How to Write a Synthesis Essay: The Best Tips and Tricks

Updated March 2021

The first emotion students often have when they hear the words “synthesis essay” is bewilderment. This is a completely natural reaction because it isn’t easy to guess from the name what the peculiarities of this task might be. If you have been given the assignment to write an essay of this type and you have no idea how to get started, you have come to the right place! Below you will find the ultimate guide on how to write a synthesis essay. Learn how to write a winning synthesis paper that will impress your teacher.

What Is a Synthesis Essay?

In order to make the best choice from the synthesis essay topics presented to you, it is important to know what a synthesis paper is. Defining a synthesis essay is quite easy once you understand what “to synthesize” means—namely, to form a single whole by putting separate pieces together. Correspondingly, a synthesis essay requires students to piece together information or facts gathered from several sources in order to build a single argument that reveals their position on the topic. The challenge of writing a synthesis essay stems from the fact that students should not only summarize the major themes they obtain from their sources but also explain the specific relationships between said pieces of information. Synthesis essays can be written with different purposes in mind, and there are multiple types.

Background Synthesis

Whether you attend a local college or a prestigious university like UC Berkeley, your professor may assign this type of synthesis paper during the early stage of a research project. The purpose of background synthesis writing is to become an expert on the topic, which requires a thorough examination of available sources. To complete this kind of paper, explore the sources and systematize the facts, grouping them into common themes. While background synthesis papers may lack thesis statements, they aim at furthering one’s understanding of the topic by examining it from different viewpoints. If you have a challenging project to complete, we suggest you do a background synthesis even if it is not assigned. This activity will definitely boost your understanding of the topic, enabling you to come up with an appealing thesis statement for a future argumentative essay or other research projects.

Argument or Thesis-Driven Synthesis

Synthesis papers of this type should have strong thesis statements that present clear positions with regard to the examined argumentative synthesis paper topics. As with background synthesis writing, students should systematize available facts by themes to support their position on the topic. While completing this type of writing, you may pursue different purposes. For instance, the task may require you to argue a position on the topic, evaluate a text, compare and contrast some items (as you could do in a compare and contrast essay), or explain cause-and-effect relationships. The particular purpose of the essay will shape the way you approach the sources, encouraging the use of specific techniques to present information in the essay.

Literature Review

Although reviews are particularly common in medicine and social sciences, students who pursue degrees in other realms may be required to conduct literature reviews as part of larger projects. Like the previous two methods, this type of synthesis writing also demands that you examine and analyze previous research on the topic. You should outline common themes in literature and distinguish between areas that are well researched and those that remain under-researched. Although this type of writing does not require a clear thesis statement, the unstated assumption is that research should be done to reveal certain aspects of the examined problem in order to address it adequately. This type of synthesis essay aims at justifying the intended research.

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Synthesis Essay Organization Tips

Depending on the type of writing, the structure of your synthesis may vary. For instance, some essays, particularly those prepared at the early stages of research, will not require strong thesis statements. Still, there are some common requirements to structure that we recommend students follow to ensure the best outcomes.

  • Begin with an introduction.

Make sure your synthesis paper has a catchy introduction that explains the topic and purpose of writing. Argumentative synthesis essay topics often require thesis statements that present particular positions.

  • Organize the body paragraphs by themes.

When writing the body of the synthesis essay, ensure each paragraph addresses a separate theme. If you want to produce a sophisticated essay, you should avoid summarizing source by source. Facts that you have collected from the reviewed sources should be united into groups based on particular features or themes. Each paragraph should contain information from more than one source. If your essay has a thesis statement, each body paragraph should begin with a topic sentence that somehow addresses the statement.

  • Include phrases that signify the relationships between different pieces of information.

As synthesis papers are primarily informative in character, it is important to clearly explain how the discovered facts interact in the context of the examined topic. You should show both similarities and differences in the ways different sources address the topic. Argumentative synthesis essay topics often require students to present views that oppose their chosen position, as well as a refutation of the opposing argument.

  • Add a conclusion.

Wrap up the synthesis with a concluding paragraph in which all the major themes are covered. The conclusion should also clarify the ways each outlined theme connects to the topic of the essay. In this paragraph, you may offer your own interpretation of the themes and points or suggest directions for further research if these activities are relevant to the task.

How to Write a Synthesis Essay Outline

Writing a synthesis essay outline is the first thing you should do before you get started. The process of creating an outline isn’t a waste of time. Even if you don't need to show it to the teacher, you should do it in order to make sure you create a well-organized paper. A good outline serves as the backbone of your essay, keeping you on track and on point throughout the entire writing process. Writing without an outline increases the risk of you creating a meandering, disorganized paper.

