helpful).
  • Collect sources relevant to your research question.
  • Organize and describe the sources you've found -- your job is to identify what  types  of sources you've collected (reviews, clinical trials, etc.), identify their  purpose  (what are they measuring, testing, or trying to discover?), determine the  level of evidence  they represent (see the Levels of Evidence table at the Additional Resources tab ), and briefly explain their  major findings . Use a Research Table to document this step.
  • Study the information you've put in your Research Table and examine your collected sources, looking for  similarities  and  differences . Pay particular attention to  populations ,   methods  (especially relative to levels of evidence), and  findings .
  • Analyze what you learn in (4) using a tool like a Synthesis Table. Your goal is to identify relevant themes, trends, gaps, and issues in the research.  Your literature review will collect the results of this analysis and explain them in relation to your research question.

Analysis tips

  • - Sometimes, what you  don't  find in the literature is as important as what you do find -- look for questions that the existing research hasn't answered yet.
  • - If any of the sources you've collected refer to or respond to each other, keep an eye on how they're related -- it may provide a clue as to whether or not study results have been successfully replicated.
  • - Sorting your collected sources by level of evidence can provide valuable insight into how a particular topic has been covered, and it may help you to identify gaps worth addressing in your own work.
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  • Next: Using Research & Synthesis Tables >>
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Synthesizing Research

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When combining another author’s ideas with your own, we have talked about how using the can help make sure your points are being adequately argued (if you have not read our handout on the  evidence cycle,  check it out!). Synthesis takes assertions (statements that describe your claim), evidence (facts and proof from outside sources), and commentary (your connections to why the evidence supports your claim), and blends these processes together to make a cohesive paragraph.

In other words, synthesis encompasses several aspects:

  • It is the process of integrating support from more than one source for one idea/argument while also identifying how sources are related to each other and to your main idea.
  • It is an acknowledgment of how the source material from several sources address the same question/research topic.
  • It is the identification of how important factors (assumptions, interpretations of results, theories, hypothesis, speculations, etc.) relate between separate sources.

TIP: It’s a fruit smoothie!

Think of synthesis as a fruit smoothie that you are creating in your paper. You will have unique parts and flavors in your writing that you will need to blend together to make one tasty, unified drink!

Why Synthesis is Important

  • Synthesis integrates information from multiple sources, which shows that you have done the necessary research to engage with a topic more fully.
  • Research involves incorporating many sources to understand and/or answer a research question, and discovering these connections between the sources helps you better analyze and understand the conversations surrounding your topic.
  • Successful synthesis creates links between your ideas helping your paper “flow” and connect better.
  • Synthesis prevents your papers from looking like a list of copied and pasted sources from various authors.
  • Synthesis is a higher order process in writing—this is the area where you as a writer get to shine and show your audience your reasoning.

Types of Synthesis

Demonstrates how two or more sources agree with one another.

The collaborative nature of writing tutorials has been discussed by scholars like Andrea Lunsford (1991) and Stephen North (1984). In these essays, they explore the usefulness and the complexities of collaboration between tutors and students in writing center contexts.

Demonstrates how two or more sources support a main point in different ways.

While some scholars like Berlin (1987) have primarily placed their focus on the histories of large, famous universities, other scholars like Yahner and Murdick (1991) have found value in connecting their local histories to contrast or highlight trends found in bigger-name universities.


Demonstrates how one source builds on the idea of another.

Although North’s (1984) essay is fundamental to many writing centers today, Lunsford (1991) takes his ideas a step further by identifying different writing center models and also expanding North’s ideas on how writing centers can help students become better writers.

Demonstrates how one source discusses the effects of another source’s ideas.

While Healy (2001) notes the concerns of having primarily email appointments in writing centers, he also notes that constraints like funding, resources, and time affect how online resources are formed. For writing centers, email is the most economical and practical option for those wanting to offer online services but cannot dedicate the time or money to other online tutoring methods. As a result, in Neaderheiser and Wolfe’s (2009) reveals that of all the online options available in higher education, over 91% of institutions utilize online tutoring through email, meaning these constraints significantly affect the types of services writing centers offer.

Discussing Specific Source Ideas/Arguments

To debate with clarity and precision, you may need to incorporate a quote into your statement. Using can help you to thoroughly introduce your quotes so that they fit in to your paragraph and your argument. Remember that you need to use the to bridge between your ideas and outside source material.

Berlin, J. (1987).  Rhetoric and reality: Writing instruction in American colleges, 1900-1985 . Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

Boquet, E.H. (2001). “Our little secret”: A history of writing centers, pre- to open admissions. In R.W. Barnett & J.S. Blumner (Eds.),  The Allyn and Bacon guide to writing center theory and practice  (pp. 42-60). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Carino, P. (1995). Early writing centers: Toward a history.  The Writing Center Journal ,  15 (2), 103-15.

Healy, D. (2001). From place to space: Perceptual and administrative issues in the online writing center. In R.W. Barnett & J.S. Blumner (Eds.), T he Allyn and Bacon guide to writing center theory and practice  (pp. 541-554). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Lunsford, A. (1991). Collaboration, control, and the idea of the writing center.  The Writing Center Journal ,  12 (1), 310-75.

Neaderheiser, S. & Wolfe, J. (2009). Between technological endorsement and resistance: The state of online writing centers.  The Writing Center Journal .  29 (1), 49-75.

North, S. (1984). The idea of a writing center.  College English ,  45 (5), 433-446.

Yahner, W. & Murdick, W. (1991). The evolution of a writing center: 1972-1990.  Writing Center Journal ,  11 (2), 13-28.

Table of Contents

Collaboration, information literacy, writing process, synthesizing your research findings.

  • CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 by Christine Photinos - National University, San Diego

Synthesis is something you already do in your everyday life.  For example, if you are shopping for a new car, the research question you are trying to answer is, “Which car should I buy”?  You explore available models, prices, options, and consumer reviews, and you make comparisons.  For example:  Car X costs more than car Y but gets better mileage.  Or:  Reviewers A, B, and C all prefer Car X, but their praise is based primarily on design features that aren’t important to you.  It is this analysis across sources that moves you towards an answer to your question.

Early in an academic research project you are likely to find yourself making initial comparisons—for example, you may notice that Source A arrives at a conclusion very different from that of Source B—but the task of synthesis will become central to your work when you begin drafting your research paper or presentation. 

Remember, when you synthesize, you are not just compiling information.  You are organizing that information around a specific argument or question, and this work—your own intellectual work—is central to research writing.

Below are some questions that highlight ways in which the act of synthesizing brings together ideas and generates new knowledge. 

How do the sources speak to your specific argument or research question?

Your argument or research question is the main unifying element in your project.  Keep this in the forefront of your mind when you write about your sources.  Explain how, specifically, each source supports your central claim/s or suggests possible answers to your question.  For example:  Does the source provide essential background information or a definitional foundation for your argument or inquiry? Does it present numerical data that supports one of your points or helps you answer a question you have posed?  Does it present a theory that might be applied to some aspect of your project?  Does it present a recognized expert’s insights on your topic? 

How do the sources speak to each other? 

Sometimes you will find explicit dialogue between sources (for example, Source A refutes Source B by name), and sometimes you will need to bring your sources into dialogue (for example, Source A does not mention Source B, but you observe that the two are advancing similar or dissimilar arguments).  Attending to interrelationships among sources is at the heart of the task of synthesis.

Begin by asking:  What are the points of agreement?  Where are there disagreements?

But be aware that you are unlikely to find your sources in pure positions of “for” vs. “against.”  You are more likely to find agreement in some areas and disagreement in other areas.  You may also find agreement but for different reasons—such as different underlying values and priorities, or different methods of inquiry.

(See also Identifying a Conversation )

Where are there, or aren’t there, information gaps?

Where is the available information unreliable (for example, it might be difficult to trace back to primary sources), or limited, (for example, based on just a few case studies, or on just one geographical area), or difficult for non-specialists to access (for example, written in specialist language, or tucked away in a physical archive)? 

Does your inquiry contain sub-questions that may not at present be answerable, or that may not be answerable without additional primary research—for example, laboratory studies, direct observation, interviews with witnesses or participants, etc.?

Or, alternatively, is there a great deal of reliable, accessible information that addresses your question or speaks to your argument or inquiry? 

In considering these questions, you are engaged in synthesis: you are conducting an overview assessment of the field of available information and in this way generating composite knowledge.

Remember, synthesis is about pulling together information from a range of sources in order to answer a question or construct an argument. It is something you will be called upon to do in a wide variety of academic, professional, and personal contexts. Being able to dive into an ocean of information and surface with meaningful conclusions is an essential life skill.

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Once you have completed your analysis, you will want to both summarize and synthesize those results. You may have a qualitative synthesis, a quantitative synthesis, or both.

Qualitative Synthesis

In a qualitative synthesis, you describe for readers how the pieces of your work fit together. You will summarize, compare, and contrast the characteristics and findings, exploring the relationships between them. Further, you will discuss the relevance and applicability of the evidence to your research question. You will also analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the body of evidence. Focus on where the gaps are in the evidence and provide recommendations for further research.

Quantitative Synthesis

Whether or not your Systematic Review includes a full meta-analysis, there is typically some element of data analysis. The quantitative synthesis combines and analyzes the evidence using statistical techniques. This includes comparing methodological similarities and differences and potentially the quality of the studies conducted.

Summarizing vs. Synthesizing

In a systematic review, researchers do more than summarize findings from identified articles. You will synthesize the information you want to include.

While a summary is a way of concisely relating important themes and elements from a larger work or works in a condensed form, a synthesis takes the information from a variety of works and combines them together to create something new.

Synthesis :

"The goal of a systematic synthesis of qualitative research is to integrate or compare the results across studies in order to increase understanding of a particular phenomenon, not to add studies together. Typically the aim is to identify broader themes or new theories – qualitative syntheses usually result in a narrative summary of cross-cutting or emerging themes or constructs, and/or conceptual models."

Denner, J., Marsh, E. & Campe, S. (2017). Approaches to reviewing research in education. In D. Wyse, N. Selwyn, & E. Smith (Eds.), The BERA/SAGE Handbook of educational research (Vol. 2, pp. 143-164). doi: 10.4135/9781473983953.n7

  • Approaches to Reviewing Research in Education from Sage Knowledge

Data synthesis  (Collaboration for Environmental Evidence Guidebook)

Interpreting findings and and reporting conduct   (Collaboration for Environmental Evidence Guidebook)

Interpreting results and drawing conclusions  (Cochrane Handbook, Chapter 15)

Guidance on the conduct of narrative synthesis in systematic reviews  (ESRC Methods Programme)

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Synthesizing Sources

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When you look for areas where your sources agree or disagree and try to draw broader conclusions about your topic based on what your sources say, you are engaging in synthesis. Writing a research paper usually requires synthesizing the available sources in order to provide new insight or a different perspective into your particular topic (as opposed to simply restating what each individual source says about your research topic).

Note that synthesizing is not the same as summarizing.  

  • A summary restates the information in one or more sources without providing new insight or reaching new conclusions.
  • A synthesis draws on multiple sources to reach a broader conclusion.

There are two types of syntheses: explanatory syntheses and argumentative syntheses . Explanatory syntheses seek to bring sources together to explain a perspective and the reasoning behind it. Argumentative syntheses seek to bring sources together to make an argument. Both types of synthesis involve looking for relationships between sources and drawing conclusions.

In order to successfully synthesize your sources, you might begin by grouping your sources by topic and looking for connections. For example, if you were researching the pros and cons of encouraging healthy eating in children, you would want to separate your sources to find which ones agree with each other and which ones disagree.

After you have a good idea of what your sources are saying, you want to construct your body paragraphs in a way that acknowledges different sources and highlights where you can draw new conclusions.

As you continue synthesizing, here are a few points to remember:

  • Don’t force a relationship between sources if there isn’t one. Not all of your sources have to complement one another.
  • Do your best to highlight the relationships between sources in very clear ways.
  • Don’t ignore any outliers in your research. It’s important to take note of every perspective (even those that disagree with your broader conclusions).

Example Syntheses

Below are two examples of synthesis: one where synthesis is NOT utilized well, and one where it is.

Parents are always trying to find ways to encourage healthy eating in their children. Elena Pearl Ben-Joseph, a doctor and writer for KidsHealth , encourages parents to be role models for their children by not dieting or vocalizing concerns about their body image. The first popular diet began in 1863. William Banting named it the “Banting” diet after himself, and it consisted of eating fruits, vegetables, meat, and dry wine. Despite the fact that dieting has been around for over a hundred and fifty years, parents should not diet because it hinders children’s understanding of healthy eating.

