A synthesis essay may not be the most assigned task in academia, but in no way should you undervalue its importance if you get such an assignment. It plays a pivotal role in the development of your analytical and critical thinking skills.
When writing a synthesis paper, you have to work with two or more sources, examine every argument, find their commonalities and differences, and, above all, take a clear stand. This guide comprises all the nuts and bolts of a synthesis essay and provides helpful tips to help you write a peerless and thought-provoking paper.
What is Synthesis?
Synthesis is the process of bringing together different concepts, ideas, or things. Usually, such elements are different, but they all relate to a specific area. A meaningless synthesis tries to connect various unlinked items. In contrast, a meaningful one incorporates different components that share the same topic.
What is a Synthesis Essay?
A synthesis essay is a written document that gathers and analyzes several works with differing views. The primary purpose of such a paper is to provide an in-depth analysis of contrasting ideas and determine their relationship to one topic. Besides that, it aims to provide insightful connections and shed light on the said topic. It is often one of the tasks on AP English Language and Composition exams.
Note: Want to know more about essays in general? Read our dedicated article: What is an essay?
Synthesis essays follow the same structural pattern as regular essays. That is, the professor will expect you to write an essay with a clear and visible introduction, body, and conclusion section. How many paragraphs and sources are included in your paper hinges on the word count. High school students usually write one-page synthesis essays. In contrast, college students or university undergraduates are often required to write three and more pages.
3 Main Types of Synthesis Essays
There are three major types of synthesis essays. Knowing their functions will allow you to distinguish between them easily and write them properly if the type is specified. So, let’s take a closer look at every synthesis essay type and highlight their features.
1. Argumentative Synthesis
An argumentative synthesis essay is the most accurate type. This essay rests upon several authoritative sources, analyzes them, and takes a clear stance on the topic.
To write this synthesis essay, the writer has to carry out extensive research on a specific subject and find relevant literature regarding it. Such sources support the writer’s standpoint and serve as essential backup for their statements, even though the views in these sources might vary.
A relevant argumentative synthesis essay example here would be a white paper or any other proposal that examines already voiced thoughts. Yet it should offer a unique idea, argument, or solution to a problem.
Note: To learn more about argumentative essays, we suggest you check another article: What is an argumentative essay?
2. Explanatory Synthesis
Also known as a background synthesis, this paper aims to reveal and explain the topic. An explanatory synthesis essay collects relevant sources, processes them, and provides concise and key information so that the reader can get a clear picture of the subject.
This synthesis essay type is significantly easier to write, as it doesn’t require taking a stance and providing an argument. Nor does it require writing a strong thesis statement. Sometimes, a thesis may even be absent. An explanatory essay is prevalent in high school, mainly in Economics and Business classes, as it helps the reader grasp a certain notion or a theory.
3. A Review
Such a synthesis essay requires paying close attention to sources and thoroughly analyzing them. A review might be considered a semi-synthesis paper because it doesn’t provide a unique idea or argument. The writer’s focal goal is to examine previously conducted studies and find sources that pertain to the subject.
Also, this type doesn’t contain a traditional thesis statement. The latter is usually superseded by the statement to keep researching the topic to address the problem and find the most effective solution. The best synthesis essay examples in this category would be papers written within such disciplines as Social Sciences, some subjects in Humanities, and Medicine.
These are the three widely accepted types of synthesis essays. However, in practice, every educational institution reserves the right to modify these, adding some unique points to the synthesis. That’s why, before writing your synthesis essay, carefully check the instructions and requirements or ask your instructor for clarifications if needed. It will prompt you to compose a correct essay and increase your chances of getting a good grade.
How to Write a Synthesis Essay (4 Steps)
Without a plan, writing a good synthesis essay might turn into a daunting and long-standing process. Collecting sources, examining them, working on an argument, writing an essay outline, and then a draft can take plenty of time. Therefore, it is important to know the order of your actions to reduce the time you might spend to write a synthesis essay and make the entire synthesis paper coherent and straight to the point.
Note: To learn more about writing essays in general, check our detailed guide: How to Write an Essay?
First and foremost, make sure to have sufficient time at your disposal. Depending on your topic, academic level, and specific instructions, you might spend more or less time writing your essay. Still, it is always better to finish off your paper before the deadline than to miss it. We have broken down the complete writing process into four essential parts that are critical to the paper’s quality and evaluation.
