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Synthesis Matrix

The Synthesis Matrix - How to begin

picture of a puzzle


A Synthesis Matrix is a great tool to help you organize and synthesize your research. Essentially, it is a table or chart where you identify your main ideas along the first column and your sources along the top row. Once set up, you can enter your notes and quotes from each source that correspond to each of your main ideas.

example of a synthesis matrix

Synthesis Matrix - Step 1 - Identify Themes

Identify themes

    What are your main ideas or concepts? 

Think about the assigned reading and the ideas that came up when discussing it in class. What are the ideas or themes that you found most interesting? Or that you are most curious about. Enter these themes or concepts into the first column of the Synthesis Matrix, putting each one in a different row.

main ideas in the first column       arrow   example from the tom tiede article.   arrow   doctors war ptsd

These are the themes you will use to search for your secondary sources in the Library's databases.

Synthesis Matrix - Step 2 - Research the Themes

research the themes  

  Look for sources related to your themes


After identifying your main themes or concepts, take a moment to think about them. What are they? Are there other words you could use to describe them? What subject areas or disciplines would address those topics? Before you start searching in a Library database, record this information in your Synthesis Matrix under each theme.

doctors war ptsd    arrow.  expanded concepts


If you are unsure of what words to use you could look up your terms in a dictionary or encyclopedia. You can also look online for ideas, Wikipedia is a good source for this part of your research. You will not use Wikipedia as a source but you can use it to identify keywords and related ideas. 

Search for sources

Use the keywords you identified to search for sources in the Library's databases. Try our SNAP! Search or some of the databases listed below.

Here are a few tips to help you out:

  • Begin with a simple search 
  • Only enter your concepts - don't enter your thesis statement, research question, or complete sentences
  • Use the Advanced Search whenever possible
  • Be persistent and flexible - if you're not finding what you need switch your keywords with ones that you identified on your Synthesis Matrix
  • If you need help, let us know!

Here is an example of a search.

advanced search using combat, medics and mental health

Synthesis Matrix - Step 3 - Fill in the Matrix

fill in the matrix


    Read the articles and start filling in the Matrix


Review all the articles you found and choose the ones you would like to use. Read these articles thoroughly, take notes, and highlight passages that relate to your themes.

  Set up your Synthesis Matrix with the sources you've chosen, begin by entering the correctly formatted citation in the Sources area at the end of the Matrix (see example below).

list of citations

  You can enter the authors' last names at the top of the "Source" columns in the matrix (see example below).

top row of the matrix

  Enter your notes and highlighted passages into the corresponding boxes in the matrix.

copy of the first row of the tom tiede matrix

In this example, I have quotes from the Tom Tiede article that represent the experiences of doctors in the first column. In the next columns, I have quotes from the other articles I chose that represent the same idea - the experiences of medical personnel.

I don't have any quotes from the Horwitz book in this row. I didn't find anything in this source that discussed this aspect of my topic and that's fine. The Horwitz book had good information on PTSD and war that I can use. Not all of my sources will cover all of my topic. You will use your sources and the matrix to create a conversation about your topic, bringing in evidence from an array of sources.

The next rows of the matrix for the topics of War and PTSD are below.

matrix for the topic war

matrix for PTSD 1

matrix for PTSD 2

The Synthesis Matrix - Examples and Help