Synthesis means to combine different sources to support an idea of your own while clearly articulating the connections between those sources.
Synthesis and Presenting Information. If you’ve been asked to gather information so that someone else can make a decision, you’ll want to develop one or more conclusions from your reading. To help your reader understand the main takeaways from your research, quote or paraphrase key information from a variety of sources to support your conclusions. As in all other workplace writing, your task as a writer is to save your readers time; they shouldn’t have to read your sources to determine whether or not those sources actually do what you say they do if you have effectively quoted, paraphrased, and integrated them into sentences and paragraphs of your own.
Synthesis and Building Credibility. Synthesis can also help you to demonstrate credibility by showing that you looked at multiple sources. In essence, synthesizing is a way of fact-checking yourself, or of reading and citing from multiple sources to ensure accuracy. Thus, a reader is likely to be more persuaded by your conclusions if they are supported by multiple credible sources.
Synthesis and Analysis. If your purpose is to analyze something, synthesis allows you to show that your analysis is based on and accounts for a broad array of sources. A valid analytical conclusion about how effective CEOs use storytelling to promote employee engagement, for example, will be most convincing if you synthesize multiple examples of how many CEOs do this and draw your own conclusion about best practices from those examples.
The following examples synthesize multiple sources to support conclusions. Example one uses APA in-text citations, as you might do in a formal report. Example two provides citations using hyperlinks, as you would likely do in an email.
Example One: Increasing Acceptance of Tattoos in the Workplace Increases, but Limits Remain
According to the Wall Street Journal, surveys show that the number of Americans reporting that a household member had a tattoo doubled between 1999 and 2014 (Zitner & Dougherty, 2020). Similarly, a Pew Research report showed that “almost four in 10 millennials have a tattoo” (as cited in Knudson, 2020, p. 45). These trends seem likely to continue. The most recent IBISWorld report on “Tattoo Artists” predicted five-year growth at an “annualized 7.0% to $1.9 billion” (Diment, 2021).
Workplace acceptance of tattoos does have limits. Although the Wall Street Journal reported that hand tattoos that can’t be covered up for an important meeting are becoming more common (Gallagher, 2018), Business Insider suggested that face and neck tattoos remain taboo for most workplaces (Premack, 2018). One tattoo artist quoted in the New York Times called them “job stoppers” (as cited in Kurutz, 2018), and they remain quite rare. Altogether, “face, neck and hand tattoos are estimated to account for just under 2.0% of tattoos” (Diment, 2021).
Example Two: Attempting to Multitask is Probably Counterproductive
Many of us think that we can do more than one thing at a time, like listening to a colleague at a meeting while responding to a text, or reviewing an expense report while watching an NBA game.
What the research shows is it’s unlikely that very many people can do two things at once. One study, published in the Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, showed that only 2.5% of their test subjects could perform two tasks at the same time without reduced performance in one or both of them. What this suggests is that more than 90% of us are fooling ourselves when we think we’re getting a lot done by doing many things at once. According to MIT neuroscientist Earl Miller, in an interview with The Guardian, what we think of as multitasking is “actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly.” Each time we make this switch, “there’s a cognitive cost,” which means that we don’t achieve as much as we could with sustained focus on one thing.
This kind of switching could also have effects beyond our performance on the tasks we are switching between. A survey of multiple research studies by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences acknowledged that further research is needed, but stated that the existing research indicates that people who habitually engage with multiple forms of media at the same time “exhibit poorer performance in a number of cognitive domains.” Although researchers hesitate to overstate the possible problems with multitasking, the business press is all in on the negative effects of multitasking, as shown by recent articles from Inc., Harvard Business Review, and Forbes, all of which advocate for limiting distractions to increase productivity and letting go of the myth of multitasking.