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How to Write a Synthesis Essay: Definition & Example

How to Write a Synthesis Essay: Definition & Example
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  • 0:00 What Is a Synthesis Essay?
  • 0:28 Synthesizing Sources
  • 3:05 Composing a Final Thesis
  • 3:40 Formatting the Essay
  • 4:21 Talking With the Texts
  • 6:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Frances Smith
This is a lesson about how to write a synthesis essay, which is an advanced type of writing whereby the writer chooses a topic, asserts a claim, selects and combines sources, then constructs an original, well-written essay. A quiz will follow.

What is a Synthesis Essay?

A synthesis essay is a written work that takes a unique viewpoint about a central idea, theme, or topic, and backs it up with a combination of multiple sources. The process has four major components:

  1. Synthesizing sources
  2. Composing a thesis or claim
  3. Formatting the essay
  4. Talking with the texts

Let's examine each of these four components in further detail.

Synthesizing Sources

Before actually writing a synthesis essay, one must follow the pre-writing steps:

  1. Understanding the prompt
  2. Drafting a tentative thesis
  3. Choosing sources
  4. Close reading
  5. Evaluating sources

Understanding the prompt means thinking about the selected topic, then following the instructions accordingly to support your ideas. An example prompt might be: 'Argue in favor of a particular passion that will help manage the challenges of high school.'

Next, you'll begin drafting a tentative thesis, which is a first draft of your claim for the prompt. This statement is the first idea you have regarding the topic, to jumpstart your research. After you choose resources, this thesis may be changed or adjusted to reflect your sources' ideas. Following the example prompt, you might choose chocolate as your passion, and state your claim as: 'Chocolate has a tranquilizing effect; it calms me and helps me to focus on homework, and perform better on exams.'

After you've drafted your thesis, you'll begin the process of choosing sources. This is the preliminary research you do to find sources that you believe will support the viewpoint written in the tentative thesis. You may find six or seven sources, but only a few of them will help your claim. During your research, you discover six sources in various formats (essays, cartoon, article, graphic) that discuss chocolate as a way to relieve stress.

Once you have gathered these sources, close reading (which includes the process of annotating, highlighting, or note taking), will help you summarize their main ideas, and connect them to your claim.

Finally, evaluating sources means that you will use the main ideas from the close reading to justify using a source for your claim. The sources you decide on will eventually help construct your own (new) idea for the prompt.

Let's look back to our example about chocolate. Of the six sources you gathered, you determine that Sources 2, 4, and 5 agree with your idea that eating chocolate makes it easier for you to function in high school:

Source 2: Cartoon shows a dreamy-eyed student with disheveled hair, sitting in front of a pile of homework, with chocolate smeared on his hands and face. The caption reads 'A total chocolate relaxation.'

Source 4: Discusses the effect of chocolate on calming the brain and relaxing the heart.

Source 5: Graphic story illustrates an argument between chocolate lovers and chocolate haters who are high school students.

These sources might also offer objections against your claim as well. Why is this important? Since a synthesis is an argument, answering the objections gives the reader a fair and unbiased view of your position, making it more credible.

Composing a Final Thesis

After the pre-writing stages are completed, you are ready to write a final thesis, by aligning the information, main ideas, and interpretations of your sources with the first thesis you drafted during the pre-writing process. The thesis contains a one-sentence claim that asserts what, how, and why you will write about the topic.

Thus, you write your final thesis as: 'Chocolate and high school may seem like a strange combination, but eating it has benefits for those students who are overworked and overwhelmed.'

You're satisfied you can argue your idea, so you are ready to write the essay.

Formatting the Essay

A synthesis essay has an introduction, body, and conclusion. However, each of these parts is written in a distinct way:

The introduction provides an overview of the topic, thesis, and sources, with some background information for the texts to be summarized.

The body includes a topic sentence, information from more than one source, with in-text citations; it compares and contrasts sources in an objective (two-sided) interpretation, and informs the reader why the source argues a thesis.

The conclusion connects the ideas from the sources to your thesis, and describes how each supports your viewpoint. The conclusion also rewords your claim so it is clear you are offering a different perspective on the topic.

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