Recall our discussion of idea mapping, point-of-view diagrams, and identifying conventional wisdom from the message analysis part of the course? These techniques can also be used in the synthesis step as you review what you’ve collected. It will also help answer the questions you posed for yourself at the start of the information process.
One big challenge is to see how the information fits together. Think about it as weaving a fine fabric as opposed to making a quilt.
If you are just stitching together pieces of information that you’ve gathered, without trying to interweave the different elements, you’re making a quilt. It might hang together but it looks like it was pieced together from lots of separate elements.
Weaving a fine fabric requires you to take each piece of information and treat it like a thread in the loom. You must be able to see how each thread relates to all the others, see where some things can blend together, where some things stand out and how it all is interconnected. That is what you are trying to do with the synthesis process.
You can use a number of techniques for accomplishing this:
Compare – how is the information from different sources alike and different? Why? Compare and contrast what you have and see where new pieces of information can be developed to add to your overall understanding. See where there are two or more perspectives on a topic or issue and compare the points of view.
Select – use the evaluation skills we’ve discussed. What is most useful? Try outlining the elements of the message. Try using a data-crunching tool like those from database or spreadsheet software. Try composing a timeline.
Organize – what is the best way to organize the information? Cluster things together and determine a logical order of presentation – chronological, alphabetical, cause and effect, compare and contrast, similar and different.
Analyze – what ideas can be combined? What should be kept separate? Start to draw inferences (recall our discussion during the observation portion of the course – you can start to come to some conclusions). Identify trends, interpret the data, solve the problem, make a decision, apply the information. Formulate the new ideas that will be the foundation for your message. What can you add that is new, or that helps interpret old information? Recall our discussion about going beyond the conventional wisdom in an area.
Review your results – have you addressed the questions you posed at the start of your information strategy process? Have new questions arisen during the process? Is there extra or repeated information that you can eliminate? Where are the “holes” in the information or in your understanding of the information? Are there other ways to view the information or additional perspectives that you should be considering?
Credit your sources – provide attribution for interviewees, cite documents, refer to additional sources of information that the audience can tap, credit those who helped (news researchers, market researchers, interns, etc.)