Your class has been writing a few argumentative essays here and there, and you have to admit … you’re getting pretty good at it. But now your instructor says that you need to take it a step further and write a synthesis essay.
The name might be a little intimidating, but don’t worry—I’ll be here to give you example topics and walk you through the steps to writing a great synthesis.
First … What Is a Synthesis Essay?
Before we jump right into generating ideas and writing your synthesis, it would be pretty useful to know what a synthesis essay actually is, right?
When you think about a synthesis essay, you can think of it as being kind of like an argumentative essay.
There is one key difference, though—your instructor provides you with the sources you are going to use to substantiate your argument.
This may sound a little bit easier than an argumentative essay. But it’s a different kind of thinking and writing that takes some time to get used to. Synthesis essays are all about presenting a strong position and identifying the relationships between your sources.
Don’t fall into the trap of simply summarizing the sources. Instead, make your point, and back it up with the evidence found in those sources. (I’ll explain this in more detail when we talk about the writing process.)
Many of your sources will probably have information that could support both sides of an argument. So it’s important to read over them carefully and put them in the perspective of your argument.
If there’s information that goes against your main points, don’t ignore it. Instead, acknowledge it. Then show how your argument is stronger.
If this all seems a little too theoretical, don’t worry—it’ll all get sorted out. I have a concrete example that takes a page from the Slytherins’ book (yes, of Harry Potter fame) and uses cunning resourcefulness when analyzing sources.
Great and Not-So-Great Topics for Your Synthesis Essay
A great topic for a synthesis essay is one that encourages you to choose a position on a debatable topic. Synthesis topics should not be something that’s general knowledge, such as whether vegetables are good for you. Most everyone would agree that vegetables are healthy, and there are many sources to support that.
Bad synthesis topics can come in a variety of forms. Sometimes, the topic won’t be clear enough. In these situations, the topic is too broad to allow for you to form a proper argument. Here are a few example bad synthesis essay topics:
Synthesis on gender
Write about education
Form an argument about obesity
Other not-so-great examples are topics that clearly have only one correct side of the argument. What you need is a topic that has several sources that can support more than one position.
Now that you know what a bad topic looks like, it’s time to talk about what a good topic looks like.
Many great synthesis essay topics are concentrated around social issues. There’s a lot of gray area and general debate on those issues—which is what makes them great topics for your synthesis. Here are a few topics you could write about:
Do video games promote violence?
Is the death penalty an effective way to deter crime?
Should young children be allowed to have cell phones?
Do children benefit more from homeschooling or public school?
The list of good topics goes on and on. When looking at your topic, be sure to present a strong opinion for one side or the other. Straddling the fence makes your synthesis essay look much weaker.
Now that you have an idea of what kinds of topics you can expect to see, let’s get down to how to actually write your synthesis essay. To make this a little more interesting, I’m going to pick the following example topic:
Are Slytherin House members more evil than members of other houses?
Steps to Writing an Impressive Synthesis Essay
As with any good essay, organization is critical. With these five simple steps, writing a surprisingly good synthesis essay is surprisingly easy.
Step 1: Read your sources.
Even before you decide on your position, be sure to thoroughly read your sources. Look for common information among them, and start making connections in your mind as you read.
For the purposes of my Slytherin synthesis example, let’s say I have four different sources.
- Source A is a data table that lists the houses of all members of the Death Eaters.
- Source B is a complete history of the Slytherin House, including the life and views of Salazar Slytherin.
- Source C is a document containing the names of students who were sorted into a different house than what the Sorting Hat had originally assigned to them.
- Source D is a history of the Battle of Hogwarts.
Step 2: Decide what your position is.
After you work through your sources, decide what position you are going to take. You don’t actually have to believe your position—what’s more important is being able to support your argument as effectively as possible.
Also, remember that once you pick a position, stick with it. You want your argument and your synthesis to be as strong as possible. Sticking to your position is the best way to achieve that.
Back to our example … after reading through my documents, I decide that the students and alumni of the Slytherin House are not more evil than students in the other houses.
Step 3: Write an awesome thesis statement.
Once you’ve decided on a position, you need to express it in your thesis statement. This is critical since you will be backing up your thesis statement throughout your synthesis essay.
In my example, my thesis statement would read something like this:
Students and alumni from Slytherin are not more evil than students in the other houses because they fill the whole spectrum of morality, evil wizards are found in all houses, and their house traits of cunning, resourcefulness, and ambition do not equate to an evil nature.
Step 4: Draft a killer outline.
Now that you have your argument down in words, you need to figure out how you want to organize and support that argument. A great way to do this is to create an outline.
When you write your outline, write your thesis statement at the top. Then, list each of your sub-arguments. Under each sub-argument, list your support. Part of my outline would look like this:
Thesis statement: Students and alumni from Slytherin are not more evil than students in the other houses because they fill the whole spectrum of morality, evil wizards are found in all houses, and their house traits of cunning, resourcefulness, and ambition do not equate to an evil nature.
I. Evil wizards are found in all houses.
A. Source A: Examples of Death Eaters from other houses
B. Source D: Examples of what Death Eaters from other houses did at the Battle of Hogwarts
In my outline, I used my sources as the second level of my outline to give the names of the sources and, from each, concrete evidence of how evil non-Slytherin wizards can be.
