How to Write a Synthesis Paper: Informative Answers from an Expert

How to Write a Synthesis Paper: Informative Answers from an Expert
Most assignments rely on analysis and synthesis, yet many students still struggle with writing synthesis essays. That’s why today we are talking with a retired community college professor moonlighting as one of our academic writers. We have collected the most common questions our clients asked and got the answers for you. So, after reading all this, you should know what to start with and how to write a synthesis paper. If you don’t find the information you need in this interview, let us know.

What Is a Synthesis Essay?

It’s a paper that uses several sources. The student’s goal is to soak up the data and formulate her own theory, idea, or hypothesis. It’s not an academic synthesis essay definition, but I feel it’s the one easiest to understand.

How Is It Different from Other Papers?

Synthesis essay format is not that different from an argumentative paper as both use multiple sources to support one position. However, synthetic writing focuses more on the relationships between the references than on making a point. In this aspect, it is closer to a compare and contrast paper. This assignment is nothing like a reflective or narrative paper, so first-person writing and subjective opinion are not acceptable.

Do I Have to Convince the Reader to Take My Side, like with a Persuasive Paper?

There are three types of synthesis essays, and the answer to your question depends on which of them your professor assigns. If you can’t identify the synthesis type based on the prompt, consult your professor.
  1. Explanatory synthesis helps readers make sense of a complicated topic. You don’t have to argue a point, just present facts, data, and different perspectives. This type of synthetic writing is common for research papers and scientific articles. Literature review or background sections use explanatory synthesis.
  2. Argumentative synthesis supports a controversial position based on the data presented across a variety of sources. It’s an argumentative paper with a twist. Aside from listing critical points, you need to consider the relationship between references, especially if the authors support opposing views.
  3. A review synthesis paper is a summary of research whose goal is to discover previous findings on the topic. Instead of proving your point based on the sources, you simply examine the ideas presented in those topics. As a rule, a synthesis essay thesis in such a case may simply state that the issue has not been properly discussed yet and requires more research.

Will I Really Need This Skill Outside School?

The funny thing is you already use it every day, without realizing. You read Yelp reviews to know which coffee shop is the best on campus. You rely on RottenTomatoes to choose the flick for the movie night. You even synthesize everything you’ve heard about the English professor to decide whether you want to take the course.

After graduation, you will continue to synthesize information to find a job, write reports, create presentations, choose travel destinations or primary schools for your kids. I say, synthesizing is a lifesaving skill, and writing a synthesis essay is an easy way to gain and polish your abilities.

How Many Sources Do I Need to Use?

If your essay prompt doesn’t specify otherwise, use at least three sources. Fewer references will take points off the grade while more might not be worth extra credit. If you are not sure, ask your teacher.

Some professors will tell you exactly which reference materials they expect you to use, and others provide a long list for you to choose from. In my experience, the hardest option for students is looking to credible sources without the professor’s guidance. They use the first three Google search results instead of going to the library or at least using Google Scholar instead.

I’ve Read the Sources, Now What?

Now reread them, this time taking notes. I recommend using individual post-its or pages to write:
  • The title, author, and publishing information (for citing)
  • The position of the source on the topic (neutral, positive, or negative)
  • The summary of the source’s main idea
  • Two or more direct quotes to use as supporting evidence (with page numbers)
Using these notes, you can create a T-chart for pros and cons of the topic. First, list the ideas you’ve gleaned from the sources, then list your arguments stemming from them. The latter will turn into the topic sentences for your body paragraphs. You’ll just need to place them in the right order to have the most impact.

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Is There a Foolproof Synthesis Essay Outline?

The ideal structure devotes one passage to every point, discussed across all sources. If you have three articles all claiming full moon is the primary reason for increased crime rates, you can summarize them in a single well-rounded paragraph. If the authors have different opinions that’s even better! You can fuse their evidence and arguments and formulate your take on the claim.