In this sample paragraph, the paragraph begins with one idea then drastically shifts to another. Rather than comparing the sources, the author simply describes their content. This leads the paragraph to veer in an different direction at the end, and it prevents the paragraph from expressing any strong arguments or conclusions.

An example of a stronger synthesis can be found below.

Parents are always trying to find ways to encourage healthy eating in their children. Different scientists and educators have different strategies for promoting a well-rounded diet while still encouraging body positivity in children. David R. Just and Joseph Price suggest in their article “Using Incentives to Encourage Healthy Eating in Children” that children are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables if they are given a reward (855-856). Similarly, Elena Pearl Ben-Joseph, a doctor and writer for Kids Health , encourages parents to be role models for their children. She states that “parents who are always dieting or complaining about their bodies may foster these same negative feelings in their kids. Try to keep a positive approach about food” (Ben-Joseph). Martha J. Nepper and Weiwen Chai support Ben-Joseph’s suggestions in their article “Parents’ Barriers and Strategies to Promote Healthy Eating among School-age Children.” Nepper and Chai note, “Parents felt that patience, consistency, educating themselves on proper nutrition, and having more healthy foods available in the home were important strategies when developing healthy eating habits for their children.” By following some of these ideas, parents can help their children develop healthy eating habits while still maintaining body positivity.

In this example, the author puts different sources in conversation with one another. Rather than simply describing the content of the sources in order, the author uses transitions (like "similarly") and makes the relationship between the sources evident.

how to make synthesis on research

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Using Evidence: Synthesis

Synthesis video playlist.

Note that these videos were created while APA 6 was the style guide edition in use. There may be some examples of writing that have not been updated to APA 7 guidelines.

Basics of Synthesis

As you incorporate published writing into your own writing, you should aim for synthesis of the material.

Synthesizing requires critical reading and thinking in order to compare different material, highlighting similarities, differences, and connections. When writers synthesize successfully, they present new ideas based on interpretations of other evidence or arguments. You can also think of synthesis as an extension of—or a more complicated form of—analysis. One main difference is that synthesis involves multiple sources, while analysis often focuses on one source.

Conceptually, it can be helpful to think about synthesis existing at both the local (or paragraph) level and the global (or paper) level.

Local Synthesis

Local synthesis occurs at the paragraph level when writers connect individual pieces of evidence from multiple sources to support a paragraph’s main idea and advance a paper’s thesis statement. A common example in academic writing is a scholarly paragraph that includes a main idea, evidence from multiple sources, and analysis of those multiple sources together.

Global Synthesis

Global synthesis occurs at the paper (or, sometimes, section) level when writers connect ideas across paragraphs or sections to create a new narrative whole. A literature review , which can either stand alone or be a section/chapter within a capstone, is a common example of a place where global synthesis is necessary. However, in almost all academic writing, global synthesis is created by and sometimes referred to as good cohesion and flow.

Synthesis in Literature Reviews

While any types of scholarly writing can include synthesis, it is most often discussed in the context of literature reviews. Visit our literature review pages for more information about synthesis in literature reviews.

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Synthesis in Research: Home

An important step between researching and writing (or creating) is organizing your notes so that you form connections between your sources and your own thoughts and ideas

What is Synthesis? Synthesis is a form of analysis related to comparison and contrast, classification and division. On a basic level, synthesis involves bringing together two or more sources, looking for themes in each. In synthesis, you search for the links between various materials in order to make your point. Most advanced academic writing relies heavily on synthesis.

In terms of synthesizing and creating, an information literate student:

The links and videos below will help you to better understand the process of synthesizing information, and will give you tips on effective note-taking and organization. 

What is synthesis?

Synthesizing information is the opposite of analyzing information. When you read an article or book, you have to pull out specific concepts from the larger document in order to understand it. This is analyzing.

When you synthesize information, you take specific concepts and consider them together to understand how they compare/contrast and how they relate to one another. Synthesis involves combining multiple elements to create a whole.

In regard to course assignments, the  elements  refer to the outside sources you've gathered to support the ideas you want to present. The  whole  then becomes your conclusion(s) about those sources.

how to make synthesis on research

How do I synthesize information?

Note: These steps offer a guideline, but do what works for you best.

  • This is where you really decide if you want to read specific materials
  • If you have gathered a substantial amount of literature and reading all of it would prove overwhelming, read the abstracts to get a better idea of the content, then select the materials that would best support your assignment
  • Describe and analyze the findings and/or the author's main ideas
  • What's the author's message?
  • What evidence do they use to support their message?
  • What does the author want a reader to understand?
  • What is the larger impact of the author's message?
  • Compare and contrast the main ideas and other pertinent information you found in each source
  • Evaluate the quality and significance of these main ideas
  • Interpret the main ideas in the context of your research question or assignment topic
  • This is the step where your synthesis of the information will lead to logical conclusions about that information
  • These conclusions should speak directly to your research question (i.e. your question should have an answer)

I would like to give credit to Aultman Health Sciences Library.  Most of the information used to create this guide is from their English Research libguide .

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Step-by-Step Synthesis

By  Jordan McNeill

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Jordan McNeill is a doctoral student in special education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Follow her on Twitter at @jordanmcneill89 .

In January, I wrote my comprehensive exam for my doctoral program, which, in my department, involves a 50-page critical synthesis based on a specific claim of knowledge over a six-week period. It is a fairly daunting task, requiring the integration of literature across many methodologies, subdisciplines and underlying theories. The writer’s job is to somehow balance the big picture of their knowledge claim with the individual contributions of each included source, ultimately making a cohesive argument. Easy, right?

Unfortunately, the particular skill set required for this kind of synthesis is often not explicitly taught. Sure, we have all crafted five-paragraph essays since the fifth grade, and we have probably contributed to scientific research reports. But synthesizing other people's writing to make your own point takes a different thought process. Many graduate students find it hard to move beyond summarizing individual studies in a linear fashion. As the proverb goes, we struggle to see the forest for the trees, detailing specifics but failing to communicate the overall meaning effectively.

As I planned for writing my exam, I realized that the bulk of the work of finding patterns in my sources needed to happen before I started writing. Using ideas from the book Destination Dissertation: A Traveler’s Guide to a Done Dissertation and my own adaptations, I developed a step-by-step process for organizing my notes and ideas. This process assumes you’ve already conducted an exhaustive literature search and have a fairly set reference list; it’s difficult to piece together a synthesis without first establishing your sources. If you are tackling a literature review, comprehensive exam or other similar writing activity, this process can help you synthesize your information before even beginning a draft.

1. Read your sources several times

First, read every article, chapter or other source multiple times with different purposes for each read. On the first read, skim for the big ideas and start mentally categorizing them. After familiarizing yourself with the basics, read in-depth with highlighter in hand, marking the main constructs, findings or arguments relevant to your claim. The third read will be for in-depth note taking.

2. Take organized notes on every source

On this third read, each source gets a notes page labeled with the author and year at the top. I formatted my notes in two columns, with the left column including a word or phrase to capture the main concept and the right column with the details. For example, my knowledge claim addressed teachers’ subjective ideas and experiences related to using specific interventions in their classrooms. My notes included concepts like teachers’ use of interventions, contextual influences and training experiences. Avoid organizing your notes by steps in the research process -- labeling information as sample, methods or results won’t help you make connections later on. I chose to write all my notes by hand , but this could also be done in a typed document.

3. Identify relevant concepts and supporting sources

Once you have a stack of source notes, it’s time to identify the concepts that show up across them. These concepts might include specific research findings, definitions of terms, future implications or other ideas driven by the purpose of your paper. Not every source will address every concept. First, make a master list of all the concepts from the left sides of your source notes. Then, find all the sources that covered each specific concept in their article or chapter. Personally, I simply transferred each concept to an individual sticky note and listed the authors who addressed it underneath.

4. Restructure your notes by concept

Now, each of those concepts gets its own two-column notes page. This time, the authors will go on the left-hand column and you will transfer the notes from step two specific to that concept on the right side. Think of it as if you were cutting apart your article notes, categorizing them by concept and pasting them to a new page (which, conceivably, you could also do, but it might get messy). As you are transferring these notes, pay attention to which authors agree and which raise unique ideas related to the concept; this will help you make connections when you write. In the spirit of synthesis, once this step is completed, these concept notes will be your primary reference, not the individual source notes.

Pro tip: Include a concept notes page for your overarching argument or thesis . In my paper, I argued the necessity of understanding teachers’ subjective beliefs about interventions. This was broader than my other concepts, but it was the common thread that needed to weave throughout the synthesis. By maintaining a single page of the primary arguments made by others, including particularly effective quotations , I could pull ideas from here throughout the whole writing process to keep my claim at the forefront.

5. Organize concepts into an outline

Those concepts should now form the basis of an outline of the paper. Decide how the concepts can be meaningfully grouped under larger themes. In my case, I sorted 29 concepts into six major themes, which became the level-one headings in my draft. Physically sequence your concepts based on the structure of your paper so that as you draft, you can just flip through the notes in order.

Once all of your notes are organized, it’s time to draft! You will have already done most of the synthesis work before ever putting a sentence on the page. For reference, I tracked my time use on my exam and ended up spending almost half of my total working time in the prewriting stage. This saved me the frustration of sifting through my sources over and over again to draw parallels and integrate the information while drafting. If you’re looking to write a synthesis more effectively and efficiently, try integrating these five steps into your prewriting process. Let us know how it goes in the comments or on Twitter!

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Libraries | Research Guides

Evidence synthesis.

  • Evidence Synthesis Overview
  • Evidence Synthesis Resources by Discipline

1. Develop a Research Question and Apply a Framework

2. select a reporting guideline, 3. select databases, 4. select grey literature sources, 5. write a search strategy, 6. register a protocol, 7. translate search strategies, 8. manage your citations, 9. article screening, 10. assess the risk of bias, 11. extract the data, 12. synthesize, map, or describe the results.

  • Quantitative Studies (PICO)
  • Qualitative Studies (PICo, CHIP)
  • Mixed Methods (SPICE, SPIDER)
  • Scoping Reviews (PCC)

Formulating a research question is key to a systematic review. It will be the foundation upon which the rest of the research is built. At this stage in the process, you will have identified a knowledge gap in your field, and you are aiming to answer a specific question. For example:

If X is prescribed, what happens to Y patients?

or assess and intervention:

How does X affect Y?

or synthesize existing evidence:

What is the nature of X?

Developing a research question takes time. You will likely go through different versions before settling on a final question. Once you've developed your research question, you will use it to create a search strategy.

Frameworks help to break your question into parts so you can clearly see the elements of your topic. Depending on your field of study, the frameworks listed in this guide may not fit the types of questions you're asking. There are dozens of frameworks you can use to formulate your specific and answerable research question. To see other frameworks you might use, visit the  University of Maryland's Systematic Review guide.

The most common framework for systematic reviews is PICO, which is often used within the health sciences for clinical research, or in education. It is commonly used for quantitative studies.

P: Population

I: Intervention/Exposure

C: Comparison

Example:  In 11-12 year old children (Population), what is the effect of a school-based multi-media learning program  (Intervention) on an increase in real-world problem solving skills compared with analog-only curriculum  (Comparison) within a one-year period (Time)?

Source:  Richardson, W. S., Wilson, M. C., Nishikawa, J., & Hayward, R. S. (1995).  The well-built clinical question: A key to evidence-based decisions .  ACP journal club, 123 (3), A12-A12.

P: Population/problem

I: Phenomenon of Interest

Co: Context

Example:  What are the  experiences  (phenomenon of interest) of  caregivers providing home based care to patients with Alzheimer's disease  (population) in  Australia  (context)?

Source:  Methley, A.M., Campbell, S., Chew-Graham, C.  et al.  PICO, PICOS and SPIDER: a comparison study of specificity and sensitivity in three search tools for qualitative systematic reviews.  BMC Health Serv Res   14,  579 (2014).



Source:  Shaw, R. (2010).  Conducting literature reviews . In M. A. Forester (Ed.),  Doing Qualitative Research in Psychology: A Practical  Guide  (pp. 39-52). London, Sage.

P: Perspective

I: Intervention/Exposure/Interest

C : Comparison

E: Evaluation

Example:  What are the  benefits  (evaluation) of a  doula  (intervention) for  low income mothers  (perspective) in the  developed world  (setting) compared to  no support  (comparison)?

Source:  Booth, A. (2006). Clear and present questions: Formulating questions for evidence based practice.  Library Hi Tech, 24 (3), 355-368.


PI: Phenomenon of Interest

R: Research Type

Example:  What are the  experiences  (evaluation) of  women  (sample) undergoing  IVF treatment  (phenomenon of interest) as assessed?

