The Writing Center

Synthesis Essay

The synthesis essay asks that you read a number of sources and comment on them in an original way. The best way to approach this complicated assignment is to plan. 

Comparing the Sources:
Use the chart below to record the information asked in the left column.


Source 1

Source 2

Source 3

Bibliographic Info





Key Arguments

















Your Feelings





Why this subject is important





Larger themes or questions that arise in you after reading




How large is the bibliography of the source?





Finding Dissonance:
Your next step is to isolate feelings of curiosity, wonder, puzzlement, irritation, frustration—any kind of surprise or discomfort that you feel after reading all these sources.  Let’s consider some of the major ways that readers might feel this way.  Remember that dissonance (a musical term meaning a lack of harmony) doesn’t always mean negative things—it can be very positive—imagine finding a solution to a huge problem like treating teen depression.

Dissonance Table:

Intellectual Dissonance:
(the reasoning, the evidence, the conclusion excite or bother you)


Moral or Emotional Dissonance:
(some aspect of morality or some emotional issue makes you excited or uncomfortable)


Intuitive Dissonance:
(some aspect, maybe some detail, in these readings excites or bothers you, yet you are not sure of why it does so)


Cultural Dissonance:
(some cultural issue excites or distresses you)


Timing Dissonance:
(even though you are reading this research, you keep thinking of a particular event and it offers you some kind of dissonance)


Concentration Dissonance:
(do researchers concentrate on one thing and forget something or ignore something?)


Articulating a Question:
Once you’ve isolated the kinds of dissonance that you might have, then shape that into a question that you don’t know the answer to. 

After you’ve read all sources and isolated dissonances, you want to know






Any More Research Needed?
In order to answer that question, you might have to do more research.  If you are new to a particular subject area, you might need to consult with a research librarian.


Time and Resources







Answer That Question:
Once you have finished with your research (if needed), go back to that question and answer it.  That becomes the THESIS or FOCUS for your paper.  Try it here.





Imagining Your Reader:
A key to successful writing is to imagine your reader in the following ways:
            *  see the person as open minded
            *  understand that your professor wants you to learn
            *  believe that the professor him- or herself wants to learn from you
            *  take some joy in presenting information in terms of your focus

Structuring the Paper:
Use your focus to guide every paragraph.  Imagine that your readers want to know how you see the variety of sources on a particular topic—what they want is YOUR INDIVIDUAL UNDERSTANDING of this matter, which is what you just wrote about in your planning.  Keep to that as you write your essay and NOT to a recounting of the information in the articles.  Just reporting what exists is doing high school work, not college work. 

Inside this table, structure your paper by your focus.


Introduction:  (do you need to take 1-2 pages to introduce the argument, giving any needed terms, or history, or background information?)

Body Paragraphs:  let each one be a smaller version of your focus

Body Paragraphs:  do you need any rebuttal paragraphs (where you refute some ideas)?

Conclusion:  look to the future and say what else needs to be done rather than simply repeating the information you’ve given

Try yours here below.


Have Someone Read Your Paper Before You Submit It!
This kind of paper is an advanced paper—so be sure to have someone read over it for grammatical mistakes or better style.