This is only an example of one paragraph in my outline. You’ll want to do this for each paragraph/sub-argument you plan on writing.
Step 5: Use your sources wisely.
When thinking about how to use your sources as support for your argument, you should avoid a couple mistakes—and do a couple of things instead.
Don’t summarize the sources. For example, this would be summarizing your source: “Source A indicates which houses the Death Eaters belong to. It shows that evil wizards come from all houses.”
Do analyze the sources. Instead, write something like this: “Although many Death Eaters are from Slytherin, there are still a large number of dark wizards, such as Quirinus Quirrell and Peter Pettigrew, from other houses (Source A).”
Don’t structure your paragraphs around your sources. Using one source per paragraph may seem like the most logical way to get things done (especially if you’re only using three or four sources). But that runs the risk of summarizing instead of drawing relationships between the sources.
Do structure your paragraphs around your arguments. Formulate various points of your argument. Use two or more sources per paragraph to support those arguments.
Step 6: Get to writing.
Once you have a comprehensive outline, all you have to do is fill in the information and make it sound pretty. You’ve done all the hard work already. The writing process should just be about clearly expressing your ideas. As you write, always keep your thesis statement in mind, so your synthesis essay has a clear sense of direction.
Now that you know what a synthesis essay is and have a pretty good idea how to write one, it doesn’t seem so intimidating anymore, does it?
If your synthesis essay still isn’t coming together quite as well as you had hoped, you can trust the Kibin editors to make the edits and suggestions that will push it to greatness.
Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.
The newest section of the AP English Language and Composition Exam, the synthesis essay, is one of three essays you will be completing during the examination’s 2-hour free-response period. However, you’ll also have a 15-minute reading and planning period just for this essay, and if you use this time to plan effectively, you can’t go wrong.
Before we get into specific advice on how to handle the AP English Language and Composition synthesis essay, you need to know what this part of the test really is. It is very similar to the argumentative essay you will also write as part of this exam, except that you are provided with a wealth of source material from which to draw some support for your ideas.
While this in some ways makes the AP English Language and Composition synthesis essay easier than the argument essay (because you can use quotations, point to authoritative sources for support, etc.), there is an extra element of complexity, and the AP readers want to see how well you can sort through your source material and put it to good use – which makes planning all that much more important. This brings us to our first tip…
1. Use Your 15-Minute Planning Period Wisely.
The main purpose of this 15-minute period is to give you time to read the source materials. This essay will present you with several sources providing different information about or opinions on a certain topic. Make sure you don’t just skim them, but read them closely – make notes, underline key sections you may want to quote later, etc.
You should also begin outlining your essay and considering your opinion on the subject; have this opinion in mind before you start writing the essay, as you will use it to construct your thesis.
You’ve already learned how to structure persuasive essays in this class and in other classes you have taken; put that knowledge to good use now, and have your main points set out before you start writing. Try to have a thesis statement written by the time you start the essay – your thesis should establish your opinion and the general reasons you feel this way; the rest of your essay will go on to justify and exemplify these reasons. Also write down some of the main points upon which you will base subsequent paragraphs and mark quotes or sections of the sources you can use in each of these paragraphs.
2. Evaluate Your Sources.
Every source you can use for the AP Language and Composition synthesis essay will have a small box above it explaining where it comes from and who said it – to see exactly what this looks like, check out the free synthesis essay sample questions at AP Central. There are also public sample questions available there for the rest of the AP English and Composition Exam.
Keep all information about your sources in mind when you’re quoting them or using them to support your arguments. What journal an article appeared in can say a great deal about its potential biases. For example, consider a question on the environmental impacts of corporate practices – an environmental journal is obviously going to be biased in favor of more environmental regulation, while a report from a company spokesperson will probably gloss over some of the negative impacts of his company. Think critically.
3. Keep Your Tone Consistent.
There is no hard-and-fast advice about what tone you should take – some students try to inject a little humor into their essays while others prefer to be as serious as possible, some are extremely critical and others more accepting. However, the one thing you really have to do while writing the AP Language and Composition synthesis essay (or any other essay) is keep your tone consistent. Jot some tone-related ideas down as you outline during the 15-minute reading period, and keep in mind everything you’ve learned about tone and other aspects of rhetoric so far this year.
4. Use Rhetorical Technique to Your Advantage!
The various rhetorical practices you’ve been learning about all year can be put to good use here. This class and this test aren’t just about recognizing and analyzing these techniques when others use them, but about preparing you for college and your career by teaching you how to use them effectively yourself. However, this isn’t just about writing a beautiful essay, so read on to Tip # 5!
5. Your Argument Must be Well-Crafted.
The AP English Language and Composition Exam synthesis essay does not have right or wrong answers; rather, it asks you for your opinion. The AP Examiner cannot take points off because she disagrees with you. However, you must show logical basis for your opinion, drawing on both the sources AND your own knowledge and experience.
To do this, make sure you have a clear and complete thesis. Make sure the ideas expressed in the beginning of each paragraph or section support the thesis, and that you in turn show how those ideas are supported by a source or through your own knowledge and experience. Don’t generalize or write anything down that you can’t support.
Featured Image Source
Looking for AP English Language practice?
Kickstart your AP English Language prep with Albert. Start your AP exam prep today.