Design:   questionnaire or survey or interview

Study Type:  qualitative or mixed method

Source:  Cooke, A., Smith, D., & Booth, A. (2012). Beyond PICO: The SPIDER tool for qualitative evidence synthesis.  Qualitative Health Research, 22 (10), 1435-1443.

Scoping reviews generally have a broader scope that systematic reviews, but it is still helpful to put scoping and mapping reviews within a framework. The Joanna Briggs Institute offers guidance on forming scoping review questions in Chapter 11 of their manual for evidence synthesis . They recommend using the PCC framework:

Example:  What are the trends (concept) in MOOCs (context) that support the interactions of learners with disabilities (population)?

Source:  Peters MDJ, Godfrey C, McInerney P, Munn Z, Tricco AC, Khalil, H. Chapter 11: Scoping Reviews (2020 version). In: Aromataris E, Munn Z (Editors). JBI Manual for Evidence Synthesis, JBI, 2020. Available from .

  • MARS Meta-Analysis reporting standards From the American Psychological Association (APA).
  • MECCIR (Methodological Expectations of Campbell Collaboration Intervention Reviews) Links to site to download reporting standards for reviews in the social sciences and education.
  • PRISMA A 27-item checklist. PRISMA guidelines are used primarily by those within the health sciences.
  • PRISMA ScR The PRISMA Scoping Review checklist. Created for the health sciences, but can be used across disciplines.

Librarians can assist you with selecting databases for your systematic review. Each database is different and will require a different search syntax. Some databases have controlled vocabulary and thesauri that you will want to incorporate into your searches. We recommend creating one master search strategy and then translating it for each database. 

To begin browsing databases, visit the A-Z Database List:

  • A-Z Databases A-Z list of databases available through the Northwestern University Libraries.
  • Northwestern Research Guides Created by Northwestern Librarians, research guides are curated lists of databases and resources for each discipline.
  • What is Grey Literature?
  • Why Search Grey Literature?
  • How do I search Grey Literature?
  • Sources for Grey Literature

Grey (or gray) Literature is "A variety of written materials produced by organizations outside of traditional commercial and academic publishing channels, such as annual reports, [theses and dissertations], white papers, or conference proceedings from government agencies, non-governmental organizations, or private companies. Grey literature may be difficult to access because it may not be widely distributed or included in bibliographic databases." 

Your research question and field of study will guide what type of grey literature to include in your systematic review. 

Source: Byrne, D. (2017). Reviewing the literature.  Project Planner . 10.4135/9781526408518.

The purpose of a systematic review is to identify and synthesize all available evidence. There is significant bias in scientific publishing toward publishing studies that show some sort of significant effect. In fact, according to Campbell Collaboration Guidelines on Information Retrieval , more than 50% of studies reported in conference abstracts never reach full publication. While conference abstracts and other grey literature is not peer-reviewed, it is important to include all available research on the topic you're studying.

Finding grey literature on your topic may require some creativity, and may involve going directly to the source. Here are a few tips:

  • Find a systematic review on a topic similar to yours and see what grey literature sources they used. You can find existing systematic reviews in subject databases, The Campbell Library, and the Cochrane Library. In databases such as PsycINFO, you can use the Methodology search tool to narrow by Systematic Review or Meta-Analysis; otherwise check the thesaurus for controlled vocabulary or use the keyword search to add ("systematic review" OR meta-analysis OR "scoping review") to your search string.
  • Ask colleagues and other experts in the field for sources of grey literature in your discipline.
  • Contact known researchers in the field to learn if there are any unpublished or ongoing studies to be aware of.
  • On the web, search professional associations, research funders, and government websites.
  • ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global This link opens in a new window With more than 2 million entries, PQD&T offers comprehensive listings for U.S. doctoral dissertations back to 1861, with extensive coverage of dissertations from many non-U.S. institutions. A number of masters theses are also listed. Thousands of dissertations are available full text, and abstracts are included for dissertations from the mid-1980s forward.
  • Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations (NDLTD) An international organization dedicated to promoting the adoption, creation, use, dissemination, and preservation of electronic theses and dissertations (ETDs).
  • WHO Institutional Repository for Resource Sharing Institutional WHO database of intergovernmental policy documents and technical reports. Can search by IRIS by region (Africa, Americas, Eastern Mediterranean, Europe, South-East Asia, Western Pacific)
  • OCLC PapersFIrst OCLC index of papers presented at conferences worldwide
  • OSF Preprints Center for Open Science Framework's search tool for scholarly preprints in the fields of architecture, arts, business, social and behavioral science, and more.
  • Directory of Open Access Repositories Global Directory of Open Access Repositories. You can search and browse through thousands of registered repositories based on a range of features, such as location, software or type of material held.
  • Social Science Research Network This link opens in a new window A service providing scholarly research papers, working papers, and journals in numerous social science disciplines. Includes the following: Accounting Research Network, Cognitive Science Network, Economics Research Network, Entrepreneurship Research & Policy Network, Financial Economics Network, Legal Scholarship Network, Management Research Network.

Use the keywords from your research question and begin to create a core keyword search that can then be translated to fit each database search. Since the goal is to be as comprehensive as possible, you will want to identify all terms that may be used for each of the keywords, and use a combination of natural language and controlled vocabulary when available. Librarians are available to assist with search strategy development and keyword review.

Your core keyword search will likely include some or all of the following syntax:

  • Boolean operators (AND, OR, and NOT) 
  • Proximity operators (NEAR or WITHIN)
  • Synonyms, related terms, and alternate spellings
  • Controlled vocabulary (found within the database thesaurus)
  • Truncation (ex: preg* would find pregnant and pregnancy)

Search filters that are built into databases may also be used, but use them with caution. Database articles within the social sciences tend not to be as consistently or thoroughly indexed as those within the health sciences, so using filters could cause you to miss some relevant results.

Source:  Kugley S, Wade A, Thomas J, Mahood Q, Jørgensen AMK, Hammerstrøm K, Sathe N. Searching for studies: A guide to information retrieval for Campbell Systematic Reviews . Campbell Methods Guides 2016:1 DOI: 10.4073/cmg.2016.1

  • Recording Synonyms Worksheet Template you can use when creating lists of search terms.
  • SnowGlobe A program that assists with literature searching, SnowGlobe takes all known relevant papers and searches through their references (which papers they cite) and citations (which papers cite them).

A protocol is a detailed explanation of your research project that should be written before you begin searching. It will likely include your research question, objectives, and search methodology, but information included within a protocol can vary across disciplines. The protocol will act as a map for you and your team, and will be helpful in the future if you or any other researchers want to replicate your search. Protocol development resources and registries:

  • PRISMA-P A checklist of recommended items for inclusion within a systematic review protocol.
  • Evidence Synthesis Protocol Template Developed by Cornell University Library, the protocol template is a useful tool that can be used to begin writing your protocol.
  • Campbell Collaboration: Submit a Proposal The Campbell Collaboration follows MECCIR reporting standards. If you register with Campbell, you are agreeing to publish the completed review with Campbell first. According to the title registration page, "Co-publication with other journals is possible only after discussing with the Campbell Coordinating Group and Editor in Chief." more... less... Disciplines: Business and Management, Crime and Justice, Disability, Education, International Development, Knowledge Translation and Implementation, Methods, Nutrition, and Social Welfare
  • PROSPERO registry "PROSPERO accepts registrations for systematic reviews, rapid reviews and umbrella reviews. PROSPERO does not accept scoping reviews or literature scans." more... less... Disciplines: health sciences and social care
  • Open Science Framework (OSF) registry If your review doesn't fit into one of the major registries, consider using Open Science Framework. OSF can be used to pre-register a systematic review protocol and to share documents such as a Zotero library, search strategies, and data extraction forms. more... less... Disciplines: multidisciplinary

Each database is different and will require a customized search string. We recommend creating one master keyword list and then translating it for each database by using that database's subject terms and search syntax. Below are some tools to assist with translating search strings from one database to the next.

  • Translating Search Strategies Template Created at Cornell University Library
  • Database Syntax Guide (Cochrane) Includes syntax for Cochrane Library, EBSCO, ProQuest, Ovid, and POPLINE.
  • Systematic Review Search Translator The IEBH SR-Accelerator is a suite of tools to speed up steps in the Systematic Review (SR) process.

When conducting a systematic review, you will likely be exporting hundreds or even thousands of citations from databases. Citation management tools are useful for storing, organizing, and managing your citations. They can also perform de-duplication to remove doubles of any citations you may have. The Libraries provide training and support on EndNote, Zotero, and Mendeley. Visit the links below to get started. You may also reach out directly to  [email protected]  with questions or consultation requests.

  • EndNote Support Guide
  • Mendeley Support Guide
  • Zotero Support Guide

During the screening process, you will take all of the articles you exported from your searches and begin to remove studies that are not relevant to your topic. Use the inclusion/exclusion criteria you developed during the protocol-writing stage to screen the title and abstract of the articles you found. Any studies that don't fit the criteria of your review can be deleted. The full text of the remaining studies will need to be screened to confirm that they fit the criteria of your review.

It is highly recommended that two independent reviewers screen all studies, resolving areas of disagreement by consensus or by a third party who is an expert in the field. Listed below are tools that can be used for article screening.

  • Rayyan A tool designed to expedite the screening process for systematic reviews. Create a free account, upload citations, and collaborate with others to screen your articles.
  • Covidence A subscription based systematic review management tool that provides article screening and quality assessment features. Northwestern does not currently have a subscription, so individual/group pricing applies.

Bias refers to factors that can systematically affect the observations and conclusions of the study, causing them to be inaccurate. When compiling studies for systematic reviews, it is best practice to assess the risk of bias for each of the studies included, and then include the assessment in your final manuscript. The Cochrane Handbook recommends presenting the assessment as a table or graph.

In general, scoping reviews don't require a risk of bias assessment, but according to the PRISMA Scoping Review checklist , scoping reviews should include a "critical appraisal of individual sources of evidence." In a final manuscript, a critical appraisal could be an explanation of the limitations of the studies included.

Source: Andrea C. Tricco, Erin Lillie, Wasifa Zarin, et al.  PRISMA Extension for Scoping Reviews (PRISMA-ScR): Checklist and Explanation . Ann Intern Med.2018;169:467-473. [Epub ahead of print 4 September 2018]. doi: 10.7326/M18-0850

  • Cochrane Training Presentation: Risk of Bias Simple overview of risk of bias assessment, including examples of how to assess and present your conclusions.
  • Critical Appraisal Skills Programme (CASP) CASP has appraisal checklists designed for use with Systematic Reviews, Randomised Controlled Trials, Cohort Studies, Case Control Studies, Economic Evaluations, Diagnostic Studies, Qualitative studies and Clinical Prediction Rule.
  • JBI Critical Appraisal Tools From the Joanna Briggs Institute: "JBI’s critical appraisal tools assist in assessing the trustworthiness, relevance and results of published papers."

Once you and your team have screened all of the studies to be included in your review, you will need to extract the data from the studies in order to synthesize the results. You can use Excel or Google Forms to code the results. Additional resources below.

  • Covidence: Data Extraction Covidence is a software that manages all aspects of systematic review processes, including data extraction. Northwestern does not currently subscribe to Covidence, so individual subscription rates apply.
  • Data Extraction Form Template (Excel)
  • RevMan Short for "review manager," RevMan is a free software used to manage Cochrane systematic reviews. It can assist with data extraction and analysis, including meta-analysis.
  • SR Toolbox "a web-based catalogue of tools that support various tasks within the systematic review and wider evidence synthesis process."
  • Systematic Review Data Repository "The Systematic Review Data Repository (SRDR) is a powerful and easy-to-use tool for the extraction and management of data for systematic review or meta-analysis."
  • A Practical Guide: Data Extraction for Intervention Systematic Reviews' "This guide provides you with insights from the global systematic review community, including definitions, practical advice, links to the Cochrane Handbook, downloadable templates, and real-world examples." -Covidence Free ebook download (must enter information to download the title for free)

In the data synthesis section, you will present the main findings of your evidence synthesis. There are multiple ways you could go about synthesizing the data, and that decision will depend largely on the type of studies you're synthesizing. In any case, it is standard to use the PRISMA flow diagram to map out the number of studies identified, screened, and included in your evidence synthesis project.

Librarians can help write the methods section of your review for publication, to ensure clarity and transparency of the search process. However, we encourage evidence synthesis teams to engage statisticians to carry out their data syntheses.

