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What Is A Synthesis Essay?

A synthesis essay forms part of research-based writing, whereby the writer asserts a claim or a topic by drawing from two or more sources. These sources have to be combined or work in tandem with the writer’s own assessments and understanding of the topic at hand. It isn’t just a summary of the facts as they relate to the topic or thesis. The process of ‘synthesis’ derives from the writer’s own ability to infer relationships from sources which might include articles, interviews, fiction, other essays, known facts, observations, media and other forms of written and non-written cradles.

Synthesizing information is important as it seeks to merely go beyond known facts, eschewing simple restatements and banal presentations. The subject has to showcase their ability to move beyond the obvious and give an alternative view based on the ability to mesh different sources together. A summary only comes after the writer has proved that they can make a logical judgement that uncovers the thesis statement in-depth, based on clear derivations.

Consider a typical Law class in which the students have been assigned an essay that requires them to carry out original sourcing. While they may use different or similar sources for that matter, their inferences from these may be vastly different albeit all correct. Since Law is subjective, the ability to draw inferences (off course based on the assigned legal principles) is what will be tested. The outcomes might be different though rarely, but the judgement process drawing from the different sources and known principles is what is most crucial.

Thus, a synthesis essay showcases your ability to draw from sources and develop your own independent and logical judgment considering, but not explicitly based on source summaries.

How to Approach the Synthesis Essay

The synthesis essay is modelled around your ability to critically adjudge various sources and make your original interpretation of the thesis. Therefore, before even beginning the source compilation process, it is necessary that you fully understand what the essay prompt requires of you. What are the learning outcomes for the exercise? Are you required to evaluate a source or make comparisons of ideas? Maybe the prompt requires you to explore a new area of research based on a recently published source and contrast the different methodologies used previously.

Understanding what the essay prompt requires of you is the beginning of the writing process, and it will make your work much easier when it comes to compiling your sources. The typical synthesis essay is explanatory in nature. However, an argumentative prompt may also come into play where you are to persuade the reader on your own point of view, off course countering any opposing view that might be held.

To get a clearer picture of the versatility of synthesis assignments, two writers working on an argumentative prompt completely derived from the same sources may hold starkly contrasting views. There might not be a wrong or right answer to the prompt. There certainly will be a correct or incorrect approach to working on the essay. What’s crucial is for both parties to clearly demonstrate their thought process deriving from these sources and the ability to come up with a lucid conclusion, divergent or not.

Once you have understood the prompt, you can then move to formulating a thesis statement. It isn’t standard procedure to be sure of the learning outcomes when deriving the thesis statement. The objective of the study in itself is to demonstrate a clear thought process so as to come up with a valid conclusion. Thus, most thesis statements are quite tentative. Ideally, the thesis statement is speculative, and presents a hypothetical scenario where it could be correct, and you set out on this critical thought process to prove its correctness. Often, you will keep refining the thesis as you go along with the research and writing the final document until all/most aspersions are cast aside.

The next phase is to search and uncover sources. The best synthesis essays make use of a variety of sources (the more the merrier). At the same time, sourcing isn’t just a matter of simply retelling facts. As you do preliminary research on the thesis statement, you may find tens of sources in various formats. As you polish your study, you may end up only choosing from a portion of these sources that present your own independent analogy in the best way possible. The sources must be credible and referenceable. Ultimately, you will have one or two sources which provide the best interpretation of your own ideas. Always keep in mind that the purpose of your study isn’t to simply state the sources. There has to be constant motion between your own ideas and these various sources, which will be evidenced by the format that you choose to present your essay.

Once you have sufficiently compiled these sources, you can then do a preliminary reading with the thesis statement at the top of the discussion. Interact with these sources as you would a debate in a court room. Always make sure that the source you have chosen backs a claim that you are trying to present. If you are doing a persuasive synthesis essay, you will need to address sources that back up the counterarguments. Creating drafts and using diagrammatic representations is one sure way of connecting your ideas and sources and making sure that you have fully internalized what each source entails.

By this time, you already have the final thesis statement in mind and know which trajectory your own independent thinking will take. Narrow down and compile your sources in full reference fashion, depending on the citation technique required in the rubric. It is always critical to remember that your sources are to back your claims and not vice-versa.

Writing a Solid Synthesis Essay with Different Approaches

Once you have compiled all your sources and have the final thesis statement, you can now start writing the final essay. The beauty of the process is that since you have conducted independent research, you have already made a mental (and physical) note of all the sources and ideas that you want to present.

The usual essay structure will apply here too, i.e. starting with an introduction with a thesis statement as the beginning, the main body containing arguments or claims and an expounding of the selected sources, and the conclusion that ties up all these sources, the thesis statement and your own succinct review or judgment.

All your sources have to be documented, whether used as direct quotes, paraphrases or summaries. The MLA technique is usual for these essay types, although this will depend on the rubric provided. Citations include in-text citations and bibliographic references at the end of the text.

There are different techniques for developing synthesis writing, which may totally depend on the writer’s own inclinations or desired outcomes. For example, you may decide to provide a summary of the sources and then give an assessment at the end of the text or the beginning of the text. However, this method may be inefficient in that the writer may take too much time stating sources and claims and not enough time presenting their own independent review of the sources or the thesis statement.

Ideally, both the sources and the claims should go hand-in-hand. An alternative therefore exists where the writer presents a claim and then immediately refers to the source, whether by citation or illustration (ideally by both). This gives the reader the chance to form an immediate impression of the research attribute of the writer’s work. The Two Reasons approach is an effective variant of this second method. The writer provides the sub-thesis or claim and then offers two or more reasons why this is true, each backed by sources.

For argumentative syntheses, the Strawman and Concession techniques may be applied, each with varying effect. In the former, an argument against the claim is stated and immediately afterwards, the writer sets out to show why the argument is flawed, backed by sources for their won claims. In the latter technique, the writer seeks to demonstrate that both divergent views are valid, but that their own positive claims hold more weight. In both these methods, a major effect is to demonstrate that the writer has an understanding of both points of view and acknowledges the opposition.

In the final, lesser travelled route, the essayist may compare-and-contrast different claims in terms of the sources presented.

Polishing Your Essay

Now that you’ve written the final essay, you need to:

  • Ensure that the logical delivery and transitions are seamless. Ensure that the movement between your own ideas and the sources is fluid and not mechanical.
  • Ensure that the thesis statement is clear, concise and succinct, with no ambiguity.
  • Ensure all citations are properly documented.
  • The grammar and formatting is impeccable and adheres to the rubric.
  • All words and sentences have precise and clear meaning. If in doubt, always consult your dictionary.

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