Synthesising requires the skills of paraphrasing and summarising: to combine ideas from different sources to support your idea.

Unlike paraphrasing and summarising, which use only one source’s idea at a time, a synthesis combines similar findings amongst two or more sources, allowing you to demonstrate linkages between different authors, which can create more powerful evidence for you to present to your reader.

Let’s see what synthesising looks like in practice. In the example below, we’ve identified four different journal articles for our topic, Is rote learning effective learning? From these readings, we’ve made the following notes:

Text 1

Karpicke, J. D. (2012). Retrieval-based learning: Active retrieval promotes meaningful learning. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 21(3), 157-163.

  • The process of rote learning isn’t fully appreciated in its role in higher order learning.
  • Recalling improves the brain’s ability not only to remember but also enhances the recall process overall
  • Many students are unaware of how to and the benefits of rote learning.

Text 2

Tavakol, M. (2010). Are Asian international medical students just rote learners? Advances in Health Sciences Education, 15, 369-377.

  • In the Confucian approach, rote learning is viewed as the first of four stages of learning, and necessary for higher order learning
  • Although this contrasts to the Socratic approach to learning, it does not make it less effective
  • One cannot assume that memorisation leads to poor understanding of the subject matter.

Text 3

Mholo, M. K. (2014). Is rote learning of number concepts ‘inherently rotten’ or is it just a blame and shame game that vitiates principles of natural progression? Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, 5(27), 1581-1591.

  • Teaching methodology for mathematics benefits from the inclusion of rote learning
  • Rote learning assists conceptualisation in mathematics
  • Critical thinking is dependent on acquired knowledge through learning skills including memorisation.

Text 4

Yang, W., & Dai, W. (2011). Rote memorization of vocabulary and vocabulary development. English Language Teaching, 4(4), 61-64.

  • Using rote learning for vocabulary memorisation isn’t very effective for increasing one’s vocabulary
  • Rote learning has limitations in vocabulary expansion, which is essential for thorough comprehension
  • Vocabulary can only develop fully from using a range of learning strategies beyond memorisation.

From our notes, we’ve written the following synthesis:

Although in recent decades in Western education, rote learning has mostly been viewed in contrast to critical thinking, there is a resurgence of its merits. Where Yang and Dai (2011) argue that learning via memorisation is limited and expanded learning requires learning strategies beyond rote learning, Mhlolo’s (2014) findings show the benefits of including rote learning for acquired knowledge as a foundation for critical thinking. The benefits of rote learning are enhancement of the recall process and an imperative foundation for higher order strategies required for understanding (Karpicke, 2012; Tavakol & Dennick, 2010).

You’ll find some tips for referencing your synthesising in the Library’s referencing guides. For APA and Chicago, check out the information in the section, In-text citations explained - Multiple sources for the same information.