  • PRISMA Flow Diagram
  • PRISMA Flow Diagram Creator


A quantitative statistical analysis that combines the results of multiple studies. The studies included must all be attempting to answer the same research question and have a similar research design. According to the  Cochrane Handbook,  "meta-analysis yields an overall statistic (together with its confidence interval) that summarizes the effectiveness of an experimental intervention compared with a comparator intervention."

  • Meta-Analysis Effect Size Calculator "...a web-based effect-size calculator. It is designed to facilitate the computation of effect-sizes for meta-analysis. Four effect-size types can be computed from various input data: the standardized mean difference, the correlation coefficient, the odds-ratio, and the risk-ratio."
  • Meta-Essentials A free tool for meta-analysis that "facilitates the integration and synthesis of effect sizes from different studies. The tool consists of a set of workbooks designed for Microsoft Excel that, based on your input, automatically produces all the required statistics, tables, figures, and more."
  • The metafor Package "a free and open-source add-on for conducting meta-analyses with the statistical software environment R."

Narrative or Descriptive

If you've included studies that are not similar in research design, then a meta-analysis is not possible. You will then use a narrative or descriptive synthesis to describe the results.

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Faculty & Research

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how to make synthesis on research

Deals: The Economic Structure of Business Transactions

Business transactions take widely varying forms—from multibillion-dollar corporate mergers to patent licenses to the signing of an all-star quarterback. Yet every deal shares the same goal, or at least should: to maximize the joint value created and to distribute that value among the parties. Building on decades of experience teaching and advising on business deals, Michael Klausner and Guhan Subramanian show how to accomplish this goal through rigorous attention to designing incentives, conveying information, and specifying parties’ rights and obligations.

Business transactions take widely varying forms—from multibillion-dollar corporate mergers to patent licenses to the signing of an all-star quarterback. Yet every deal shares the same goal, or at least should: to maximize the joint value created and to distribute that value among the parties. Building on decades of experience teaching and advising...

how to make synthesis on research

  • Academy of Management Journal 67, no. 2 (April 2024): 437-467

An Integrative Model of Hybrid Governance: The Role of Boards in Helping Sustain Organizational Hybridity

Hybrid organizations must sustainably attend to multiple goals embedded in different institutional spheres. Past research has highlighted the value for hybrids in recruiting board members representing different logics to avoid attentional drifts; yet, diverse boards have also been prone to conflicts that occasion attentional lapses, thereby jeopardizing these organizations’ pursuit of multiple goals. We draw on a longitudinal comparative case study of five work integration social enterprises with institutionally diverse boards to uncover an integrative model of hybrid governance consisting of a protective board structure and relational leadership processes that, together, prevent distracting cognitive and emotional conflicts and foster attentional engagement of both the board and senior managers to multiple goals.

Hybrid organizations must sustainably attend to multiple goals embedded in different institutional spheres. Past research has highlighted the value for hybrids in recruiting board members representing different logics to avoid attentional drifts; yet, diverse boards have also been prone to conflicts that occasion attentional lapses, thereby...

how to make synthesis on research

  • Managing the Future of Work

Immigrant Entrepreneurship: New Estimates and a Research Agenda

Immigrants contribute disproportionately to entrepreneurship in many countries, accounting for a quarter of new employer businesses in the US. We review recent research on the measurement of immigrant entrepreneurship, the traits of immigrant founders, their economic impact, and policy levers. We provide updated statistics on the share of US entrepreneurs who are immigrants. We utilize the Annual Business Survey to quantify the greater rates of patenting and innovation in immigrant-founded firms. This higher propensity towards innovation is only partly explained by differences in education levels and fields of study. We conclude with avenues for future research.

Immigrants contribute disproportionately to entrepreneurship in many countries, accounting for a quarter of new employer businesses in the US. We review recent research on the measurement of immigrant entrepreneurship, the traits of immigrant founders, their economic impact, and policy levers. We provide updated statistics on the share of US...

  • Featured Case

Expanding the Bicester Collection to New York

Secretariat, if anyone remembers, won the triple crown at the Belmont Race Track on Long Island, located at the nexus of La Guardia, JFK Airports, the Long Island Railroad and multiple major highways. Belmont Race Track is now being rebuilt along with an adjacent UBS hockey arena for the New York Islanders which can be transmogrified into a spectacular concert venue with great acoustics and amazing design for the likes of Harry Styles and Bruce Springsteen who have already played there to packed audiences. Adjacent to the new arena is the new Belmont Park Village filled with luxury brands such as Prada, Zegna, Polo and the like. Do people who watch and bet on horses, attend hockey games and rock concerts, shop the luxury brands? Is this the way entertainment and retail will have to work together now in the age of ZOOM and e-commerce shopping?

Secretariat, if anyone remembers, won the triple crown at the Belmont Race Track on Long Island, located at the nexus of La Guardia, JFK Airports, the Long Island Railroad and multiple major highways. Belmont Race Track is now being rebuilt along with an adjacent UBS hockey arena for the New York Islanders which can be transmogrified into a...

Market by Met Council: Revolutionizing Food Pantries in the Digital Age

In fall 2023, the Food Program of Met Council—America’s largest Jewish charity dedicated to fighting poverty—completed the rollout of the newest version of its digital pantry platform to twelve food pantries in the Met Council food pantry network. The digital initiative coincided with a shift from food pantries’ traditional “pre-packed” model—in which pantry staff and volunteers pre-packed standardized bags of foods and handed them out to long lines of waiting clients (the standard model in the US)—to a “client choice” model, where clients could choose their own food items. Over half of the pantries in Met Council’s network were undergoing the transition to client choice. This case discusses the evolution of the digital pantry; specifically, the pros and cons of each pantry model from an operational efficiency perspective, how operational levers can influence consumers’ purchasing decisions, fairness in resource allocation problems, and “push” versus “pull” inventory distribution models.

In fall 2023, the Food Program of Met Council—America’s largest Jewish charity dedicated to fighting poverty—completed the rollout of the newest version of its digital pantry platform to twelve food pantries in the Met Council food pantry network. The digital initiative coincided with a shift from food pantries’ traditional “pre-packed” model—in...

how to make synthesis on research

  • HBS Working Paper

Investor Influence on Media Coverage: Evidence from Venture Capital-Backed Startups

We examine the role of investors on the media coverage of their private firm investments. Specifically, we survey VC investors and find that 78% of the respondents take active steps to increase their portfolio companies’ media coverage. The survey results also demonstrate that increased media coverage supports the companies with better recognition and branding and provides benefits to diverse stakeholders. We extend the survey results using empirical tests. Both active VC monitoring and VC reputation are related to stronger effects. Overall, our findings emphasize the role of investors in media coverage decisions of private firms.

We examine the role of investors on the media coverage of their private firm investments. Specifically, we survey VC investors and find that 78% of the respondents take active steps to increase their portfolio companies’ media coverage. The survey results also demonstrate that increased media coverage supports the companies with better recognition...

how to make synthesis on research

Business Experiments as Persuasion

Much of the prior work on experimentation rests upon the assumption that entrepreneurs and managers use—or should optimally adopt—a "scientific approach" to test possible decisions before making them. This paper offers an alternative view of experimental strategy, introducing the possibility that at least some business experiments privilege persuasion over generating unbiased information. In this view, actors may craft experiments designed to gain support for their ideas, even if doing so reduces the informativeness of the experiment. However, decision-makers are not naïve—they are aware that the results they are reviewing may be the product of a curated information environment. Using a formal model, this paper shows that under a wide range of conditions, actors prefer to enact a less than fully informative experiment designed to persuade—even when a fully informative experiment is feasible at the same cost.

Much of the prior work on experimentation rests upon the assumption that entrepreneurs and managers use—or should optimally adopt—a "scientific approach" to test possible decisions before making them. This paper offers an alternative view of experimental strategy, introducing the possibility that at least some business experiments privilege...

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Goal setting with young people for anxiety and depression: What works for whom in therapeutic relationships? A literature review and insight analysis

  • Jenna Jacob   ORCID: 1 ,
  • Milos Stankovic 2 ,
  • Inga Spuerck 2 &
  • Farhad Shokraneh 3  

BMC Psychology volume  10 , Article number:  171 ( 2022 ) Cite this article

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Goal setting and goal-focused work is widely used in young people’s mental health settings. However, little is known about how, why or for whom this is helpful. This study aims to explore the mechanisms of collaborative goal setting as part of therapeutic relationships: is it helpful for young people experiencing anxiety and/or depression, how and why/not, for whom, and under what circumstances?

Online database searches generated 10,907 records. Seven unique studies are included, combined with insight analysis from directed discussions with international advisors with lived experience of anxiety and/or depression and therapy (N = 8; mean age = 20.8), and mental health academics/clinicians (N = 6).

Findings are presented as a narrative synthesis and suggest that goal setting is helpful to young people experiencing anxiety and/or depression because it helps build good therapeutic relationships through open communication and building trust. Goal setting helps make things more manageable, enabling young people to feel supported and have ownership of their care. Individual preferences, or high levels of distress, trauma, low confidence, hopelessness, negative past experiences of goal setting, perfectionism, and rumination are considered limiting factors to goal setting. Additionally, contextual factors including country and long-term therapy are explored.

Whilst the resultant sample is small, emphasis on the voices of young people in the research is both prominent and of paramount importance. Several key literature gaps are identified, including evidenced links to the reduction in symptoms. Priority must be given to researching unhelpful mechanisms of goal setting for young people experiencing anxiety and/or depression, to avoid any potential iatrogenic effects.

Peer Review reports

Collaborative goal setting within therapeutic mental health settings refers to agreements made between young people and practitioners about specific therapy areas of focus: topics of personalised and meaningful outcome. Goals are concrete representations of intended endpoints, which fill the perceived gap between the current and desired end state [ 1 ]. Goals are usually formulated at the start of therapeutic interventions through a series of discussions. These differ from academic, physical rehabilitation, or general life goals, although there could be overlap. Progress towards these agreed goals may then be tracked over time, often through ratings on numerical scales, and there are tools available to support this. For example, the Goal Based Outcome tool (GBO; [ 2 ]) which comprises setting up to three goals and scoring progress between 0 and 10, is widely used to track progress against goal setting in youth mental health settings. Whilst goal tracking may lead to a shift in practitioners’ work to be goal focused [ 3 ], goals may also sit alongside usual clinical work, to track progress [ 4 ]. Goals set in therapy tend to be focused and specific, e.g., to deal with something in the immediacy, like a phobia [ 5 ], but it is important that these goals attain to more global goals [ 6 ], or are viewed as a “means to an end”.

Goals may take time to set, and can change and become more specific during the therapeutic process, for example, at the beginning of contact with a practitioner, a young person might have a general goal like “to feel less depressed”, but over time the young person, along with the practitioner, may learn more about the mechanisms behind the depression and may define more precise goals like “being able to stop negative thinking” or “being able to cope with flashbacks”. The types of phrases used by practitioners to help young people define goals may include: “what do you want to be different?”, “what will you get off your back?”, “where do you want to get to?”, and “how do you want things to change?” [ 4 , 6 ].

Goal setting and tracking in therapeutic settings is grounded in motivation theory [ 7 , 8 , 9 ] such that working towards goals is a continuous feedback loop which builds on self-efficacy, self-determination and motivation to continue to strive towards goals, acting as a self-regulation strategy [ 10 , 11 ]. Goal setting may be more feasible or acceptable to individuals with particular personality traits e.g., individuals who attribute successes and failures to external factors are less likely to find meaning in striving towards goals than those who attribute successes and failures to their own actions [ 12 ].

Further, young people have described recovery from depression as nested within relationships (e.g., [ 13 ]), portraying recovery as an intentional process, contingent on shared goals and joint action in relationships [ 14 ]. Good therapeutic relationships are considered a key element of effective therapy [ 15 , 16 , 17 , 18 ]. Also known as working relationships, or working/therapeutic alliance, this refers to the connection, bond or partnership between the young person and practitioner. Three key elements of therapeutic alliance have been identified in the literature: bond, tasks, and goals [ 19 ]. In a recent review of the effects of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for young people experiencing anxiety and/or depression, three studies reported small-to-medium effect sizes for the correlational relationship between therapeutic alliance and symptom reduction [ 20 ]. This provides limited evidence linking goal collaboration to reduced anxiety/depression symptoms for young people, despite fair evidence supporting links between goal collaboration and positive adult anxiety and depression outcomes [ 21 ]. It is argued that goal agreement is a fundamental element missing from much work with young people, and it has been referred to as a “social contract” [ 22 ]. This emphasis on relationships is particularly important when working with young people with acute, or multifarious difficulties, where relationships are complex, difficult to develop and maintain (e.g., [ 23 ]).