Sometimes you find sources that have nothing in common and present opposite views on the problem. In this case, summarize each of the references in a separate paragraph. Add one or two passages before the conclusion to present your synthesis of the commonalities and discrepancies among the sources. These final paragraphs are crucial! Without them, you will never get a grade above a C.

Introduction and conclusion should also be present.

Do I Need a Thesis Statement?

You do, if you wish to get A or B. Thesis statement is the core of your essay and one of the critical requirements of academic writing assignments. The quality of the thesis defines the grade you’ll get. An A-worthy thesis should:
  • Fully address the complexity of the problem. This means that your thesis should encompass all the crucial points of the topic.
  • Express your firm position. This applies to argumentative essays, not the explanatory ones. Do not try to play it safe. The professor will not grade your opinion, only your writing.
  • Provide organizational patterns for the essay. You can’t squeeze the whole paper into a single sentence, but you can list the main points and possible counterarguments, turning the thesis into a mini-outline.
I know it’s nearly impossible to craft a beautiful thesis statement on the first try, but you should have at least a first draft before you start writing. It is glaringly obvious when students try to slap the thesis together after the paper is done. The whole essay seems awkward and disjointed because of that. I recommend always keeping the thesis statement close by when writing. Add it as a page header if you use a word processor.

How to Start a Synthesis Essay?

Start strong with a hook. Ask a question, use a shocking quote. Think of the first sentence as a click-bait that grabs the professor’s attention and makes her want to learn more. Background information about the topic wouldn’t go amiss, so sum up the critical points in a few sentences. Finally, add your thesis statement. It’s the core of your introduction.

It's hard to start the paper, so I always recommend skipping the introduction when you write the first draft. The thesis is enough to let you move forward, and you can still come back later to finish the opening passage.


What Should I Include in Every Body Paragraph?

If you are aiming for an A, each of your body parts should have:
  • A topic sentence that explains one argument supporting or refuting your claim. Think of this sentence as a mini-thesis for one passage that links to your ultimate thesis statement.
  • Two or more pieces of evidence from different sources that support the topic sentence. Always remember to cite the source properly and mix up quoting with summarizing and paraphrasing.
  • Analysis of every piece of evidence. Cited material should not take over 15% of the text, so dissect every quote and explain how it supports your claim. Formulate your own opinion or theory using the source data.
  • Transition to sum up the passage and introduce the next point. Transitional words help tie the arguments together and make the paper cohesive, establishing a seamless flow.
It might seem like a lot, but once you get into the rhythm of crafting body paragraphs, you won’t stop to think about what comes next.

What Does the Perfect Conclusion Need?

The closing paragraph should take the reader full circle, back to the thesis. Do not repeat it word-for-word, mix things up. Add your big takeaway from the writing, introduce the final thought or call to action. The conclusion doesn’t have to be long. A few sentences are often enough to wrap up the essay nicely.

Can You Recommend Good Synthesis Essay Topics?

The topic depends on the class you are taking and your interests, so I won’t even try to make suggestions. However, I can tell you how to come up with a solid topic quickly on your own. The easiest way is to look for the most discussed issues on social media or news websites. Trending topics are bound to have multiple authors write about them.

If you need a less current theme, browse industry-specific journals and look up the issues that excite you on Google Scholar or ResearchGate. If you find at least five articles by different authors, go for it.

Where Can I Get a Good Synthesis Writing Example?

No matter how detailed or easy to grasp the answers to “What is synthesis essay?” may be, many people feel much more secure that they’ve got it after reading a good essay sample. It’s important to analyze a sample essay by comparing it with the theoretical part of writing this type of assignment. That way, you will get a better understanding of the structure and see how certain techniques are applied to serve the main purpose. Where do you get such an example, though? This question is much easier to answer as you can read this synthesis writing example right here.

Can You Give One Last Advice on Writing a Synthesis Essay?

It’s hard to choose just one. But I say: don’t be afraid to write and to ask for help. Writing is the best workout for the brain, and there is no shame in looking for assistance from your professor, study group, or an academic writer online.

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