Synthesis Essay

(Updated on November 23, 2017 by Michelle Williams)


A synthesis essay is a brief text that's intended to explore a specific subject or concept through the examination of multiple ideas on that topic.  It is typical for synthesis essays to be investigation-based and to explore a subject or concept through scholarly secondary sources.  Synthesis essays may be assigned in a variety of college courses, as they're very beneficial in instructing students in methods of research, source assessment, and critical thinking.

Synthesis EssayEvery synthesis report should have a thesis, which is a sentence or group of sentences that clearly asserts the main point of a text.  The thesis of a synthesis report should be stated early in the text so that the reader is fully aware of the point the writer is going to make.  The difference between synthesis essays and many other types of academic works is that the thesis will often not be cast in argument form.  This is because synthesis essays are providing overviews of ideas on a single topic.  Therefore, though they can take a stand on a particular issue, their primary purpose is often to inform rather than to persuade.  As such, the thesis statements of synthesis essays may simply announce the subject on which they're going to inform.  For instance, a synthesis essay on Cartesian philosophy may be that "There are many disagreements among contemporary philosophers as to the correct interpretation of Descartes' philosophies."  The report would then proceed to explain some of those disagreements by pointing to scholarly sources that promote different ideas of Descartes' philosophies, discussing how those ideas compare and contrast, and eventually providing commentary that makes assessments as to how contemporary philosophers' ideas regarding Cartesian philosophy can be generally characterized.

In most synthesis essays, research will be a primary component.  In order to be a true synthesis essay, the student should include a variety of sources that posit a variety of opinions on the subject.  It is likely that for any compelling topic, there will be a multiplicity of views—often in opposition to each other.  A synthesis report should include and analyze all such views, as it's only in presenting the spectrum of thought on a single issue that a true determination of the general opinions on that topic can be discovered.  Therefore, learners should find research from varied sources, so long as those sources are credible and scholarly, and attempt to analyze and discuss all of these sources in an unbiased manner.

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