Step 1: Analyze data
Without any doubt, you have to find relevant sources before analyzing them and delving into essay writing. When looking for literature, consider the two following points:
Year of publication: Work with updated sources. They are more reputable and confirm that specific ideas and concepts about a particular topic are relevant and used within the field. Aim for using multiple sources that were published within the last five or six years.
The publishing house: The source’s recognition and reputation correlate with the publisher’s image within the academic community. The more esteemed the publisher is, the more acceptable its articles or books are. Specifically, look for Cambridge University Press, University of Chicago Press, Harvard University Press, Routledge, and Sage.
Once you have a satisfying number of sources, it is time for the careful reading of every piece and argument. Read every essay, article, or book chapter to have a deeper understanding of the topic. Highlight the sentences or paragraphs that synthesize the main ideas regarding the subject. If you work with numerous pieces, write a summary for the highlighted content. It will help you remember key information.
After you go through the sources carefully and have a general idea of the authors’ takes, start analyzing the data. Look at a particular essay or article and try to determine the author’s main argument and claim.
- What is this claim?
- Does the person provide clear evidence to support the claim?
- Can you relate to this claim?
- Do you have opposite views on the issue?
Although taking a stand is the next step of successful synthesis writing, it is crucial to establish your attitude toward every subsequent work and claim at this very stage.
When you define evidence and claims of every source, take a step back. Look at the entire picture. Even though the sources encompass various approaches, they still have a common ground, usually a topic or limited evidence. For example, discussing the English language, scholars who follow functional grammar ideas say “Point A is the correct one.” In contrast, linguists representing a formalist linguistic school disagree with the latter statement, saying “Point B is the correct one.” Although they provide different takes on the topic, they still discuss the realm of the English language and its perception.
By approaching the above example, you might develop a topic for further discussion. Returning to the statements, it becomes apparent that the two linguistic schools talk about different ideas. Yet, their statements share the same topic – the English language. However, they don’t touch upon point “C.” This is called the gap in the conversation, which you can suggest as an alternative point against the mentioned two.
At this stage, you have managed to analyze the data and find shreds of evidence, claims, and explanations. Also, you have built the connection between the sources and figured out their opposing views and the points they share. Now it’s time to move forward and take a stand.
Step 2: Take a stand
You must remain completely objective and reasonable when taking a stand. That is, if you agree or disagree, make sure to provide valid thoughts for that. Explain a particular point or points you most agree with or, in contrast, disagree with. If it happens that you can relate to the source material and its argument, yet you don’t share separate ideas, highlight the latter and explain why you can’t agree with them.
Also, you must consider how others would react to your stand and synthesis essay as a whole. As we have stated, the mentioned linguists haven’t mentioned the “C” concept. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean they haven’t considered this idea. Maybe they have, but they have found it irrelevant to include it in the discussion. This way, blindly talking about it just because they haven’t brought it up will do you no good. Before moving to synthesis essay writing and building your essay upon the “C” conception, ask yourself the following questions:
- Would they argue with my stand and evidence? Why?
- If yes, how would they do that? What arguments would they bring to the table?
- Would I manage to withstand them and provide counterarguments with strong evidence?
- If they agreed with my stance and evidence, would they pose leading questions?
These questions will prompt you to find your stand’s strong and weak sides. Knowing what might come from the opposing side, you can plan ahead and consider how you would refute any forthcoming argument. Likewise, by knowing where the author can agree with you, you will be able to strengthen your arguments. But most importantly, this evaluation and gained knowledge will prompt you to build a strong thesis statement.
Step 3: Develop your thesis statement
A thesis statement is arguably among the most critical elements in the paper. A synthesis essay is no exception. An effective thesis is precise, not too broad, and not very narrow. It helps the reader understand the general idea of synthesis and see the direction the synthesis essay will follow. Once you have researched the topic, retrieved and analyzed some data, and brainstormed ideas, start writing the thesis statement.
Usually, a thesis statement is placed at the end of an introductory paragraph. But depending on your topic, instructions, and requirements, you may want to change its position, placing it at the beginning of the paragraph.
