Your class has been writing a few argumentative essays here and there, and you have to admit … you’re getting pretty good at it. But now your instructor says that you need to take it a step further and write a synthesis essay.
The name might be a little intimidating, but don’t worry—I’ll be here to give you example topics and walk you through the steps to writing a great synthesis.
First … What Is a Synthesis Essay?
Before we jump right into generating ideas and writing your synthesis, it would be pretty useful to know what a synthesis essay actually is, right?
When you think about a synthesis essay, you can think of it as being kind of like an argumentative essay.
There is one key difference, though—your instructor provides you with the sources you are going to use to substantiate your argument.
This may sound a little bit easier than an argumentative essay. But it’s a different kind of thinking and writing that takes some time to get used to. Synthesis essays are all about presenting a strong position and identifying the relationships between your sources.
Don’t fall into the trap of simply summarizing the sources. Instead, make your point, and back it up with the evidence found in those sources. (I’ll explain this in more detail when we talk about the writing process.)
Many of your sources will probably have information that could support both sides of an argument. So it’s important to read over them carefully and put them in the perspective of your argument.
If there’s information that goes against your main points, don’t ignore it. Instead, acknowledge it. Then show how your argument is stronger.
If this all seems a little too theoretical, don’t worry—it’ll all get sorted out. I have a concrete example that takes a page from the Slytherins’ book (yes, of Harry Potter fame) and uses cunning resourcefulness when analyzing sources.
Great and Not-So-Great Topics for Your Synthesis Essay
A great topic for a synthesis essay is one that encourages you to choose a position on a debatable topic. Synthesis topics should not be something that’s general knowledge, such as whether vegetables are good for you. Most everyone would agree that vegetables are healthy, and there are many sources to support that.
Bad synthesis topics can come in a variety of forms. Sometimes, the topic won’t be clear enough. In these situations, the topic is too broad to allow for you to form a proper argument. Here are a few example bad synthesis essay topics:
Synthesis on gender
Write about education
Form an argument about obesity
Other not-so-great examples are topics that clearly have only one correct side of the argument. What you need is a topic that has several sources that can support more than one position.
Now that you know what a bad topic looks like, it’s time to talk about what a good topic looks like.
Many great synthesis essay topics are concentrated around social issues. There’s a lot of gray area and general debate on those issues—which is what makes them great topics for your synthesis. Here are a few topics you could write about:
Do video games promote violence?
Is the death penalty an effective way to deter crime?
Should young children be allowed to have cell phones?
Do children benefit more from homeschooling or public school?
The list of good topics goes on and on. When looking at your topic, be sure to present a strong opinion for one side or the other. Straddling the fence makes your synthesis essay look much weaker.
Now that you have an idea of what kinds of topics you can expect to see, let’s get down to how to actually write your synthesis essay. To make this a little more interesting, I’m going to pick the following example topic:
Are Slytherin House members more evil than members of other houses?
Steps to Writing an Impressive Synthesis Essay
As with any good essay, organization is critical. With these five simple steps, writing a surprisingly good synthesis essay is surprisingly easy.
Step 1: Read your sources.
Even before you decide on your position, be sure to thoroughly read your sources. Look for common information among them, and start making connections in your mind as you read.
For the purposes of my Slytherin synthesis example, let’s say I have four different sources.
- Source A is a data table that lists the houses of all members of the Death Eaters.
- Source B is a complete history of the Slytherin House, including the life and views of Salazar Slytherin.
- Source C is a document containing the names of students who were sorted into a different house than what the Sorting Hat had originally assigned to them.
- Source D is a history of the Battle of Hogwarts.
Step 2: Decide what your position is.
After you work through your sources, decide what position you are going to take. You don’t actually have to believe your position—what’s more important is being able to support your argument as effectively as possible.
Also, remember that once you pick a position, stick with it. You want your argument and your synthesis to be as strong as possible. Sticking to your position is the best way to achieve that.
Back to our example … after reading through my documents, I decide that the students and alumni of the Slytherin House are not more evil than students in the other houses.
Step 3: Write an awesome thesis statement.
Once you’ve decided on a position, you need to express it in your thesis statement. This is critical since you will be backing up your thesis statement throughout your synthesis essay.
In my example, my thesis statement would read something like this:
Students and alumni from Slytherin are not more evil than students in the other houses because they fill the whole spectrum of morality, evil wizards are found in all houses, and their house traits of cunning, resourcefulness, and ambition do not equate to an evil nature.
Step 4: Draft a killer outline.
Now that you have your argument down in words, you need to figure out how you want to organize and support that argument. A great way to do this is to create an outline.
When you write your outline, write your thesis statement at the top. Then, list each of your sub-arguments. Under each sub-argument, list your support. Part of my outline would look like this:
Thesis statement: Students and alumni from Slytherin are not more evil than students in the other houses because they fill the whole spectrum of morality, evil wizards are found in all houses, and their house traits of cunning, resourcefulness, and ambition do not equate to an evil nature.
