How to Write a Synthesis Essay Step by Step

What is a synthesis essay?

To SYNTHESIZE means to assemble parts into a new whole. The parts are the different sources, each representing a distinct view or views on a particular topic. The “whole” is your essay in which you explain your position, considering views from the sources that show both sides of the issue.

The synthesis essay is similar to an argumentative essay, but it is more complex:

  • The TYPE of thinking you are doing for the synthesis essay is often different from the argument essay. Whereas argument essays can often be more philosophical, synthesis essays are usually about a particular topic or issue in a research paper writing process. 
  • You are required to synthesize information from the different sources into your argument, either summarizing, paraphrasing, or quoting directly from at least three sources. Remember that the sources won’t make your point. They provide supporting information, perspectives, viewpoints so that you can make your point.
How to Write a Synthesis Essay Steps

1. Write The Prompt

  1. What Does the Prompt Tell You?

Be careful to read the entire prompt—they are often more complex than you think, and misreading the prompt is a common (and dire) mistake.

Topic: what is the prompt about? (What issue?) and what specific topic can you think of that encompass this issue? 

Context: what (if any) useful background information about this specific topic can you think of?

Task/Purpose: what does it ask you to DO in your essay?

  • Are you making a Claim of Fact (identify or examine causes, effects or outcomes, implications)
    • Are you making a Claim of Value (evaluate, argue for/against, develop a position on an issue), 
    • Or are you making a Claim of Policy (offer a recommendation, develop a position on whether or not something should be changed)? 
    • NOTE: Claims of fact, value, and policy often build on each other—especially with claims of value & policy, you most likely will have to make both in your argument—but it’s important to recognize which type of claim the prompt is asking you to focus on.
  1. What is Your Position on the Issue?

Recognize Complexity: Many students receive lower scores on synthesis essays because they overlook the complexity of the prompt and take a simple position. An essay that cites three sources supporting only one view will not score above a B.

Why? Because an important goal of research and synthesis is to recognize complexity and to show an awareness of multiple views [e.g. show your recognition of the counterarguments and defend your position]. This does not mean that you cannot take a definite position on an issue. It does mean that you should establish ethos (your credibility as a writer) by conceding to other views. A careful consideration of information given in the prompt can move you beyond the trap of superficial, one-sided thinking.

Consider your Tentative Position: Now that you have identified some of complexities in your analysis of the prompt, formulate a tentative position on the issue—your guess of what you might argue AFTER reading the prompt but BEFORE reading the sources.

Synthesis Essay Assignment

Complete rough draft due date:

Grade value of assignment: 100 points  (DRAFT, NO GRADE)

Suggested length of assignment: 1000-1500 (not including reference page)

Format requirements: Times New Roman,double spaced, font size 12, 1 in. margins, use APA6 citation format. 

Assignment description: For this assignment, you will choose one of the following topics and write an essay. The topics are as followed: 

  1. Income inequality (Relevant readings are available in Thinking critically Chapter 5)
  2. Gender inequality (Relevant readings are available in Thinking Critically Chapter 10)

You should make a claim of facts, discussing specific causes and/or effects of the issue you would like to focus on. If possible, please include a discussion of the issue in your own country (e.g., Is it an issue? What are the causes? If it’s not an issue, what prevents it?). The purpose of the essay is to show your comprehension of class readings and to make a case for what the causes and/or effects of the issue are based on your own individual research on the topic. You must incorporate at least four readings from your own research into your paper. 

Writing skills to practice: ability to1) synthesize readings, 2)cite and reference sources appropriately, 3) paraphrase and summarize appropriately, 4) write cohesively, 5) write in formal language, 6) use transitioning language for cause/effect, 7) self-edit writing

Take home exercise: Brainstorming 

(1) Which specific topic do you think you will write about? 


(2)  Context: What background information can you think of that is related to this topic? 


(3) Consider your Tentative Position: What is your guess of what you might argue AFTER reading the prompt but BEFORE reading the sources.


2. Read and Annotate Sources

Knowing your prompt and your potential stance in mind, you may need to scan the sources quickly to choose the ones which will be most useful to you. It is important, however, that you understand the complete argument made in your selected sources so that you won’t misrepresent a source by taking a quotation out of context.

  1. Annotate as you read on the margin of the article, note mainly on the following components but not limited to:

Argument/claim(s): Underline major points, considering whether or not it contributes to your argument/stance. If it does, mark it with “check”, or if not, mark it with “cross”. You may choose to highlight the arguments in different colors. 

Evidence: Underline relevant statistics, results, or examples used to support claims. Again, for those evidence that support your argument, mark it with “check” or highlight it with one color and mark the evidence that are against your argument with a “cross” or another color. 

Quotes: Underline and star ( * ) important or compelling quotes that could clarify or support a position, illustrate the complexity of the topic, and/or question or contradict a claim made in a previous source.

Exercise: Using the steps above for note-taking, read the passage on Sourcework, p. 179-180. Globalization and Culture and practice. Work as a pair, identify the main arguments, the supporting arguments and any the evidence that the author used to support the argument, and any potential quotes you would employ if you were to write about this topic. 

Then write down your notes in the following: 

Thesis statement: 
Supporting ideas Sub-points (if any): Evidence 

NOTE: With graphs and visuals, you may have to draw conclusions from the information given or the details of the visual.

II. Distinguish Viewpoints & Group Sources Together (Prior to deciding your point/thesis) 

Keeping your PURPOSE in mind, begin to group the sources together as you identify the distinct claims in each. If you prefer visualizing these sources, you could try a mind map like this. You could use this type of map to group different arguments and evidence you have encountered in your reading. Then you will have a clear visualization of the arguments, supporting evidence, and counter arguments. 

Source annotation in synthesis essay

If you are more traditional, you could use either a written outline, such as: 

Categorizing and analyzing sources in Synthesis Essay

Also, source analysis should go beyond merely categorizing sources as “for” or “against” a particular position. Each source has a variety of information that may be used in different ways (some even just as background to assert your ethos on the topic in the introduction). 

Writing a Synthesis Essay

Once you choose which views will become focal points in your synthesis essay, you should then select the best evidence from the source group that supports these views.

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