Existing evidence suggests that there are certain elements of mental health support for young people that are effective, but there is a lack of identification and knowledge about mechanisms to refine and improve this support [ 24 ]. Specifically, there is a paucity of research exploring the mechanisms underpinning why goal setting may be helpful for some young people, and not others. There are likely to be confounding variables which interplay the effectiveness of goals, depression and/or anxiety, cognition, and motivation, yet there is little research that has explored this in clinical settings with young people.

The aim of this study is to summarise existing literature, supplemented by discussions with international advisors to contextualise and aid interpretation of the findings. The research question is:

“Is collaborative goal setting helpful or unhelpful to young people experiencing anxiety and/or depression, as an element of therapeutic relationships? a. Why/why not and how? b. For whom? c. Under what circumstances?”

A mixed methodological approach combined reviews of peer-reviewed, grey literature and additional sources (e.g., websites), with consultation with experts by experience. The risk of expert view biasing the findings was mitigated via the validating steps outlined below. The study was designed by the lead researcher, and other researchers in the team, in collaboration with the peer researchers.

Whilst it is acknowledged that there are important outcome areas such as quality of life and existential factors, aside from symptom reduction, the focus of this study was to specifically explore the research questions in relation to potential anxiety and depression symptom reduction. Anxiety and depression were focused on as the most common mental health difficulties worldwide. This focus on medicalised symptomology differs from quality of life, which is a multi-dimensional construct comprised of several domains, such as psychological, physical, and social wellbeing. Anxiety, depression, therapeutic relationships, and goal progress are routinely measured using self- and proxy-reported outcome measures, with numerical rating scales. It was anticipated that the research question would not be adequately explored through findings from outcome measures alone. Based on some initial scoping work, we determined that there would be more evidence on the effectiveness of goal setting and tracking via qualitative enquiry, including narratives. The exploration of the nuances identified in the research question was key to the study, and so it was important to give precedence to young people’s voices through existing research and youth advisors, combined with findings from any relevant supporting measures. Such explorations would not be possible through quantitative enquiry of outcome measure data.

Goal setting alongside usual clinical work and goals work (goal focused interventions) were differentiated from implicit goal-oriented practice, non-directive approaches and paternalistic approaches to support in this study. This meant that to be included in the literature synthesis, goals needed to be explicitly identified as an approach to progress tracking, and/or informing the work. This study also focused on individual settings, and whilst these relationships may include parents/carers in a triad, the primary focus was on the relationship built between the practitioner and the young person. This was due to the complexities and potential dilution of agreeing goals and developing therapeutic relationships in group work and with parents/carers in addition. Ethical approval was not required because this study did not involve collection nor analysis of primary data, and youth advisors were consulted on in the capacity of being part of the advisory group, rather than within the capacity of research participants [ 25 ].

Literature review

First, search terms and inclusion and exclusion criteria were agreed in collaboration with the academic/clinical and youth advisors (See Additional file 1 : Appendix 1 Inclusion and exclusion criteria and Search Strategies). The project was registered with PROSPERO (number: CRD42021259611).

Second, searches of ten online databases were conducted (PsycINFO (OVID), MEDLINE (OVID), EMBASE (OVID), Web of Science core collection, current contents connect, SciELOCitation Index, Cochrane Library of Systematic Reviews, CINAHL (EBSCO), ERIC (EBSCO), and child and adolescent studies (EBSCO)). The search strategy developed for each database comprised three concepts: anxiety and/or depression (condition), goals (intervention) and therapeutic alliance or general views on goal setting, e.g., perspective, view, narrative (intervention/outcome). Searches were restricted to the past 20 years (2000-present). Citation tracking of included papers was performed. Retrieved hits were exported to EndNote 20 [ 26 ], Rayyan [ 27 ] and Excel for title/abstract screening.

Third, two researchers (FS, JJ) independently screened titles and abstracts. Where one researcher (JJ) was an author in retrieved studies, screening was conducted by the other researcher (FS), to ensure unbiased screening. Fourth, two researchers (JJ, IS) explored resultant literature main texts, extracting and synthesising relevant information. Key literature identified by researchers and advisors was added. The quality of the studies was assessed using criteria for qualitative studies ([ 28 ]; See Additional file 1 : Appendix 2 Core Criteria for Quality Assessment of Qualitative Studies).

Grey literature search

Google and Google Scholar title search, Google Books, PsycEXTRA, PsyArXiv, and ProQuest Dissertations and Theses were used. Google's Site Search was used to search American Psychological Association, British Psychological Society, Australian Psychological Society, European Federation of Psychologists' Associations, International Association of Applied Psychology, Association for Psychological Science, International Union of Psychological Science, Canadian Psychological Association, and UN-affiliated websites (.int domains). To identify more relevant literature, was used to track the citations to the included studies. As a result of Google title search, websites were identified and browsed. The searches were restricted to those: (1) written in English, (2) published from January 2000 to August 2021, (3) focused on goal setting with young people experiencing mental health difficulties. Two researchers (FS, JJ) independently screened titles and abstracts of the resultant sources for relevance.

Insight analysis

An advisory group was formed at the study’s outset, comprising: (1) young people with lived experience of anxiety and/or depression and therapy (N = 8; age range 15–26 years; mean age = 20.8; female (includes transgender) N = 5; and male (includes transgender) N = 3; located in Brazil, Pakistan, Spain, Turkey, and UK); and (2) academics and clinicians (N = 6; female N = 1, male N = 5; located in Norway and UK). Criteria for youth advisors to take part where that they were around the age of interest (14–24 years) and had lived experience of anxiety and/or depression and had previously -or currently-experienced receiving a mental health intervention. Youth advisors’ experience of anxiety and/or depression was balanced across advisors. Youth advisors were recruited via adverts circulated by a European network of peer advisors with international reach, and signed an agreement at the outset of the project, by way of consent to participate, which included specific duties and responsibilities of what would be expected of them, as well as hours and reimbursement details. For those under 18 years old, parent/carer consent and agreements were gained. One-to-one meetings between each youth advisor and the participation lead for the study were conducted before and after the study took place. A written agreement was made between the lead research organisation, and the participation organisation which facilitates the network of peer advisors.

Academic/clinical advisors were experienced and specialised in goals work and were recruited via existing networks. Criteria for academic/clinical advisors were that they had research and/or clinical experience in the field of mental health goal setting with young people (academic N = 6; clinical N = 4; categories not mutually exclusive). Written agreements were made between the lead research organisation, and each academic/clinical advisor.

Directed discussions were held at six advisory group meetings (two academic/clinical and four youth) facilitated by two researchers (JJ, MS) and conducted in English. All advisors spoke English, but time was given in the meetings to check understanding, as English was not a native language for many. The academic/clinical and youth advisors met separately, enabling the youth advisors to share openly with their peers. These discussions focused on the research question and drawing inferences about resultant findings, as well as appraising the evidence to identify key literature gaps. The summary of findings from the literature review was presented via PowerPoint to the advisors. The questions asked were broadly: is setting goals an important part of the relationship with the therapist and why/not; do these findings align with your experiences; is there anything you can think of that has not been considered; are there any elements of these findings that do not make sense in your experience; how do you interpret and understand these findings within the context of your own experience? Youth advisors were asked additional questions about the nature of language, for example, what do you think about the term “goal”? Is it the word you use, is it understandable, how does it translate to your national languages?. Field notes were taken, alongside notes in advisors’ own words on the JamBoard interactive workspace, allowing for anonymous contributions. Analysis comprised four stages. First, one researcher (MS) organised field notes and comments into a narrative summary. Second, one researcher (JJ) used the nuanced elements of the research question to organise the summary. Third, feedback was sought from advisors to evaluate and assess whether it was a true reflection of the discussions. Fourth, one researcher (JJ) refined and renamed the themes.

Online searches generated 10,907 records. Ten potentially eligible studies were identified. Upon screening full texts, seven unique studies met the selection criteria (See Fig.  1 and Table 1 ).

figure 1

PRISMA flow chart of the study selection process. From: Page, M.J., McKenzie, J.E., Bossuyt, P.M., Boutron, I., Hoffmann, T.C., Mulrow, C.D. et al. The PRISMA 2020 statement: an updated guideline for reporting systematic reviews. BMJ. 2021;372(n71)

Included studies comprised three narrative case studies [ 29 , 30 , 31 ] a randomised control trial [ 32 ]; a narrative review [ 33 ] a practitioners’ guidance document [ 34 ]; and a naturalistic study [ 35 ]. Critical appraisal of the evidence (Table 1 ) demonstrates that caution must be exercised when considering the findings. The main strength of the included studies is the voice of young people through verbatim quotes, and for some, strong consideration of the researchers’ impact. However, less strength is attributed to the dependability or generalisability of the findings, mainly due to the high proportion of small-and-homogenous samples. The advisors’ discussion summaries were organised into themes within the nuances of the research question: Why/why not and how? For whom? Under what circumstances?”, and presented as a narrative synthesis.

Why/why not and how (mechanisms)

A conduit for open communication.

Six studies described collaborative goal setting as a conduit for communication [ 29 , 30 , 31 , 33 , 34 , 35 ]. Specifically, agreement on goals leads to open communication, a shared understanding of difficulties and ways forward [ 29 , 31 , 35 ]. Formulating goals was described as key to helping young people to feeling understood, valued and that practitioners are listening to them [ 33 , 34 , 35 ]. Collaborative goal setting enables young people and practitioners to make genuine disclosures, not necessarily otherwise possible [ 30 ] and facilitates mutual support [ 31 ].

Both academic/clinical and youth advisors said that open communication and trust were key, broadly agreeing that goal setting could be helpful to support building trusting relationships. It was agreed that collaboratively agreeing goals may take time and should not happen immediately. Rather, practitioners should work flexibly, aiming to understand what is comfortable for young people experiencing anxiety and/or depression. Some youth advisors said that relationships need to be built first, with trust established prior to goal setting, particularly when goal setting feels complicated. It was agreed by youth and academic/clinical advisors that goal setting should be led by young people and guided by practitioners, sharing responsibility. Youth advisors considered open communication the most crucial factor in therapy, with a sense that much therapeutic work cannot take place without it.

Feel supported and involved

Young people value receiving support to split actions into smaller manageable steps, with encouragement from practitioners stimulating validation that their goals are achievable ([ 35 ], and youth advisors). Being given choice about goal content and how this translates into the options for care was identified as an important part of the process in the literature [ 35 ]. Evidence suggests that this leads to a sense of autonomy and control over what happens to young people and enables them to feel involved in the process and increases engagement [ 30 , 33 , 35 ]. This was not directly addressed by the academic/clinical advisors in their discussions.

Nature of difficulties

All seven studies, and youth and academic/clinical advisors, suggested that goal setting was a helpful element of therapeutic relationships for young people experiencing anxiety and/or depression, and more broadly with other undefined presenting difficulties. Both academic/clinical and youth advisors agreed that there was no need to separate specific attributes of anxiety or depression, due in part, to high proportions of comorbidity.

Age, and previous experiences

Three studies described difficulties for young people engaging in goal setting [ 32 , 33 , 34 ]. These were: age-appropriate quests for independence interfering with establishing collaborative relationships with adults [ 32 ]; significant and repeated traumas impacting development, relationships and challenges ordering thoughts, particularly within the context of long-term therapy [ 34 ]; low confidence or feelings of hopelessness; and poor previous experiences of goal setting [ 33 ]. Youth advisors agreed that previous life experiences were important, e.g., views of goal setting in therapeutic settings were impacted by how successful they had been in achieving past goals, regardless of goal type. Academic/clinical advisors agreed that personal factors such as previous experiences and factors surrounding—or leading to—difficulties, may lead to challenges setting goals in the first instance.

Levels of distress, personality traits and preferences

Youth and academic/clinical advisors suggested that specific unhelpful elements may depend on the young person, and sometimes levels of distress, rather than the nature of difficulties. Some youth advisors expressed preferences for practitioner-directed work, particularly in times of high distress, e.g.,: “If I’m going through something very bad, I can be very frustrated/sad so I can’t think clear” (youth advisor) . It was also agreed that goals may exacerbate anxiety, particularly at times of overwhelm, whilst for others this could be a helpful anxiety reduction approach, e.g., in exposure therapy. Youth advisors said that ensuring goals are achievable is key to building good therapeutic relationships, and the impact on anxiety/depression; the individual’s capacity to set goals should be considered, e.g., someone struggling with day-to-day tasks may find even small goals too challenging. Youth advisors considered perfectionism to be important, where some people may feel pressure to achieve goals. A sense of hopelessness, or procrastination, and rumination also, where delaying tasks may result in delaying work on goals. For some youth advisors, goal setting felt especially important, whilst for others it was not, rather a supportive relationship was identified as most important, and they could not see how that would be developed through goal setting. Academic/clinical advisors said that young people’s preferences to work on goals, or not, was in itself of key importance to the therapeutic relationship. There was no evidence from the included literature to support/oppose these points.

