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Essay 2: Explanatory Synthesis
Paper Formatting & Length
This essay should be a minimum of four full pages doubled-spaced and a maximum of five pages. Your “Works Cited” page does not count as one of those pages. The essay should be presented in MLA format and should include a Works Cited page for all of the sources used in your essay. (So long as you formatted them correctly in your annotated bibliography, you may be able to do some copying and pasting here.)
What is a Synthesis? Why do we write these?
A synthesis is a written discussion that draws on material in several texts in order to objectively compare and contrast information. It is a standard form of academic and workplace writing. A research paper in any discipline synthesizes multiple sources. Argumentative essays synthesize information, theories, etc. into a claim or position. In the workplace, professionals synthesize information in order to make important decisions or presentations. Newspaper and magazine articles synthesize primary and secondary sources; memos and letters synthesize ideas, events, proposals and so on.
Write an explanatory synthesis using materials gathered for your annotated bibliography. You are asked to develop three to four synthesis questions. Synthesis questions are questions that bring your sources into conversation with one another. On the other hand, you may find that your research has moved you in a different direction than you initially expected, and you have to develop new questions.
Answer your synthesis questions using information from the sources you gathered. As this is a synthesis paper, your goal is to compare and contrast how your different sources speak to the questions you’ve posed.
And notably, since this is an explanatory synthesis and not an argument, your thesis will describe or explain what you will do in the essay. In other words, this essay assignment is not where you’ll be taking a stance.
To put it another way…you will compare and contrast how the different sources you’ve gathered address the questions you’ve developed. This will involve a lot of summarizing and paraphrasing of your sources in order to give your reader a broad understanding of the multiple synthesis questions you’ve posed: your reader will not just understand one publication’s/viewer’s take on your subject; instead they will understand your subject from multiple points of view.
How to Write this Essay
Review and select research questions that bring the sources you gathered for the “annotated bibliography” into conversation with one another. These questions will serve as your synthesis questions for this essay. You may have to develop new synthesis questions as well if you find your old questions are no longer suitable, or don’t bring your sources into conversation with one another, etc.
Consider which of your sources address each of your questions. Reread your sources while keeping your synthesis questions in mind. In other words, reread your sources through the “lens” of your synthesis questions.
Develop a list or an outline of which sources speak to which synthesis questions. Take notes to help you organize your thoughts. The biggest challenge of this assignment is organizing a large amount of information.
On this list/outline, note the page numbers where you find key points from your texts so that later on you can refer back to these pages while creating a draft. This essay will use a lot of summarizing and quoting, so it will be important to keep good notes that give you the information and page numbers you will need for accurate documentation.
Start drafting your synthesis (aka—start answering those synthesis questions!). Each synthesis question should require at least two fully developed paragraphs to adequately respond to the question at hand. Refrain from creating paragraphs that contain only information from one source. The purpose of the assignment is to synthesize material: to bring multiple sources into conversation with each other. Therefore, each body paragraph will contain material from at least two sources.
As you have been drafting, you have been using transition phrases such as “…in contrast to Stevenson’s point of view…”, “…Whereas Hayne asserts this view, Johnson claims….”, “…similar to Dandy’s position …” etc. These transition phrases are simple, but when used well they give an essay coherence (aka “flow”) and a professional quality. They also can be useful in smoothly blending information from multiple sources into a single paragraph.
After responding to all of your synthesis questions, think about a thesis and an introduction. As noted above, since this is an explanatory synthesis, not an argument, your thesis will describe or explain what you will do in the essay. Your thesis might read something
In this essay, I will compare and contrast the relationship between beer and wine consumption and class status in ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman cultures.
The synthesis questions that such an essay might respond to in the body of its text might include, for instance,
—Historically, has there been a difference in terms of what types of alcoholic beverages have been preferred by different socioeconomic classes?
—Do beer and wine send different social “signals” or “cues”? If so, what are the meanings and differences between those signals/cues?
—Are any trends regarding beer and wine shared across cultures? (specifically Greek, Egyptian, and Roman cultures) Or does each culture treat these alcoholic beverages differently?
Two other important notes:
1) Simplistic questions will not make for good synthesis questions. A question like “When did Americans land on the moon?” will not bring your sources into meaningful conversation with one another.
2) Make sure the thesis statement you develop is comprehensive enough that it encompasses all aspects of your topic that you discuss in the body of your paper. Remember, thesis statements should be predictive of what’s to come.
For your conclusion, think about what we learn when we compare and contrast the material in your essay. Think about the major “take away” points your reader has gotten from the exploration of your synthesis questions. Synthesis essays always need a point, and a conclusion is a great place to make it. The point of the comparison/contrast is the new understanding we get when we put some information next to other information in new ways. Why do you feel that what we’ve learned from your objective comparisons is important? (This is your chance to break away from the objectivity that you so closely stuck to throughout the rest of the paper!)
Keep revising and editing your draft. Proofread your draft. These are all important parts of the writing process.
General Structure of Essay:
Paragraph 1: Introduction that introduces (imagine that) readers to the context of your community issue. There are probably different “takes” on your community issue. Give readers a sense of the major different perspectives that exist around your issue. (More on this in the “Secret of Good Writing—Intros handout.) Conclude your intro with an appropriate thesis (see above for tips)
Paragraphs 2-X: These are the body paragraphs of your essay in which you address your synthesis questions. Each synthesis question should be written in bold, then followed by at least two paragraphs addressing that question. When you’ve finished answering one synthesis question, provide your next question in bold; rinse and repeat.
Final Paragraph: Conclusion (see above for tips)
Grading criteria and essay goals:
Do you draw on at least seven different sources while addressing your synthesis questions?
Do you have 3 to 4 synthesis questions and do you draw on multiple sources while responding to each of them?
Does the essay demonstrate an accurate understanding of all of the sources you use?
Is the organization a true synthesis of material and not a source-by-source summary of information? (AKA: Do you tie in information from multiple sources in a single paragraph?)
Are the paragraphs well-focused and coherent with useful transition phrases?
Does the introduction contain an appropriate thesis?
Does the conclusion describe those important take away points?
Are the sentences basically clear?
Do you follow MLA formatting accurately?
Do you use attributive tags and parenthetical citations appropriately so your reader can tell what information in a paragraph is coming from which source?
One Final Important Piece of Advice:
This paper needs to contain information from at least 7 different sources. Those sources can be the same ones that were used for the annotated bibliography. However, as research naturally evolves over time (we come to understand things in a new light; our reading propels us in an unexpected direction, etc.) you may find that some of the sources you used for the annotated bibliography no longer fit with the larger work you’re doing. If that’s the case, that’s fine. But that does mean you’ll have to continue researching your topic, gathering sources, and so on. (This is something you should be doing throughout the semester anyway.)
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