The next step of synthesis essay writing would be using keywords to note the sources’ tone. That is, the papers can correlate with argumentation, research, understanding, or emphasis. It is vital to define the authors’ aims and relations to a particular topic. Take a glance at the following list; it will prompt you with developing keywords:
- Argumentation: affirm, confirm, deny, believe, insist, reject, emphasize
- Research: add, reveal, state, mention, find, verify
- Understanding: review, identify, explore, discover, discuss, describe
- Emphasis: allege, admit, complain, speculate, suggest, acknowledge, propose
Write several sentences and test whether any of the above pertains to the claim the authors stick to. Remember that your thesis must not be vague or too general. The reader should see the claim you will develop further in the synthesis essay. These examples will help you develop an informative thesis statement:
While Chaski agrees with Olsson that forensic linguistics is among the most important activities that can profile the criminal, she casts doubt on the validity of written text analysis, focusing more on forensic phonetics and incorporating the analysis of formant dynamics and formant analysis.
Or, if you plan to argue both sides, you can follow the next example:
Both researchers voice thoughts similar to mine in that…; yet, I would argue that the notion of “A” needs to be further developed.
Alternatively, if neither side agrees with one another to an extent that you consider meaningful, you can design a similar thesis:
Although both parties tend to ignore or undervalue my position on paying close attention to the concept “C,” here are the reasons for supporting its legitimacy…
Step 4: Structure your synthesis essay
Synthesis essay structure is similar to any other written discourse. That is, an essay contains an introduction, the main part, and a logical conclusion. Every paragraph has peculiar components, which is why it would be reasonable to look closer at every section:
The introductory paragraph of a synthesis essay structure comprises:
- Opening sentence: It encapsulates the focus of your essay. For example, suppose you work on linguistic theories. In that case, including the information about linguistics, theories, and researchers is essential.
- Necessary information: It introduces the texts the writer will work on. Also, the writer presents some background information about the sources, authors, and topics of works.
- Thesis statement: It provides the central idea or claim the writer will argue within the entire paper.
The Main Part (Body)
The central section develops your thesis, provides specific evidence and explanation, and reveals the topic. Structure every body paragraph according to the following order:
- Topic sentence: This sentence must refer to your thesis statement and claims the entire paragraph will argue. It provides the reader with the authors and their works and briefly enlists their similarities and differences.
- Evidence: Since the body develops the thesis, it must cover as much information on the subject as possible. Make sure to indicate the source and use respective in-text citations.
- Explanation: Every academic source, be it a quotation from an article or a statement from a journal, must be explained by the writer. Otherwise, it carries no value. Upon inserting sources, explain why they are pertinent to the topic. Use your own words.
- Stance: If you write an argumentative synthesis, once you bring up the claim and represent the authors that declare it, make sure to provide your stance on the topic. Then wrap up the content and move to the next body paragraph.
The conclusion is the last stage of synthesis essay writing. When writing it, make sure to restate the thesis statement by using different words and remind the audience of the key points you have discovered. Explain why they are important. Also, include authors and briefly walk through their claims and provide your own assessment. Ultimately, finish off your synthesis by emphasizing the importance of further research or commenting on things that made your paper incomplete. In some cases, you can also add a CTA (call to action) to provoke further discussion.
Here’s an example of a synthesis essay outline:
- Example prompt: How current business and marketing practices affect our buying decisions
- I. Introduction
- A. Opening sentence (hook):
- From the moment we wake up and see commercials as we get ready for our day, to the time we go to bed after seeing a late-night infomercial, we are constantly being inundated with marketing and advertising.
- B. Necessary information:
- In recent years, there has been an increase in businesses and marketers using psychological techniques to influence our buying decisions.
- C. Thesis statement:
- The use of psychological techniques by businesses and marketers has a significant impact on our buying decisions.
- A. Opening sentence (hook):
- II. Main Part
- A. Topic sentence 1:
- One way businesses and marketers influence our buying decisions is by using the principle of social proof.
- B. Evidence 1:
- An example of this is when businesses and marketers use celebrity endorsements to sell products.
- C. Explanation 1:
- The reason this works is that we are more likely to buy a product if we see someone we admire using it.
- D. Stance 1:
- I believe that businesses and marketers should be more transparent about their use of social proof and celebrity endorsements.
- E. Topic sentence 2:
- Another way businesses and marketers influence our buying decisions is by using the principle of loss aversion.
- F. Evidence 2:
- An example of this is when businesses and marketers offer sales or discounts on products.
- G. Explanation 2:
- The reason this works is that we are more likely to buy a product if we feel like we are getting a good deal.
- H. Stance 2:
- I believe that businesses and marketers should be more transparent about their use of sales and discounts.
