Reading strategies: Differences between summarizing and synthesizing

This semester I am teaching a course on Becoming an Effective Learner at the University of Calgary. I have asked my students to do a reading synthesis assignment on the different readings we have each week.  In today’s post I’m sharing some of the information I gave them about the differences between summarizing and synthesizing information in terms of reading strategies and research.

If you teach reading and you’d like to share it with your own students, you can download a handy two-page handout from here.


Summarizing and synthesizing are both strategies used in reading and research. They are important skills, as they help learners make sense of what they reading.

Though they are both used as reading comprehension and research strategies, it is important to recognize that summarizing and synthesizing are different activities. Each has a different purpose, process and end result.

These are the main differences between them:


  • A basic reading technique.
  • Pulls together information in order to highlight the important points.
  • Re-iterates the information.
  • Shows what the original authors wrote.
  • Addresses one set of information (e.g. article, chapter, document) at a time. Each source remains distinct.
  • Presents a cursory overview.
  • Demonstrates an understanding of the overall meaning.


  • An advanced reading technique.
  • Pulls together information not only to highlight the important points, but also to draw your own conclusions.
  • Combines and contrasts information from different sources.
  • Not only reflects your knowledge about what the original authors wrote, but also creates something new out of two or more pieces of writing.
  • Combines parts and elements from a variety of sources into one unified entity.
  • Focuses on both main ideas and details.
  • Achieves new insight.

As you are reading information, be aware of whether you are simply re-iterating what someone else has said, or whether you are assimilating all the information in order to create one cohesive document that demonstrates your understanding of the concepts.

For both activities, it may be helpful to write out the main points, using diagrams or charts to help you.

Here are some helpful resources:

Comprehension Strategy – Synthesis / Summarization / Concluding

How to Synthesize Multiple Sources

What is a Synthesis Question?

What it means to comprehend

Reading Strategies


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Here’s a link for sharing: Reading strategies: Differences between summarizing and synthesizing

If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) Please visit my speaking page, too.

4 Responses to Reading strategies: Differences between summarizing and synthesizing

  1. LY says:

    Ah. Thank you so much, I had difficulties understanding the differences between the two.

  2. […] of texts. If the only questions are literal, are we assessing whether they can infer? predict? synthesise? make connections? summarise? […]


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