Chapter 5: Writing a Summary and Synthesizing
Synthesis as Conversation Among the Authors of Your Source Materials
To synthesize is to combine ideas and create a completely new idea. That new idea becomes the conclusion you have drawn from your reading. This is the true beauty of reading: it causes us to weigh ideas, to compare, judge, think, and explore—and then to arrive at a moment that we hadn’t known before. We begin with simple summary, work through analysis, evaluate using critique, and then move on to synthesis.
How do you synthesize?
Synthesisis a common skill we practice all the time when we converse with others on topics we have different levels of knowledge and feeling about. When you argue with your friends or classmates about a controversial topic like abortion or affirmative action or gun control, your overall understanding of the topic grows as you incorporate their ideas, experiences, and points of view into a broader appreciation of the complexities involved. In professional and academic writing, synthesizing requires you to seek out this kind of multi-leveled understanding through reading, research, and discussion. Though, in academic writing, this is another kind of discussion: you set the goal for the discussion, organize the discussion among the authors of your found researched materials, orchestrate the progress of the discussion, provide comments and build logical guidance for your audience (readers of your Synthesis Essay), and finally you draw your conclusion on the topic.
Below are some steps you can use to help you synthesize research:
- Determine the goal(s) for your discussion such as reviewing a topic or supporting an argument
- Organize the discussion among the authors of your found researched materials
- Lead the discussion among the authors of your sources
- Provide comments and build logical guidance for your audience
- Summarize the most vivid of the authors’ examples and explanations
- Finally, draw your unique conclusion on the topic: in fact, the answer to your research question
What synthesis is NOT
Synthesizing does not mean summarizing everyone’s opinion: “Julia is pro-life, and Devon is pro-choice, and Jasmine says she thinks women should be able to have abortions if their life is in danger or they’ve been the victims of rape or incest.”
Synthesizing does not mean critiquing opinions: “Rick tried to defend affirmative action, but everyone knows it’s really reverse racism.”
Synthesizing does not simply comparative texts (unless assigned as such by your instructor). You are neither evaluating nor comparing the effectiveness of the authors’ presentations.
What synthesis IS
Instead, synthesis demonstrates YOUR full, objective, empathetic understanding of a topic from multiple perspectives. When you synthesize, you “cook” the ideas and opinions of others by thinking, talking, and writing about them, and what comes out is a dish full of many blended flavors but uniquely your recipe: “Because feelings about gun control are so strong on all sides, and because outlawing semi-automatic weapons will not solve the problem of illegal handguns that are implicated in most gun crimes in the United States, any solution to the problem of our gun violence will likely require greater efforts to reduce illegal weapons, greater responsibility taken by gun manufacturers, and better enforcement of existing legislation rather than new legislation or constitutional change.”
Notice that this synthesis does not crouch behind limited and thoughtless positions: “You can’t change the Second Amendment!” “Ban all guns!” This synthesis instead tries to depict hard reality: guns are an integral part of American culture, and so is gun violence, and limiting the latter can not be done without impacting the former. This synthesis reserves judgment and aims for understanding.
For a more in-depth explanation of what synthesis writing is, what its goals are and how you can approach synthesis, visit the Writing Commons article “Identifying a Conversation”