Sure, writing an outline can take a long time, but it can be written quickly by following these tips:

  • The Introduction (one paragraph): Write a thesis statement that includes one to three of your ideas on the topic.
  • The Main Body (three to four paragraphs): Following the standard outline structure, you need to write no less than three paragraphs for the body portion of the essay, each starting with a new thought. Make sure that the evidence you use to support your ideas comes from a credible source; and if you use another author’s exact words, put them in quotes. Cite all information that is not yours, and list all of your sources in your bibliography or on your works cited page.
  • The Conclusion (one paragraph): This is the part where you wind down your paper and bring it to a logical conclusion. Do not bring up any new issues; wrap up only what you addressed in the introduction and body.

Synthesis Essay Structure

Before you start working on your synthesis essay structure, you must first conduct an in-depth analysis of the data you collected. Remember that only well-structured papers get high grades. Even if you write a brilliant essay, if you don’t format it the correct way, the teacher will not give it a good grade. That's why you need to make sure you have a clear picture of how to write a synthesis essay.

Bear in mind that according to the outline provided above, you should stick to the basic five-to-six paragraph structure. In rare cases, there can be more paragraphs in the main body. Remember that the evidence you use in these paragraphs should be cited in accordance with your professor’s instructions.

Be sure that you transition well between paragraphs and ideas. A paper lacking in smooth transitions from paragraph to paragraph will result in a blocky, poorly written paper.

How to Write an Impressive Synthesis Essay Introduction

The most difficult part of writing is often putting pen to paper. Many students spend hours brainstorming ideas on how to write papers. The most effective way to start a synthesis essay is to answer this question: “What would attract my attention if I were the reader?”

Take into account the peculiarities of the synthesis essay when brainstorming ideas on how to write the paper. There are several ways to get started. The first is to offer some intriguing fact that is not known to everyone. The second is to begin the essay with a quote by a famous person connected with the topic. Try to catch the reader's attention quickly because the overall success of your paper will depend on the first impression you make on the reader.

How to Write a Conclusion for a Synthesis Essay

The next stumbling block almost every student faces is finishing the paper because for some reason, it is always easier to write the introduction and main body than it is to write the conclusion. The best way to write this part of your essay is to restate your thesis statement and summarize all the main points you made in the paper itself. Also, try to write a powerful final sentence that will help you win over your audience.  

Effective Tips for Writing a Synthesis Essay

Now that you have a better understanding of how to start a synthesis essay, you have a much higher chance of getting an A. If you want a 100 percent guarantee that your paper will get a high grade, follow these synthesis essay tips. By following them, you can perfect your writing abilities.

Choose the Right Topic

As a student, you might be tempted to write about something you know little about in order to broaden your horizons. There is nothing wrong with wanting to learn new things, but you should do this on your own time, not when you are writing a paper for a grade.

Write about what you know—and trust us, when you are conducting research on the subject, you will find out plenty of new things. Your goal should be to hone your writing skills and get a high grade; writing about a completely new topic increases the likelihood you will not receive an A.   

Use Credible Sources

One of the biggest problems today in academia is that incoming students do not know what a credible source is, and as a result, they cite Facebook, blogs, and other types of unreliable media in their papers. When writing a paper, stick with academic journals and websites, books, and other such material.

Cite Your Sources Correctly

Making incorrect citations and bibliographies, or not making them at all, will always result in a failing paper. Another aspect that often lands students in trouble is that they do not follow the instructions of the professor. One common way this happens is when the professor has a citation format he prefers, such as MLA, and the student chooses to cite in the APA or Harvard styles. Never do this. Always follow the instructions of your professor, whether you agree with them or not.

Proofread Your Essay—Always

Another huge mistake students make is that they do not proofread their work for grammar and spelling mistakes. After they finish writing, they print the essay and turn it in; and when they get it back in a week, they get a C or a B. The reason why they ended up with such a low grade is not because they lacked brilliant ideas in their papers—it’s because their papers were riddled with mistakes.
Once you have completed your essay, look through it several times to make sure there are no grammatical errors and also to make sure the essay flows logically. It also would not hurt to make sure you have done all your citations correctly. You might consider letting someone else, like your professor or a friend, look at it in order to get a fresh perspective.

A Synthesis Essay Is Your Chance to Stand Out

If you were to rank the difficulty level of this kind of essay on a scale of one to ten, it would probably be an eight or nine. Just keep in mind that you can make that number lower by following these tips.

You should also see this assignment as a chance for you to improve your writing skills and impress your professor. If you impress your professor, you will be able to get recommendations from him, or he might like to take you under his wing when you are in graduate school.

We hope that now you are more confident in your ability to write a good paper. Have faith in yourself and do your best!

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