One of the most important (and most difficult) intellectual skills taught in CSN’s ENG 102 and 114 courses is synthesis, the act of organizing sources and showing how their ideas connect to one another. You will need to incorporate synthesis in nearly all research-based writing, such as research papers, literature reviews, scientific articles, or business reports. This skill can be difficult to grasp, so it helps to first identify what synthesis includes and excludes:
- Combining several sources to help make a point
- Showing how sources converse with or connect to one another
- Organized by theme or idea
Synthesis is NOT:
- A series of summaries
- A list of quotations or summaries without any relationship between them
- Just putting sources side-by-side
- Just critiquing a single source
(Credit: Lundstrom, Kacy. “Synthesis Defined”).
How to Synthesize
Step 1: Read and annotate (take notes on) your sources. Then organize these notes in terms of their ideas or themes – do not organize source-by-source. The idea is to find connections between them.
Step 2: Once you have your notes written down, use a synthesis matrix to help you organize and keep track of your sources, their main ideas, and your thoughts on how they connect.
A blank synthesis matrix can be found here: https://libguides.usu.edu/ld.php?content_id=50077261
A sample completed matrix on the topic “Where Should We Eat Lunch?” is included below. It considers input from three different sources (John, Emily, and Richard) and organizes around their ideas (different proposed restaurants).
Sample Matrix: Where should we go for lunch?
|Unhealthy||Not great for vegetarians (few options)||This is cheap and convenient, but not a great choice otherwise. Best in a rush.|
|Blue Hen Chicken Co.||Wide variety of food options
|Relatively healthy||OK for vegetarians||This is healthy, but less convenient and has fewer options for vegetarians. OK if there are no better options and we have the budget.|
Convenient (near campus)
Interesting food options
|Great for vegetarians||Healthy, convenient, moderately priced, and suitable for vegetarians. This should be our first choice.|
Step 3: Now start writing! Be sure to cite multiple sources in each paragraph and explain the connections between their ideas.
*Tip: for some templates and phrases to help you make connections between sources in your synthesis paragraphs, see 5.3 “Make Connections When Synthesizing in Your Writing”
Below is a sample synthesis paragraph based on the matrix included above.
Sample Synthesis Paragraph: Where should we go for lunch?
On the question of where to eat lunch today, our group reviewed three different proposed ideas: McDonalds, The Blue Hen Chicken Company, and POTs. McDonalds was suggested for its low price and ease of access (John), yet it fell short in other key areas, such as the unhealthy quality of its food (Richard) and its shortage of vegetarian options (Emily). We would decide to eat there only if there were little time in our schedule. The Blue Hen Chicken company, by contrast, fared somewhat better, earning points for its wider variety of culinary offerings (John) and the healthy quality of its food (Richard), yet the difficulty of parking there (John) and its small vegetarian menu (Emily) made it a less-than-ideal choice for our group, which includes one vegetarian. Our most promising option, and the one that surprised us most, was the Egyptian vegan restaurant POTS. It is located close to CSN’s West Charleston campus (John) and, unlike McDonalds or Blue Hen, serves a variety food which is both healthy and vegetarian (Richard, Emily). While it lacks the obvious convenience of a fast-food franchise such as McDonalds, and will thus take up more of our time, POTs is the optimal choice for our group today.
Exercise 1: Write A Synthesis Paragraph
Write a paragraph in which you synthesize two or more sources to support a single idea. In this case, your sources will be songs (song lyrics). Choose a topic for your thesis, and keep this one simple. You can follow this template: Music empowers (you may replace with your verb of choice) women to raise up and be themselves (you may replace with an idea of your choice). Think of songs you know that do this. “Firework,” by Katy Perry, “Survivor,” by Destiny’s Child, “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor, and “RESPECT” by Aretha Franklin are good examples for this. Choose two or more that you want to incorporate, fill out a synthesis matrix, then write a paragraph that argues for your claim (the thesis-statement above) by supporting it with ideas from the songs you have selected.
Remember to follow the steps: Take notes, fill out the synthesis matrix, then write your paragraph.
“Synthesis in Practice” by Angela Spires and Brendan Shapiro is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0