Language and power dynamics

Linked to preferences, youth advisors said that young people tend not to like the term “goal” because they attribute it to work and formal settings, whereas “therapeutic goals” are personal with deeper meaning. Academic/clinical advisors discussed using alternative language for goal setting and goal directed work, and the importance of being led by the young person. Posing questions such as “What do you want to change?” is suggested as an alternative in the literature ([ 33 ]; p.47). Youth advisors said that whilst some young people may feel able to say they do not want to set goals, others may not, due to the young person-practitioner power imbalance, which has implications for relationships, and therapeutic work. There was no further evidence from the included literature to support/oppose these points.

Under what circumstances (contextual factors)

Broadly helpful.

All seven studies suggested that goal setting was a helpful element of therapeutic relationships for young people within the research contexts. This included year-long narrative therapy with interpersonal therapy and CBT techniques in alliance with the family [ 29 ]; multimodal family therapy [ 31 ]; Gestalt therapy [ 30 ]; either CBT, short-term psychoanalytic psychotherapy or brief psychosocial intervention [ 32 ]; UK child and adolescent mental health services [ 33 , 34 ] and UK inpatient settings [ 35 ]. All studies were based in Western high-income countries. Academic/clinical and youth advisors agreed with this assessment.

Review points and referral routes

Reviewing progress towards goals too frequently could give the impression that practitioners are more interested in gauging their own success, rather than in the young person as a whole person, and rating could end up being done by rote, making goals increasingly meaningless [ 34 ] . Academic/clinical and youth advisors agreed with this, discussing the need to work with goals in a flexible manner. Additionally, young people may not recognise the symptoms identified, particularly when referred for treatment by another party (e.g., parents/carers), which is crucial to enable collaborative goal setting [ 32 ]. Challenges associated with thinking of goals in this way was addressed by the academic/clinical and youth advisors in wider discussions elsewhere (see therapy contexts).

Culture and therapy contexts

Youth and academic/clinical advisors located in Western high-income countries agreed that it may depend on types of interventions offered and practitioner’s preferred working style, but young people largely have agency to set goals. However, it was recognised by the youth and academic/clinical advisors that some young people in some countries do not have agency to set goals. There, decisions are made by families, in collaboration with practitioners, and so less consideration is given to young people’s perspectives. It was suggested that, in some countries, there is no concept of setting goals (e.g., a youth advisor discussed their experience in Pakistan), and ongoing stigma associated with mental health difficulties, which may lead to distrust, scepticism in, and a disconnect with practitioners. Youth advisors said that this may also be true in other countries not represented. A youth advisor suggested that young people in Brazil were relaxed towards goal setting and would not mind if goals were not achieved; directed therapy was considered more helpful.

Youth and academic/clinical advisors discussed goals in long-term therapy as potentially feeling restrictive, with challenges associated with thinking of what goals might be. Both long-and short-term goal setting within this context may feel meaningless, which if then pressed by the practitioner, has a negative impact on relationships. Academic/clinical advisors said that the feasibility of goal setting in the first instance is likely to be attributable to the factors young people who might be offered long-term therapy might have, rather than the work itself leading to these challenges. Youth and academic/clinical advisors also said that where there are multiple needs and risks, goals need to be simpler to feel manageable. Youth advisors said that sometimes there were concerns about the achievement of goals equating to treatment ending, which felt unsettling. There was no evidence from the included literature to support/oppose these points.

This study aimed to provide a synthesis of existing literature, identifying knowledge gaps. Whilst much may be drawn from related research, caution must be exercised when translating findings into other contexts [ 11 ], and whilst promising, generalising adult findings to youth must be exercised with an abundance of caution. Evidence suggests that adults and children think differently; as children grow, their cognitive processes develop, and their contexts and perspectives change, impacting on understandings of the self and the world around them. Further, models of recovery from depression are notably different between adults and young people [ 14 ]. As such, we have focused on evidence from the youth field in our discussion, and further highlight the paucity of research with young people in this area.

The included evidence originates from Western high-income and largely specialist settings; further research in majority world countries is urgently required. Many studies identified in initial searches only partially met inclusion criteria. This evidence paucity may suggest goal setting is not embedded in service standards or practice in most countries, or other limiting factors such as the general underfunding of youth mental health research. Some examples were derived from the insight analysis, highlighting the advisors’ value, who helped contextualise and interpret evidence, grounded in lived experience. However, whilst the research question pertained to the effectiveness of goal setting as part of therapeutic relationships, the findings were related to the feasibility, or acceptability of goal setting itself. Links between effective goal setting, good therapeutic relationships and positive outcomes are inferred based on evidence that partially supports the research question, and the discussions with the advisory group, but no evidence relating to anxiety or depression outcomes was found in this study. Future research should consider in depth explorations of mechanisms of goal setting within therapeutic relationships, for young people experiencing anxiety and/or depression.

For many young people, goal setting is a helpful tool for building good therapeutic relationships via open communication. These findings support previous research which partially address the research question: young people find goal setting to be helpful to therapeutic relationships through the development of a shared language and understanding [ 3 ]. It has been suggested that goals are a mechanism of change via a means for “common ground” to be established [ 3 ]. Finding common ground and a shared understanding are particularly pertinent in youth mental health settings, where there are multiple stakeholders involved [ 36 , 37 , 38 ], which can be a balancing act [ 39 ]. Establishing this mutuality of situations is considered the key facilitator of engagement when referred for therapy by others [ 40 ]. Further, ownership of goals located with young people is important [ 41 ], which in turn gives young people ownership of their care, which can be motivational [ 42 , 43 ]. Young people experiencing anxiety may find goal setting an effective strategy due to links with avoidance motivation; such that they have reported pursuing approach goals to avoid negative emotional consequences of not doing so [ 44 ]. The ability of young people to maintain focus on the pursuit of personal goals has also been demonstrated as a moderator of depression and suicide [ 45 ].

One included study explicitly discussed parents/carers within collaborative goals and therapeutic relationships, as a foundation for mutual support [ 31 ]. Stronger relationships between both young people, parents/carers and practitioners and/or involving both young people and parents/carers in decision-making have been demonstrated to predict more positive outcomes [ 39 , 46 ]. Young people are often referred by their parents/carers, which must be considered, particularly where literature highlights challenges of setting goals when young people do not agree with the referral or recognise the difficulties [ 22 , 32 ]. Prior research has demonstrated that young people from minoritized ethnic groups are more likely to be referred for mental health support via social care and the youth justice system compared to their White British counterparts, who are commonly referred via primary care in the UK [ 47 ]. Further, evidence suggests that increases in emotional autonomy result in a shift from dependence on adults in adolescence, to reliance upon peers for support [ 48 ] particularly amongst girls [ 49 ], which may align with the developmental interference with building relationships outside of goal setting found by Cirasola and colleagues [ 32 ]. It has been argued that for young people who have difficulties building and maintaining relationships, the therapeutic relationship is particularly important (e.g., [ 23 ]). It is also noteworthy that young people in some countries may not have agency to set goals, a significant limiting factor. There are cultural and service level factors which were not explored. In some cultures, advice is sought from family and religious leaders over mental health professionals (e.g., [ 50 ]). Organisational level factors have also been found to hinder and influence therapeutic processes [ 40 ]. Further research is needed into referral routes, and intersections between systems, practice, and young people’s preferences.

Several elements of goal setting were identified as unhelpful for young people experiencing anxiety and/or depression, supporting previous literature. These discussions centred on the feasibility/acceptability of goals, rather than goal setting being detrimental to therapeutic relationships per se. Nevertheless, it is suggested that these factors were primarily related to the person, and that “personal” factors may be driven by underlying difficulties. For example, low confidence, hopelessness, levels of distress, perfectionism, and rumination (e.g., [ 51 , 52 , 53 , 54 , 55 ], may all be elements of anxiety and/or depression. Academic/clinical and youth advisors agreed that goals may become clearer over time, particularly for young people experiencing depression and purposeless, and through collaboration, goals could be formulated. The importance of considering specific challenges of goal setting during long-term therapy was highlighted. Academic/clinical and youth advisors discussed challenges associated with identifying priority areas for work, and that goals continue to flex and change, with the potential for goals work to feel too restrictive. This is in support of previous research suggesting that it is important that goals are worked on flexibly [ 3 ] with space for them to change; specifically in relation to depression. Compared to those with low levels of depression, young people with high levels of depression are more able to disengage with unhelpful goals over time and to set new goals, which in turn may predict lower levels of depressive symptoms over a year later [ 56 ]. This sense of goals flexing, feeling unique and changeable has been mirrored in descriptions of therapeutic relationships themselves [ 23 ]. There was a clear steer from youth advisors that the relationship independent of goal setting was key to good outcomes, and that this was a priority; that without the trusting relationship, there is no facilitator for goal setting. This is an important contradiction to the literature, warranting further exploration. One suggestion is that the initial goals for long-term therapy should be on relationship building, but reviewed, so the therapeutic relationship itself does not remain the primary goal [ 34 ]. Another key finding is that goals take time to establish, and pressure to set goals may render them meaningless, which also supports previous research [ 51 ]. Young people often do not know what their goals are [ 57 ], which impacts trust building, relationships and thus, therapeutic work. In support of prior research which defines recovery as contingent on shared goals and joint action in relationships [ 14 ], links found between goals, trust building and therapeutic relationships in the present study align with research on trauma informed care, and emotional and relational safety (see, [ 58 ]). Further consideration should be given to this area, particularly clinical implications, and interactions with levels of distress.

Whilst support approaches that incorporate structured goal setting are often characterised by a greater emphasis on client-centredness, the links between personally meaningful outcomes and the specific behaviour change techniques required to progress towards goals are not clear. Further, the person-centred focus is hypothesised as a conduit to positive ratings of self-efficacy, quality of life and service satisfaction, but evidence is lacking [ 11 ]. Whilst previous literature from within the youth mental health field suggests that working on goals is motivating and increases self-efficacy [ 34 , 42 ], evidence is still limited. Goal setting may be useful to young people because, whilst not necessarily synonymous, it has been demonstrated as a facilitative element of shared decision-making [ 59 , 60 ]. This collaborative way of working through shared understanding and the development of good therapeutic relationships [ 61 ] may be especially helpful to young people experiencing depression as it enables them to exercise control over their own feelings and behaviour [ 43 ] at a time when they may be experiencing feelings of hopelessness and purposeless. Whilst educated links are made to shared decision-making, further research should explore whether there is an embedded link to goals and therapeutic relationships.

Strengths and limitations

The mixed-methodological approach was a particular strength, with literature findings bolstered by lived experience. However, whilst advisors were from diverse demographic groups, not all groups were represented.

Whilst every attempt was made to include as many goal setting search terms as possible, the language is broad and fluid, meaning certain terms may have been missed. Still, the high number of results returned from literature searches suggests the strategy may need refinement. Nevertheless, we chose to ensure a large return given the subject’s broad nature. At the screening stage, the focus on explicitly identified goal setting and goal work made the identification of included studies less ambiguous, but meant that studies focused on implicit goals work would not have been included, reducing the number of studies included in the final synthesis.

Prior assumptions and knowledge of this topic will have influenced the researchers’ interpretation of the findings, even subconsciously. This includes the decision to use the nuanced elements of the research question to organise the findings. The researchers were located in Belgium, Germany, and the UK at the time of the study, which risks the perpetuation of the status quo of Western high-income-originating dominated research. Further, the findings were contextualised and linked to prior theory primarily by a researcher outside the age range of interest (JJ). The impact of both issues was mitigated via advisors, particularly those within majority world countries and the age range of interest, and the peer researchers entrenched in the research team (MS, IS), who provided contextual depth and understanding to the findings.

Literature focused on goal setting as helpful for young people with anxiety and/or depression is overwhelmingly supportive, but this leaves research gaps regarding in which ways, for whom and under what circumstances goal setting might be unhelpful. Priority must be given to researching unhelpful mechanisms of goal setting, to avoid potential iatrogenic effects. Accessibility could be improved through exploration of the intersections between systems/contexts (e.g., country), therapeutic practice (e.g., practitioner’s training/preferences) and young people’s preferences. Further research is also needed to explore mechanisms by which goal setting may help to reduce anxiety and/or depression symptoms, as well as other important areas of outcome, such as quality of life, using e.g., mediation analysis.

