In synthesis essays, students construct an argument, developing and defending a position according to the demands of the given prompt, but with the addition of referencing sources and citing them accurately. The student’s goal in a synthesis essay is to “enter a conversation” taking place among other writers/thinkers in the world. He or she should aim to be the dominant voice in the response, using the ideas of others as both support and points to counter.

Effective synthesis, like argument, consists of the following elements:

  1. Claim—arguable points the writer poses, which he or she will subsequently defend

  2. Data—evidence to back up a claim, including facts, statistics, examples, illustrations, personal experience, or expert opinions (Note: data should come from BOTH sources and the student him/herself, and the most convincing discussions may combine multiple pieces of data from multiple sources in a single paragraph)

  3. Commentary (known in argument as Warrant)—a discussion of how the data provided prove the claim (often answering the question “So what?”; this piece of the argument elaborates on how the reader should interpret the data the student provides

  4. An acknowledgement (and refutation) of the counter-argument at some point in the essay (Note: students need not automatically agree with source material; often, sources can provide points for the student to counter)

What to avoid:

  • using evidence or explanations that are insufficient or less convincing

  • failing to refer to sources or cite them accurately

  • allowing sources to dominate the student’s attempts at development (Note: beginning or ending a paragraph with source material is often a red flag.)

  • using a source that does not entirely fit the student’s argument

  • misunderstanding or oversimplifying sources

Please see the PDF file below for a Synthesis essay sample.