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Writing Project 5: Synthesis Essay

DUE DATE: April 17, 2013 @ 12:00 pm

Writing 3 was a proposal and a question: what did you want to learn about writing and research at SEU and how were you going to find your answers. By now, you have spent the past few weeks

  • finding a question you wanted answered about writing, reading, and/or research and higher education,
  • designing survey questions and compiling the results — OR —designing interview questions and sorting through responses, and
  • talking to us about what you learned and still need to know.

The proposal and your question were just starting points, a place where I forced you to put down some ideas so that you have something concrete to think about, struggle with, and revise.  Your question will likely continue to change—all inquiry does as it develops, as you learn more, and as you bridge more and more pieces of the puzzle (this includes the reading you are doing on your own and your research). Try not to worry about that change because the work you need to focus on next is what approach you will take when sharing what you’ve learned.

There are specific types of information I want you to include in Writing 5, a pretty logical order to the sections, and a purpose behind each. As I hope you’ll notice, there is a direct relationship between your WP3: Proposal and your WP5: Synthesis Essay.

We could call Writing 5 a “research report,” but the goal here is not for you to list and report on what you learned. You’re not just reporting what you read; you did that in WP4: Annotated Bibliography. Instead, as a participant in the “culture of inquirers,” I want to see you create a very synthetic piece of writing.


You want to help someone who is unfamiliar with your project see the “big picture” in the complex debate about writing, research, inquiry, and college. Again, you are not listing that “X argues A” and “Y argues B.” Instead, I want you to group competing voices into a meaningful structure with meaningful categories. Think of these categories as what you learned by reading all those works.

The sources you synthesize are the research materials that you have been collecting for the past few weeks. Remember those annotations you wrote? This is where they come into play. Remember that Interest and Hypothesis section your wrote for the Proposal? Some of that same information will be back here, too. The authors who wrote the articles you read, the people you’ve talked to, and the you who wrote the Proposal (before you ever started reading about your question) are the voices in a conversation about writing and its purpose in your life.

Your Synthesis Essay will likely (but not necessarily) examine and discuss

  • how each of the sources make their cases (what are they researching and why?) and how these sources helped you think about your research question and/or topic,
  • where the sources come together and diverge (who is building on and/or extending the work of whom?),
  • how your sources define the terms being debated (shared vocabulary?), and
  • which reasons they give for their views (claims and evidence provided?).


Step 1. Read your annotations again. Review the articles you’ve already read for class and for the Proposal. If you have questions about the evidence used by your sources, or you can’t quite remember the SO WHAT? of the article, then you need to go back and fill in the gaps you have. You can also come ask me questions.

Step 2. Organize your annotations into wedding tables, including quotes and page numbers for reference, focusing on the shared ideas and information. [We also called this step the Synthesis Skeleton. That outline format may or may not have been useful for you.] Here are some possible suggestions that you might use to start the process. These may or may not be helpful; remember, only you can identify the common ideas shared in your sources:

  • each person’s explanation of their position on a term or concept as it relates to your question,
  • each person’s points about why this issue is important for individual’s to consider,
  • each person’s research approach to the writing-related question,
  • each person’s points about the evidence contained in this research, or
  • each person’s points about people who agree and disagree with them.

You may notice that, at times, the various voices talking and writing about your question share common viewpoints but perhaps reach those viewpoints by using different reasons. One of the challenges of writing a good synthesis is to make the judgment call whether you have one reason or two; you have to decide if it is indeed possible to agree on a point but to arrive at this point through different evidence.

When you have your paragraphs prepared, you will be able to see not only the big picture of how the voices in your conversation understand and have discussed your question but you can also see the specific reasons why they overlap and diverge.

Step 3. Using your tables and paragraphs, draft your Synthesis Essay. Again, this is not an argumentative essay; that is, you won’t be making your own argument for what needs to be done and why. Instead, you will talk about your sources, grouping them into a meaningful structure, and showing where and why they overlap and diverge. Your goal for now is to simply have a response that guides readers through the same information you’ve read, but we get the benefit of your guidance. You have, after all, done the thinking for us at this point.

Again, a really useful synthesis essay

  1. explains the issue(s) by generalizing about what the sources say are the important questions or positions to consider (and your opinion on the issue should not be apparent);
  2. is organized around claims regarding the significant questions or issues related to the subject; it synthesizes the sources (puts them in conversation with one another);
  3. provides adequate support for claims made regarding the issue by effectively summarizing and quoting from sources;
  4. effectively integrates source material, making clear distinctions between the writer’s language and the language of sources;
  5. uses correct citation format within the text and in the list of Works Cited (MLA Style); and
  6. sentences are clear, complete, varied, and relatively free of error.



  • Has a specific, focused research question that controls the essay, and that educated but skeptical readers would consider reasonable.
  • Has a title that explains the focus of the paper.
  • Explains the relevance of discussing this topic or question clearly.
  • Has an introduction that orients the reader to the topic at hand.
  • Describes the topic/question/tension/conflict.
  • Brings current sources into the explanation of the topic
  • Sources are relative to the topic, not simply chosen without careful reading.
  • Quotes and paraphrases are carefully, not haphazardly, chosen and augment the essay.
  • Demonstrates the significance of each of the sources
  • Engages the reader through control over topic in his/her own voice (the research does not control the essay—you do).


  • Connection among sources, not merely a cataloguing of them.
  • The narrative is organized in an engaging format: the important points of the conversation are organized so that they are emphasized.
  • Sustains the focus of the paper.
  • Writer has control over the sources.
  • Transitions/connections between ideas and paragraphs.
  • Sentence variation.
  • Uses “quote burger” technique.
  • Introduces sources effectively.
  • Has own description in the text, not merely quoting bunches of material.


  • Grammatically correct; none to very few grammatical mistakes.
  • Demonstrates facility with language.
  • Flows smoothly (sentences varied, active verbs.