Scaling up in countries with well-developed systems could mean embedding goals in guidelines for anxiety and/or depression; in service specifications, including monitoring and reporting change mechanisms; staff training in consistency; and some interagency forums to align goal processes. For majority world countries with less developed systems, largely relying on non-specialist services e.g., NGOs, goals may be paradoxically more important for maximising limited resources. Despite nothing suggesting goal setting could not practically be scaled-up globally, cultural considerations may be a limiting factor in some places.

Preferences to not work on goals may be driven by the limiting factors identified, such as hopelessness or high distress. Practitioners should work through this first, reviewing the option to work on goals over time, respecting young people’s preferences. Flexibility is important, and ownership of goals located with young people is essential, particularly to those experiencing depression, enabling them to exercise control over their feelings and behaviour when they may be feeling hopeless and/or purposeless. Finally, there may be a unique opportunity for goals to facilitate work with young people experiencing high distress levels or who have experienced trauma, due to links to emotional and relational safety and building trusting relationships.

Availability of data and materials

The datasets generated and/or analysed during the current study are not publicly available to protect the confidentiality of the small number of advisors, but may be available from the corresponding author’s organisation, on reasonable request.


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The authors would like to thank the advisors, for their invaluable contribution from start to finish, including useful comments an early draft: Duncan Law, Elmas Aybike Yılmaz, Hanne Oddli, Isabella Valério, Jacob People, Josh D., Julian Edbrooke-Childs, Katya Proctor, Laura Calomarde Juárez, Mick Cooper, Nick Morgan, Panos Vostanis, Syeda Zeenat R., and Theo Jackson. Thank you to Bernice Appiah, Shade Davies and Shadia Robertson for helpful discussions about the findings, and assistance with evidence synthesis, and to Inês Pote from the Wellcome Active Ingredients team, and Jasmine Harju-Seppanen, for useful comments on a previous draft. The authors also wish to thank Zoe Thomas for incredibly useful advice and guidance regarding literature searches.

This work was funded by a Wellcome Trust Mental Health Priority Area “Active Ingredients” 2021 commission awarded to JJ at the Anna Freud Centre. It was a requirement of the funding team that the research design comprised a literature review, and that the involved and worked collaboratively with young people with lived experience of anxiety and/or depression throughout the course of the project. Members of the funding team provided feedback on an early draft of this manuscript.

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JJ conceptualised the study, prepared the first draft protocol and search strategy, refining this with the study authors and advisors. JJ undertook the library database searches for published literature, partially screened the titles and abstracts of literature, screened all full texts, led communication with study authors and advisors, led four advisory group meetings, maintained the databases which were used to extract and manage study data, prepared, and revised the manuscript. MS contributed to the first draft protocol and search strategy, led communication with youth advisors, led two advisory group meetings, created the narrative summaries, and contributed to the manuscript. IS contributed to the first draft protocol and search strategy, supported communication with youth advisors, screened full texts for further relevant literature, and contributed to the manuscript. FS conducted the grey literature searches, screened all potential title and abstracts from all searches (published and unpublished literature), maintained the databases which were used to extract and manage study data, and contributed to the manuscript. All study advisors were invited to comment on the protocol and initial search terms, and were invited to comment on earlier drafts of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Ethical approval for this research was not required because it does not involve collection nor analysis of primary data, and youth advisors were consulted on in the capacity of being part of the advisory group, to discuss their interpretation of the findings, rather than within the capacity of research participants.

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Competing interests

JJ works on the Child Outcomes Research Consortium (CORC) project at the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families, which encourages the use of outcome measures in youth mental health settings amongst its members. No other authors report any competing interests.

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Additional file 1. appendix 1..

Inclusion and exclusion criteria and Search Strategies. Appendix 2 Core Criteria for Quality Assessment of Qualitative Studies.

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Jacob, J., Stankovic, M., Spuerck, I. et al. Goal setting with young people for anxiety and depression: What works for whom in therapeutic relationships? A literature review and insight analysis. BMC Psychol 10 , 171 (2022).

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A comprehensive review of radiation-induced hydrogels: synthesis, properties, and multidimensional applications.

how to make synthesis on research

Graphical Abstract

1. Introduction

2. synthesis and properties of hydrogels, 2.1. impact of gamma and electron beam radiation, 2.2. gamma radiation-induced hydrogel synthesis, 2.3. viscoelastic properties of radiation-induced hydrogels, 3. electron beam irradiation synthesis.

  • Electron beam (EB) radiation is an environmentally friendly process that does not require chemicals, ensuring a clean and sustainable treatment method.
  • EB radiation can uniformly penetrate materials deeply, enabling the precise sterilization and modification of substances.
  • This technology is rapid, cost-effective, and easily scalable for industrial production, providing efficiency in various applications.
  • EB radiation leaves no harmful residues or by-products, ensuring the safety and purity of treated materials.
  • The controlled processing parameters of EB radiation allow for customizable outcomes in fields such as healthcare, food preservation, and materials science.

4. UV Radiation Hydrogel Synthesis

5. brief application of hydrogels, 5.1. pharmaceuticals application, 5.2. biomedical engineering, 5.2.1. skin care, 5.2.2. cancer therapy, 5.2.3. drug delivery system, 5.3. application of hydrogel: in agriculture, 5.4. hydrogel as a potting medium, 6. conclusions and future direction, author contributions, institutional review board statement, informed consent statement, data availability statement, conflicts of interest.

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Synthesis MethodExampleAdvantageDisadvantageApplication in Different FieldDose
Range (KGy)
Gama radiation synthesisPolyethylene glycol diacrylate (PEGDA)Precise crosslinkingRequires specialized facilities drug delivery systems, tissue engineering10–25[ , ]
soil conditioning, water retention
wastewater treatment
smart materials, sensors
Electron beam
Polyvinyl alcohol (PVA)Controlled crosslinkingHigh equipment costs tissue scaffolds, wound dressings10–50[ , ]
enhanced barrier properties, extended shelf life
pollutant removal, water treatment
tailored materials, coatings
UV light irradiationPoly(N-isopropylacrylamide) (PNIPAM)Cost-effectiveLimited depth penetration photo responsive hydrogels, drug release systemsN/A[ , ]
quick curing
surface modification for bio applications.
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Share and Cite

Ahmed, M.S.; Islam, M.; Hasan, M.K.; Nam, K.-W. A Comprehensive Review of Radiation-Induced Hydrogels: Synthesis, Properties, and Multidimensional Applications. Gels 2024 , 10 , 381.

Ahmed MS, Islam M, Hasan MK, Nam K-W. A Comprehensive Review of Radiation-Induced Hydrogels: Synthesis, Properties, and Multidimensional Applications. Gels . 2024; 10(6):381.

Ahmed, Md. Shahriar, Mobinul Islam, Md. Kamrul Hasan, and Kyung-Wan Nam. 2024. "A Comprehensive Review of Radiation-Induced Hydrogels: Synthesis, Properties, and Multidimensional Applications" Gels 10, no. 6: 381.

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Krati Chauhan ; Mahsa Shahrokhi ; Martin R. Huecker .


Last Update: April 9, 2023 .

  • Continuing Education Activity

Vitamin D is labeled as the "sunshine vitamin," as it is produced in the skin during sun exposure. Vitamin D is required to maintain the serum calcium concentration within the normal physiologic range for musculoskeletal health. The Endocrine Society, the National and International Osteoporosis Foundation, and the American Geriatric Society define vitamin D deficiency as the level of 25-hydroxyvitamin (25 OH D) of less than 30 ng/mL. The Endocrine Society recommends a preferred range of 40 to 60 ng/mL. To maintain this level, the Endocrine Society recommends an intake of 400 to 1000 International Units (IU) daily for infants less than one year, 600 to 1000 IU for children and adolescents from 1 to 18 years, and 1500 to 2000 IU for all adults. This activity outlines the indications, mechanism of action, methods of administration, significant adverse effects, contraindications, toxicity, and monitoring, of vitamin D so providers can direct patient therapy in treatment or supplementation where it is indicated as part of the interprofessional team.

  • Identify the physiological role of vitamin D.
  • Describe the appropriate dosing of vitamin D for various patient populations.
  • Review the appropriate monitoring to ensure proper vitamin D levels.
  • Summarize the importance of collaboration and coordination among the interprofessional team and how it can enhance patient care with vitamin D to improve patient outcomes where vitamin D supplementation is indicated.
  • Indications

Vitamin D is labeled as the "sunshine vitamin," as it is produced in the skin on sun exposure. Vitamin D is required to maintain the serum calcium concentration within the normal physiologic range for musculoskeletal health. [1] [2] [3]

The Endocrine Society, the National and International Osteoporosis Foundation, and the American Geriatric Society define vitamin D deficiency as the level of 25-hydroxyvitamin (25 OH D) of less than 30 ng/mL. The Endocrine Society recommends a preferred range of 40 to 60 ng/mL. In contrast, the National Institute of Health defines vitamin D deficiency as less than 20 ng/ml. Some authorities define insufficiency as 12 to 19 ng/mL and deficiency as less than 12 ng/mL. To maintain this level, the Endocrine Society recommends an intake of 400 to 1000 International Units (IU) daily for infants less than one year, 600 to 1000 IU for children and adolescents from 1 to 18 years, and 1500 to 2000 IU for all adults.

Vitamin D deficiency in children causes rickets and prevents children from reaching their peak bone mass and genetically determined height. In adults, vitamin D deficiency results in abnormal mineralization of the collagen matrix in bone, referred to as osteomalacia. This collagen matrix is weak, does not provide adequate structural support, and increases the risk of fracture. This abnormally mineralized matrix pushes the periosteum, a highly innervated structure, outward and results in aching bones, a common complaint in vitamin D deficient individuals. Vitamin D deficiency also results in muscle weakness and muscle pain. Patients complain of generalized bone and muscle pain. Around 40% to 60% of patients with generalized myalgias and bone pain have vitamin D deficiency.

Vitamin D deficiency (level < 30 ng/mL) and insufficiency (level between 20 to 30 ng/mL) are a problem across the globe. Pregnant women, African Americans, Hispanics, obese adults, and children are at high risk for vitamin D deficiency. In the United States, 50% of children ages 1 to 5 and 70% of children ages 6 to 11 have vitamin D deficiency. It is attributed to an increase in the incidence of obesity, a decrease in milk consumption, and the use of sun protection. [4] [5] [6]

  • Mechanism of Action

Vitamin D is a hormone obtained through dietary consumption and skin production. Ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation, wavelength (290 to 315 nm), converts 7-dehydrocholesterol in the skin to previtamin D. This previtamin D undergoes heat isomerization and is converted to vitamin D. Vitamin D from the skin and diet is metabolized in the liver to 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25 OH D), and 25-hydroxyvitamin D is useful in assessing vitamin D status. In the kidneys, 25 hydroxyvitamin D converts to the biologically active form: 1,25-dihydroxy vitamin D (1,25 (OH)) by the enzyme 25-hydroxyvitamin D-1 alpha-hydroxylase (CYP27B1). Renal production of 1,25-dihydroxy vitamin is under the regulation of parathyroid, calcium, and phosphorus levels. [7]

1,25-dihydroxy vitamin D binds to the vitamin D receptor, a hormone receptor present at the nucleus inside the cell. Gene transcription is modified through the binding of vitamin D to its receptor, resulting in the activation of certain genes and suppression of others. It stimulates intestinal calcium and phosphorus absorption. In the absence of vitamin D, approximately 10 to 15% of dietary calcium and 60% of phosphorus are absorbed. In the presence of vitamin D, this percentage of absorption is increased to 30% to 40% for calcium and 80% for phosphorus. In the kidneys, 1,25-dihydroxy vitamin promotes calcium reabsorption.

Vitamin D has a physiologic function outside calcium metabolism. Vitamin D receptor is present in the small intestine, colon, T and B lymphocytes, mononuclear cells, brain, and skin. It stimulates insulin production, modulates the function of activated T and B lymphocytes, prevents inflammatory bowel diseases, and affects myocardial contractility. 

Topical 1,25-dihydroxy vitamin D has utility in the treatment of psoriasis. It reduces scaling and erythema in psoriasis. Keratinocytes in the skin, which function abnormally in psoriasis, have vitamin D receptors, and vitamin D inhibits their proliferation and induces differentiation. [8]

  • Administration

Vitamin D administration can be oral, or the skin can make it via UV exposure. A serum level of 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25 OH D) of at least 30 ng/ml (78 nmoL/L) is required to maintain the physiologic function of vitamin D. Recommendations are to use 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25 OH D) as a measure of vitamin D status as it has a half-life of 2 weeks; whereas, 1,25-dihydroxy vitamin D (1,25 (OH)), the biologically active form, has a serum half-life of < 4 hours and should not be used to measure vitamin D status.