- A. Topic sentence 1:
- III. Conclusion
- A. Restated thesis statement:
- The use of psychological techniques by businesses and marketers affects our buying decisions a lot.
- B. Summary of key points
- C. Authors and their claims
- D. Importance of further research
- A. Restated thesis statement:
DOs of Synthesizing
Knowing the DOs of a synthesis essay will help you deal with your task faster and more effectively. Here are some quick tips to speed up your synthesis writing and increase your essay’s quality:
- Upon researching the topic and finding sources, proceed to build your thesis. It is your paper’s main idea, which you must nurture within the entire paper. Make sure you have a clear point and back it up with credible sources. Get familiar with them beforehand. It will prompt you to design a comprehensive thesis. Otherwise, your readers might misinterpret the information.
- Include topic sentences when building a central part. Such sentences will help you support the main point of your synthesis essay and follow a from-general-to-specific strategy. It will provide a better understanding of how a point develops and what evidence supports an idea.
- Organize your sources. Correctly include in-text citations, adding the required elements depending on the formatting style you follow. Provide the reason for citing a specific scholar so that the reader understands the researcher’s competition. Besides, make sure to alphabetically enlist sources on the last page and set the hanging indentation for every work.
DON’Ts of Synthesizing
Aside from DOs, there are several DON’Ts that you should omit when writing a synthesis essay. They are as follows:
- Don’t make your body paragraphs a collection of summaries. A synthesis essay is different from a summary. While the latter wraps up the content, the former uses various sources to support the thesis statement. If you provide simple recaps for your sources, your essay will be unreadable and full of repetitions.
- Don’t bombard the audience with facts. Although you might have a bounty of literature with myriads of supporting arguments, writing about everything you find is wrong. This way, your readers will lose the connection between your thesis and sources. Instead of overwhelming the audience, organize your references and build a strong relationship between them and your thesis.
- Don’t put your cards on the table immediately. Starting your body paragraphs by revealing facts is an ineffective approach. If you begin your section with a quotation, the entire order of ideas will be ruined. The best way to prevent that is to start a paragraph with a topic sentence and then gradually develop a point, writing about relevant facts and reliable sources.
9 General Synthesis Essay Tips
- Come up with your thesis first, and then start writing the paper. You can always adjust your thesis to the content so that your synthesis essay is coherent, carries the main idea, and doesn’t deviate from the course.
- Get familiar with sources beforehand. It will prompt you to write a comprehensive and logical synthesis. Make sure you don’t cite sources mindlessly. Otherwise, your readers might misinterpret the information.
- Outline your synthesis essay. Although rarely assigned, a layout is an excellent way to stay organized. An outline helps you avoid any additional and unnecessary information. You can write a synthesis essay outline in various ways. For example, you can write one sentence with key points for every paragraph.
- Organize your sources. Correctly include in-text citations, adding the required elements depending on the formatting style you follow. Besides, make sure to alphabetically enlist sources on the last page and set the hanging indentation for every work.
- Don’t mix the analysis of sources. Once you find literature, don’t work with several sources simultaneously. Since synthesis deals with two or more pieces of literature, reserve more time for examining sources.
- Don’t repeat the authors’ thoughts word-for-word. Analyzing and interpreting their opinions in your own words will help you understand the topic and develop your own perspectives.
- Don’t use keywords you don’t understand. Keywords allow the reader to get familiar with the role the source and its author performs. If you are not sure what keyword suits the context, do additional research and find its meaning.
- Don’t neglect to employ prior knowledge. The latter is critical in forming a position. It allows the audience (and the instructor) to evaluate whether you are competent in the topic and have analyzed sources and the subject as a whole before writing a synthesis.
- Revise after writing the first draft. If you don’t have time to do it, ask someone else to proofread the paper for grammatical errors and typos. Besides, it is advisable to read the synthesis essay aloud to check whether it sounds good.
Synthesis essay writing requires putting in a considerable amount of effort. Still, the task is manageable if you follow the right strategy. The first thing you have to do is decide on the type of your synthesis essay. Once you complete this step, proceed to analyze the data and take a stand. After that, make sure to develop a clear and accurate thesis statement and move to synthesize the entire piece. Following the above guide along with tips and don’ts will prompt you to write a synthesis essay and make it faultless and outstanding.
- University of Nevada, Reno – Mapping a synthesis essay
- Bowling Green State University – Planning a synthesis essay
- Northern Arizona University – Synthesis Writing