Once you have analyzed the texts involved in your research and taken notes, you must turn to the task of writing your essay. The goal is here is not simply to summarize your findings. Critical writing requires that you communicate your analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of those findings to your audience.
Any soldier who has gone through boot camp knows about being broken down before being “remade” or built up again. The analysis and synthesis parts of research are similar. Unlike analyzing, which breaks ideas down into parts, synthesizing involves bringing them together.
These questions can help you synthesize and process your notes:
- What do your sources have in common? At first glance, you might see only that the topic is loosely connected but look for connective themes among subtopics.
- How can you merge what you have discovered and find your own voice? This is where you turn back to your notes, especially if you made a double-entry journal where you recorded your own thoughts on each idea.
- Staying true to context and intent, which ideas are the best ideas to use?
- What patterns can you identify, and what conclusions can you draw?
- What disagreements among sources do you notice? Which view do you trust more and why?
Integrating Material from Sources
Integrating materials from sources into your own text can be tricky; if we consider the metaphor that writing a paper and including sources is a way of facilitating a conversation about a topic, it helps us to think about how this will best work.
When you’re discussing a topic in person with one or more people, you will find yourself referencing outside sources: “When I was watching the news, I heard them say that . . . I read in the newspaper that . . . John told me that . . .” These kinds of phrases show instances of using a source in conversation, and ways that we automatically shape our sentences to work references to the sources into the flow of conversation.
Think about this next time you try to work a source into a piece of writing: if you were speaking this aloud in conversation, how would you introduce the material to your listeners? What information would you give them in order to help them understand who the author was, and why their view is worth referencing? After giving the information, how would you then link it back to the point you were trying to make? Just as you would do this in a conversation if you found it necessary to reference a newspaper article or television show you saw, you also need to do this in your essays.