Factors that alter the amount of UVB radiation reaching the skin change the cutaneous production of vitamin D. Melanin in the skin absorbs UVB radiation and prevents the conversion of 7-dehydrocholesterol to vitamin D. Hence, individuals with increased skin pigmentation have decreased cutaneous production of vitamin D and require a longer duration of exposure to UVB radiation to produce vitamin D. Sunscreen, which also absorbs UVB radiation, decreases cutaneous production of vitamin D. A sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 8 reduces cutaneous production of UVB  by > 95% and a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 will reduce this to > 98%.

During winter, sun rays enter at a more oblique angle, and the ozone layer absorbs a higher amount of UVB radiation. Hence, less UVB radiation reaches the skin. For this reason, during the winter months, there is a decrease in the production of vitamin D. Similarly, at latitudes greater than 37 degrees, there is a decrease in the UVB radiation reaching the skin, which reduces vitamin D production. In the early morning and the evening, the sun's rays enter at an oblique angle, and the skin produces very little UVB.

Vitamin D is fat-soluble and stored in body fat. In obese individuals,  a greater amount of vitamin D is stored in fat, and less is available for biological functions. Hence obese people require larger units of vitamin D supplementation to maintain an adequate serum level of vitamin D.

Very few foods are a natural source of vitamin D. These include oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines. Foods fortified with vitamin D are milk and orange juice (100 units per 8 ounce serving) and some bread and cereals. An important source of oral vitamin D is vitamin D supplements, which are available both over the counter and through prescription. These are available in strengths of 1000 IU, 2000 IU, 5000 IU, and 50,000 IU, which are available only through prescription. [9]

The recommendation is to check the level of the circulating form of vitamin D (25-hydroxyvitamin D) at least twice a year. Once in spring, which will reflect low levels after the winter, and once in fall, which will reflect higher levels after the summer, and the dose should be adjusted accordingly. [10]

Vitamin D intoxication is extremely rare. Vitamin D intoxication from sun exposure does not occur as the skin destroys excess vitamin D. The only way a person may get vitamin D toxicity is by ingestion of extremely high doses of vitamin D for a prolonged period. Concentrations over 150 ng/mL (325 nmoL/L) may result in vitamin D intoxication and are associated with hypercalcemia. Some symptoms associated with vitamin D toxicity and hypercalcemia include constipation, polydipsia, polyuria, and confusion. [11]

  • Enhancing Healthcare Team Outcomes

All interprofessional healthcare team members, including clinicians, mid-level practitioners, nurses, pharmacists, and dieticians, need to be aware of vitamin D deficiency (level < 30 ng/mL) and insufficiency (level between 20 to 30 ng/mL) are a problem across the globe. Pregnant women, African Americans, Hispanics, obese adults, and children are at high risk for vitamin D deficiency. In the United States, 50% of children ages 1 to 5 and 70% of children ages 6 to 11 have vitamin D deficiency. Experts attribute this fact to an increase in the incidence of obesity, a decrease in milk consumption, and the use of sun protection. The interprofessional healthcare team needs to examine all these factors when assessing the patient.

Very few foods are a natural source of vitamin D. These include oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines. Foods fortified with vitamin D are milk and orange juice, and some bread and cereals. An important source of oral vitamin D is vitamin D supplements, which are available both over the counter and through prescription. These are available in strengths of 1000 IU, 2000 IU, 5000 IU, and 50,000 IU, which are available only through prescription. [12] [13]  By engaging in interprofessional collaboration, the healthcare team can ensure patients are adequately supplied with this vital nutrient and drive their patients to better health. [Level 5]

  • Review Questions
  • Access free multiple choice questions on this topic.
  • Comment on this article.

Disclosure: Krati Chauhan declares no relevant financial relationships with ineligible companies.

Disclosure: Mahsa Shahrokhi declares no relevant financial relationships with ineligible companies.

Disclosure: Martin Huecker declares no relevant financial relationships with ineligible companies.

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  • Cite this Page Chauhan K, Shahrokhi M, Huecker MR. Vitamin D. [Updated 2023 Apr 9]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-.

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  • MyU : For Students, Faculty, and Staff

Professor George Barany retires after a 44 year career at the University of Minnesota

George Barany Horizontal image

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (6/6/2024) Distinguished McKnight University Professor  George Barany retired from the University of Minnesota on May 26th, 2024, after a 44 year career in the Department of Chemistry. Barany, who was most recently honored with  election to the National Academy of Inventors in 2020, is renowned for his long-standing leadership and pioneering innovations in the field of peptide synthesis methodology, for his role in the invention of revolutionary universal Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) arrays for detection of genetic diseases, and for numerous discoveries in the field of organosulfur chemistry, including synthesis of the active ingredient of garlic. 

It runs in the family

George Barany grew up in New York City, often hanging out in his parents’ research laboratories when he wasn’t pursuing his regular school work, sports like tennis, or games like chess. Both his mother,  Kate Bárány , and father,  Michael Bárány , were Holocaust survivors who came to the United States with their two small sons in 1960. Kate went on to build an illustrious career studying the physiology of muscle and muscle disease, and was also a trailblazer on a variety of women’s issues. Michael is best known for establishing the relationship between the speed of muscle contraction and the adenosine triphosphatase (ATPase) activity of the muscle protein myosin, and was one of the first scientists to study live tissue using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy. The Kate and Michael Bárány Conference Room (117/119 Smith Hall) was  dedicated in their honor in 2012.  

“I guess before anything else, I was  a math whiz ,” George says as he reminisces about his childhood. Over holiday and summer breaks George carried out science fair projects in his father’s biochemistry lab. George was so advanced in mathematics and the sciences that he skipped undergraduate studies altogether, and went straight on to graduate school from the prestigious Stuyvesant High School at the age of 16. 

At  The Rockefeller University , George worked with Professor  R.B. Merrifield , where he pursued his interests in experimental peptide and protein biochemistry.  He published his first paper in 1973, on the synthesis of an ATP-binding peptide, a project that had its roots in high school research in his father’s lab and a summer rotation project in Merrifield’s lab. George graduated with his PhD at age 22, but continued to work with Merrifield for three more years before launching his independent career.

“I had a lot of beginner's luck. The first peptide I made was my high school science project, which morphed into my first year project with Merrifield. That peptide then wound up being written up in Lehninger’s now-classic textbook. So, as a teenager, I was learning biochemistry from the first edition of the text, and then by the time the second edition was published, it had my molecule in there!” 

Four decades of research at UMN

In 1980, Barany was hired to the University of Minnesota faculty. Over the course of his four decade career, Barany pursued his research interests in peptide synthesis, and developed a myriad of new interests. His research, described in nearly 390 scientific publications, has covered areas ranging from the chemical synthesis of garlic constituents, to studies on the mechanisms of protein folding, to methods for chemical combinatorial libraries, to advances in the preparation of antisense DNA and RNA, and to the development of DNA and PNA arrays for the multiplex detection of genetic diseases. He currently holds 38 issued U.S. patents.

George Barany two headshots

Barany revolutionized peptide chemistry through his concept of  orthogonality , leading to the development of widely used toolkits for synthesizing hormones and proteins. His research group was collaboratively involved in the invention and commercialization of useful peptide synthesis resin supports (PEG-PS, CLEAR), anchoring linkages (PAL, HAL, XAL, BAL), and reagents (e.g., Clear-OX, an elegant “chaperone” for the creation of disulfide bridges) that expanded the range of molecular targets accessible for research. In another avenue of his research, Barany collaborated with Professor  Karin Musier-Forsyth (then at UMN) and Professor  Robert Hammer (then at Louisiana State University) on the invention of sulfurization reagents for DNA and RNA, chemistry that is essential for antisense therapeutics. 

Starting in the mid 1990s, Barany collaborated with his brother, Professor  Francis Barany , and with Professor Hammer, to develop universal arrays for sensitive and accurate mutational analysis, which became foundational for personalized cancer treatment approaches and genome sequencing advancements. This “Zipcode” technology – broadly used for single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) detection and haplotype mapping – was the basis of comprehensive tumor profiling by the National Institutes of Health Cancer Genome Anatomy Project. Advances built on the foundational research of Barany, Barany, and Hammer make it possible to sequence entire genomes in days rather than years, resulting in improved capability to diagnose diseases more promptly and accurately.

“I never thought I'd make a whole career out of peptides,” Barany said in a recent interview. “I just thought it was something that needed to get done along the way to doing what I really was interested in, which was understanding how proteins work, and maybe even being able to design a protein. But, as it turned out, just the process of making peptides turned out to be much harder than it had appeared to an enthusiastic but naive teenager.”

Over the course of his career, Barany has been recognized numerous times for his excellence in research and teaching. In 1997, he was the first Department of Chemistry faculty member to be named a Distinguished McKnight University Professor. His many honors include a Searle Scholar award (1982), the Vincent du Vigneaud Award for outstanding achievements in peptide research (1994), the Ralph F. Hirschmann Award in Peptide Chemistry from the American Chemical Society (2006), and the Murray Goodman Scientific Excellence & Mentorship Award from the American Peptide Society (2015). For his lifelong commitment to “demonstrating a highly prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made tangible impacts on the quality of life, economic development, and the welfare of society,” Barany was elected as a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors in 2020.

Barany Group photo, 2000

Brainteaser aficionado

Outside of the lab, Barany is devoted to his family, and is a lifelong lover of games, puzzles, and sports (both as a participant and as a spectator). Since he began creating crossword puzzles in 1999, Barany has constructed several hundred professional-quality puzzles. His puzzles have been featured in the  New York Times , the  Chronicle of Higher Education , the Minneapolis  Star Tribune ,  Minnesota magazine, and  Chemical & Engineering News , to name just a few. Barany’s hobby has connected him to dozens of new friends and collaborators, and he now enjoys mentoring new puzzlers on crossword puzzle creation. For example, in Spring 2024, Barany and Chemistry graduate student Rowan Matney created and shared a  Pi Day themed crossword for the Department’s annual Pi(e) Day celebration.

Interested readers can find many of his puzzles at the  George Barany and Friends webpage . A new edition of that site is scheduled to launch in the Summer of 2024; please email  [email protected] if you would like to receive relevant notifications.

What’s next for Professor Emeritus Barany?

On June 8th, 2024, a symposium entitled  A Half Century of Solving Puzzles in Peptide and Sulfur Science   will take place in Chicago, Illinois. The event will bring together many of Barany’s closest and most successful colleagues and protégés from as far away as Europe, China, and South Africa, as well as from both US coasts and the midwest. The symposium will feature about a dozen scientific talks on a wide range of topics appealing to George’s eclectic interests – including contributions from his brother and both of his children! Barany says he is looking forward to a weekend filled with engaging discussions and memories to celebrate the closing of this phase of his career. He is also touched by the fact that the  International Journal of Peptide Research and Therapeutics will be putting together  a special issue in his honor .

In his retirement, Barany says he is looking forward to having more free time for traveling with his wife Barbara – herself a retired chemist and educator – to visit their adult children and young grandchildren. Their son, Michael, lives in Scotland, and their daughter, Deborah, resides in the US state of Georgia. “I figure I've had a great career – I've done a lot of things. Now it's time to spend more time with my grandchildren!” Barany also plans to continue working on crossword puzzle collaborations and hopes to pass a love for wordplay on to his grandkids. A secondary goal is to reread all of the required reading from junior and senior high school, in the hope that it will now make sense through the lens of adult life experience. Finally, through the kindness of several colleagues, Barany has put the administrative and fundraising aspects of academia in the rearview mirror, and resumed lab work – with his own hands –  that he hopes will lead to additional high-impact publications.

When he reflects on his time at the University of Minnesota, Barany says his greatest pride comes from the students, at all levels, that he has mentored over the years. “Our lab certainly developed much useful chemistry and had influential insights on a range of scientific topics, but ultimately, it’s all about working with young people and watching them grow into independent and successful scientists and other professionals. It is just amazing, and that is probably my ultimate legacy.” 

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  1. PPT

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  1. How To Write Synthesis In Research: Example Steps

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  30. Professor George Barany retires after a 44 year career at the

    His research, described in nearly 390 scientific publications, has covered areas ranging from the chemical synthesis of garlic constituents, to studies on the mechanisms of protein folding, to methods for chemical combinatorial libraries, to advances in the preparation of antisense DNA and RNA, and to the development of DNA and PNA arrays for ...