I. Evil wizards are found in all houses.
A. Source A: Examples of Death Eaters from other houses
B. Source D: Examples of what Death Eaters from other houses did at the Battle of Hogwarts
In my outline, I used my sources as the second level of my outline to give the names of the sources and, from each, concrete evidence of how evil non-Slytherin wizards can be.
This is only an example of one paragraph in my outline. You’ll want to do this for each paragraph/sub-argument you plan on writing.
Step 5: Use your sources wisely.
When thinking about how to use your sources as support for your argument, you should avoid a couple mistakes—and do a couple of things instead.
Don’t summarize the sources. For example, this would be summarizing your source: “Source A indicates which houses the Death Eaters belong to. It shows that evil wizards come from all houses.”
Do analyze the sources. Instead, write something like this: “Although many Death Eaters are from Slytherin, there are still a large number of dark wizards, such as Quirinus Quirrell and Peter Pettigrew, from other houses (Source A).”
Don’t structure your paragraphs around your sources. Using one source per paragraph may seem like the most logical way to get things done (especially if you’re only using three or four sources). But that runs the risk of summarizing instead of drawing relationships between the sources.
Do structure your paragraphs around your arguments. Formulate various points of your argument. Use two or more sources per paragraph to support those arguments.
Step 6: Get to writing.
Once you have a comprehensive outline, all you have to do is fill in the information and make it sound pretty. You’ve done all the hard work already. The writing process should just be about clearly expressing your ideas. As you write, always keep your thesis statement in mind, so your synthesis essay has a clear sense of direction.
Now that you know what a synthesis essay is and have a pretty good idea how to write one, it doesn’t seem so intimidating anymore, does it?
If your synthesis essay still isn’t coming together quite as well as you had hoped, you can trust the Kibin editors to make the edits and suggestions that will push it to greatness.
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Writing a synthesis essay is something that you will usually learn to do in high school, or perhaps in the early stages of college. However, it may not have been explained as a synthesis essay leaving you at a loss to what your professor is looking for when you are actually set one of these essays as an assignment! With that in mind we have created this guide on how to write a synthesis essay.
What Is a Synthesis Essay?
In the most basic of terms, a synthesis essay is a piece of writing which draws on information from multiple different sources and ties them together in one coherent composition. The purpose of such an essay is to demonstrate your ability to make meaningful connections between different sources and materials. A successful synthesis essay should be objective and highlight the relationship between different viewpoints. Your thesis should be based on those relationships.
How to Write a Synthesis Essay
So now that you have a better understanding of what a synthesis essay actually is, the next question is ‘how do I write on’. If you follow the steps outlined in our guide below, you will be well on your way to producing a good quality essay that will earn you a grade that you can be proud of.
Choosing Your Topic & Style of Synthesis
There are several different types of synthesis essays that you can choose from depending on your assignment and on the types of evidence available. The main types are as follows:
- Argument Synthesis – An argument synthesis essay should have a strong thesis presenting your own point of view on the topic. You should gather evidence from multiple sources to support your thesis.
- Review Synthesis – This is most often carried out before an argument synthesis. It is basically a critical analysis of what others have written on the topic at hand. This type of essay is best suited to social science and medicine classes.
- Explanatory Synthesis – This type of essay is one which does not usually have a thesis statement, or advocate any particular point of view. Instead, it is designed to help the reader understand the topic by presenting background information and facts about it gathered from a variety of sources.
If you have not been allocated a particular topic to work on, then you need to choose carefully. The topic needs to be something broad enough to allow you to find multiple sources. It is likely that you will be given an assigned topic or a list to choose from, but you will still need to narrow it down into a thesis for the essay. The best approach is to read through your research materials and see which aspect has the most evidence to work with.
Creating An Outline
No matter what type of assignment you are writing, we cannot overstate the importance of creating an outline. A good synthesis essay depends on a good solid structure. It is important to get that down from the outset as it will help you to keep on track and create a coherent essay that answers your thesis statement. You will need an introductory paragraph which acts as the hook to pull the reader in and explains your thesis and identifies what aspects of the topic you will be examining.
The body of your essay is where you will explore your evidence and present your thoughts. You can divide this into paragraphs based on the evidence that you have picked out in order to make sure it is in the right order. Finally, you will need to draw your conclusions by pulling together all of your thoughts and stating how they support your thesis statement.
Writing Your Synthesis Essay
Once you have your outline plan you can sit down and start to get your essay written. Follow the plan as closely as possible, but do not be afraid to deviate slightly if you come across some new information or source material. You should usually write a synthesis essay in the third person (he, she, it etc.). You will want to use an active voice and offer clear and accurate information in order to establish credibility. It is important to make transitions between your paragraphs as this will help to make your essay flow logically from one point to the next.
Finalize Your Essay
Once you have written your first draft of the synthesis essay, read through it and make all necessary revisions. You should also take time to proofread your work so that you do not lose points for silly spelling errors. It is worth keeping in mind that if your synthesis essay is part of an AP test, then you will be able to make one draft. You may not be able to revise your essay, but you can still proofread it and correct any minor errors if you have time.
Hopefully this guide for writing a synthesis essay will give you the pointers to make a start on your assignment. If you can get the structure down then as long as you do plenty of research and have a sound argument, you should complete a good synthesis essay.