Synthesis means putting together separate parts to make a whole. When you are asked to synthesize something in a literary sense, it most commonly means taking information presented in multiple texts and putting it together to form one new text that includes information from separate sources.
Synthesis is more than summarizing. When you synthesize information, you put together information in a new way. Instead of just summarizing what different sources say on a topic, you pull together the information from the various sources to say something new and more complex than the original texts.
If you are asked to synthesize information, it is best to think about all of the things you have read and then develop a main idea or thesis for your own writing before you begin. This will help you to avoid just summarizing the different texts.
When scholars do a literature review as part of a dissertation study, they are engaging in synthesis. The research and read many different articles and studies pertaining to their topic and then determine what the current literature has to say about the topic. They must synthesize the current literature in order to say something meaningful about it.
Doctors engage in synthesis when they read various lab reports and data. For example, a doctor may review blood work or labs, review basic vital signs such as temperature and blood pressure, and also listen to what the patient is saying about how he or she feels. The doctor will synthesize information from all of these sources to determine a diagnosis and treatment plan.
Here is a brief example of synthesizing information given in several sentences.
Marissa saw a strange man enter the gym this morning. He was dressed in a suit.
Caroline was in the gym when a man came in and talked to Coach Carter for several minutes. They walked around the gym looking at some places where paint was chipped and where the bleachers were cracked.
Joseph overhead one of the secretaries in the front office saying that the superintendent would be visiting today to look at the building and any budget needs for the next year.
Synthesis: The superintendent visited the school today, and he went to the gym. He talked with Coach Carter, who showed him some areas in the gym that may need renovation or repairing as part of the budget process.