S: Synthesize Synthesize the entire paper to illustrate the scientific narrative

In this step, you will create an overall concept map to outline the narrative of the entire paper.

The words 'Synthesis Map' at the center of a piece of paper.

Set Up a Synthesis Map

“Though this is the ‘hardest step,’ since all the ingredients necessary to synthesize this synthesis map were already prepared in the previous steps, it is easier to gather everything together.” - a CREATES student

  1. Gather materials: Begin by getting a large piece of poster paper and some multi-colored writing utensils! Have your materials from the previous 5 steps nearby—they’re going to come in handy.
  2. Write the overall research question: Write down the overall research question, which you figured out in E, at the center or top of the paper. The rest of the concept map map will branch out from here.
Flow chart representing flow of synthesis map, which goes from overall research question to hypothesis to methods to results to conclusion to new hypothesis.

Tell the Scientific Narrative

The goal of the Synthesis Map is to weave the individual parts of the article into a "big picture." Here's how to do it:

  1. Write the first hypothesis: Take the first hypothesis from E and write it around or under the overall research question. Be sure to write down the rationale for the hypothesis too. Connect it to the research question by drawing an arrow.
  2. Write the methods: The methods cartoons don’t necessarily need to be re-drawn, but the methods should be indicated. Remember to connect it to the hypothesis with an arrow.
  3. Write the results: Connect the methods to a brief description of the results of the experiment, which you figured out in A.
  4. Write the conclusion: Now, connect the results to a brief description of the conclusion, which you also discovered in A. Mention whether the results support the hypothesis.
  5. Connect to next experiment of the paper: How did the conclusion of this experiment lead to the next experiment of the paper? Connect the conclusion from the last experiment to the hypothesis from the next experiment (which you identified in E). Write a brief description identifying how the conclusion leads to the next experiment.
  6. Repeat steps 2-5 for each experiment: Repeat the last 4 steps for the new experiment. Once you’ve identified the conclusion of that experiment, repeat for the next experiment! Continue doing this until you’ve covered all the experiments.
    • If one of the experiments doesn’t follow from the last experiment, you can also connect it to your overall research question.
Abstract representation of synthesis map.

Finalize the Concept Map

You're almost finished! Let's take a final look at your work.

  1. Check the overall logical flow: Take a bird’s-eye view at the logical flow of the concept map. If it would help, add additional arrows to make the flow easier to see. Labelling arrows can also help reveal the scientific narrative.
  2. Celebrate: You’ve worked hard—congratulate yourself and celebrate!

What makes a synthesis map successful? Real student synthesis maps

More Examples

See below for some examples of synthesis maps created by two different students for the same scientific article (linked for your reference). Notice that there is no one right way to organize your thoughts!

Moon et al. 2020

Synthesis Map example
Synthesis Map example

Tsao et al. 2018

Synthesis Map example
Synthesis Map example

Wang et al. 2019

Synthesis Map example
Synthesis Map example

Wright et al. 2019

Synthesis Map example
Synthesis Map example

Yuan et al. 2019

Synthesis Map example

Give it a try!

Tips & Strategies

  • Try making a first draft with the general structure of your map, followed by a more thorough second draft.
  • You can use color coding to make the organization more clear. Try using different colors for each step in the CREATES process, or for each experiment.
  • Think about how everything relates back to the overall research question.
  • By the end of this process, you will have more knowledge of the paper than many of the authors do!
  • The CREATES process helps you understand not only a paper, but also the process of doing research. Synthesizing your CREATES work will show how the researcher started with a research question, designed methods and gathered results to test hypotheses, and gained insights on future research.


Now you are ready to design your own experiments! When you finish, use this checklist to double-check your work:

Write the overall research question
Write the first hypothesis
Write the results
Write the conclusion
Connect to next experiment of the paper
Repeat for each experiment
Check the overall logical flow