How to Write a Synthesis


Synthesis Writing: to combine the ideas of more than one source with your own.


 Key Features of a Synthesis

*      Report information from the sources using different phrases and sentences;

*      Organize so that readers can immediately see where information from the sources overlap;

*      Make sense of the sources and help the reader understand them in greater depth.


Preparing to Write your Synthesis Essay

The writing prompt should direct you to what sort of themes or traits you should look for in your synthesis.  You may be assigned two or more sources for synthesizing.  In such cases you need to formulate your own purpose, and develop your own perspectives and interpretations. 


A systematic preliminary comparison will help. Begin by summarizing briefly the points, themes, or traits that the texts have in common (you might find summary-outline notes useful here). 


Explore different ways to organize the information depending on what you find or what you want to demonstrate. You might find it helpful to make different outlines or plans before you decide which to use. 


Writing the Synthesis Essay

Your synthesis should be organized so that others can understand the sources and evaluate your comprehension of them and their presentation of specific data, themes, etc.



 a. The introduction:

*      Write a one-sentence statement that sums up the focus of your synthesis.

*      Introduce the texts to be synthesized:

*      Give the title of each source (following the citation guidelines of the style sheet you are using i.e., MLA, APA, or Chicago Style);  

*      Provide the name of each author for each source; 

*      Provide pertinent background information about the authors, about the texts to be summarized, and about the general topic from which the texts are drawn. 


b.       The body:

Your organization will be determined by the assignment or by the patterns you see in the material you are synthesizing (theme, point, similarity, or aspect of the topic).  The organization is the most important part of a synthesis, so choose the most effective format for your topic.

Be sure that each paragraph:

*      Begins with a sentence or phrase that informs readers of the topic of the paragraph;

*      Include information from more than one source;

*      Clearly indicate which material comes from which source using transitions and topic sentences, and in-text citations. 

*      [Beware of plagiarism:  Accidental plagiarism most often occurs when students are synthesizing sources and do not indicate where the synthesis ends and their own comments begin or vice verse.]

*      Show the similarities or differences between the different sources in ways that make the paper as informative as possible;

*      Represent the texts fairly--even if that seems to weaken the paper! Look upon yourself as a synthesizing machine; you are simply repeating what the source says in fewer words and in your own words.  The fact that you are using your own words does not mean that you are in anyway changing what the source says. 


c. Conclusion:

When you have finished your paper, write a conclusion reminding readers of the most significant themes you have found and the ways they connect to the overall topic.  You may also want to suggest further research or comment on things that it was not possible for you to discuss in the paper. If you are writing a background synthesis, in some cases it may be appropriate for you to offer an interpretation of the material or take a position (thesis). Check this option with your instructor before you write the final draft of your paper. 


Checking your own writing and that of your peers

Read a peer's synthesis and then answer the following questions:


*      Is it clear what is being synthesized? (i.e.: Did your peer list the source(s), and cite it/them correctly?)

*      Is it always clear which source your peer is talking about at any given moment?

*      Is the thesis of each original text clear in the synthesis? (Write out what you think each thesis is.)

*      If you have read the original sources, did you identify the same theses? (If not, how do they differ?)

*      Does it seem like any key points are missing from the synthesis? (If so, what are they?)

*      Did your peer include opinions in his or her synthesis? (If so, what are they?)


If there is time, answer the following questions

*      What is the organizational structure of the essay? (Draw a plan/diagram)

*      In what way does this structure work?  (If not, how might your peer revise it?)

*      Is each paragraph structured effectively?  (Draw a plan/diagram)