How To
7 min read

How to Write a Synthesis Essay

Rachel Chaiet

August 8, 2022
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Around the world, students are required to master the art of essay writing. 

Some of us love essays, and some of us despise them. Wherever you sit on this spectrum, there’s no denying that essay writing is an integral part of academic development. 

Essay writing helps students clarify and comprehend ideas and information, analyze material, and think critically. It also lets them sharpen their writing skills, structure arguments, and write logically and persuasively.

Synthesis essays can develop these skills even further. 

To write a successful synthesis essay, you must:

  • Be inquisitive
  • Extensively explore research and literature
  • Merge ideas to produce your own thoughts or arguments 

It’s truly an exercise of intellect. 

Before you get started on your next synthesis essay, read this post. We’ll teach you everything you need to know about how to write a persuasive and original synthesis essay.

What is a synthesis essay?

A synthesis essay draws on information from various sources to create an original argument, idea, or question about some given topic. Synthesis essays are common assignments in high school and college classes.

When time is a factor like during exams, professors often give students a prompt and sources. Other times, students will have the freedom to choose their own topic. 

In a synthesis essay, you should: 

  • Demonstrate your understanding of the topic
  • Illustrate your critical thinking and analytical skills
  • Prove your ability to develop an original argument, thought, or idea 

Synthesis vs summary: What’s the difference?

Synthesizing and summarizing are both important skills used in reading, research, and writing. 

A synthesis combines ideas from more than one text or source to present a new idea or argument. 

On the other hand, a summary identifies the significant elements of a source and condenses it into only the key information. 

The two main differences are:

  • The number of sources incorporated in the piece 
  • How the sources are analyzed 

For example, say there was a study about a recent rise in the popularity of food trucks. A summary would capture the essence of the study. A synthesis would draw on other sources to make a new argument

A summary would explain the key points of the study. Meanwhile, a synthesis essay may try to explain that the rise in food truck popularity is because of the rise in inflation, which is leading people to search for better bargains when dining out.

Here are some other differences between summary and synthesis:

  • A summary is a basic reading and writing technique, while synthesis is more advanced.
  • A summary reiterates information from the source. A synthesis combines and contrasts information from a range of sources.
  • Summaries discuss one set of information at a time so that every source is distinct. Syntheses incorporate elements from a variety of sources into one harmonious piece. 
  • When composing a summary, the writer recaps the source’s points in their own words. When composing a synthesis, the writer understands the original authors’ points and creates something new from multiple sources. 

What are the types of synthesis essays?

There are three types of synthesis essays

  • Argumentative
  • Explanatory
  • Literature review

We briefly explain each type below.

What is an argumentative essay?

Two or more sources are synthesized in an argumentative synthesis essay to present a new argument. 

It follows the same structure as a typical argumentative essay and should have a thesis that argues one clear point. 

What is an explanatory synthesis essay?

An explanatory synthesis essay uses various sources to present a specific view backed by facts. 

This type of synthesis essay is more objective than an argumentative essay. It examines and contrasts ideas but doesn’t typically choose a side or make a specific argument.

What is a literature review synthesis essay?

A literature review synthesis essay aims to present an overview of the existing research on a specific area of study. 

It should:

  • Analyze research in the field
  • Identify areas needing further study
  • Make suggestions for future research 

A literature review can also present your overall perspective on the topic.

What are the synthesis essay formats?

Synthesis essay formats are:

  • MLA style
  • Chicago style
  • APA style 

The synthesis essay format you use depends on the field you are writing about and your professor’s preference. 

APA style is typically used for synthesis essays in:

 

  • Science
  • Education
  • Psychology 

Chicago style is typically used for synthesis essays in:

  • Business
  • Fine arts
  • History 

MLA style is typically used in the humanities.

Learn more about the standards of each formatting style below.

MLA style format

Here are the key points for using MLA format in your synthesis essay:

  • The title must be centered. 
  • Use Times New Roman font in 12 pt size.
  • Double space your essay and use 1” margins.
  • Include your first and last name, professor’s name, course number, and due date at the top of the document.
  • At the top right corner of every page, include your last name and the page number.
  • Include a “Works Cited” list on the final page of the essay. 

Chicago style format

Here are the key points for using the Chicago format in your synthesis essay:

  • Use Times New Roman font in 12 pt size.
  • Double space the text of the paper and use 1” margins.
  • New paragraphs should begin with a ½-inch indent.
  • The text should be left-justified with a rugged edge.
  • Use the full name when mentioning a person, place, or organization.
  • Include the bibliography on its own page at the end of your essay.

APA style format

Here are the key points for using the APA format in your synthesis essay:

  • The top of each page should have a page header.
  • Use Times New Roman in 12 pt font. 
  • Double space the text and use 1” margins. 
  • The synthesis essay should be in four sections: 
  • Title page
  • Abstract
  • Main body paragraphs
  • Bibliography 
  • Include a page number in the top right corner of every page.

How to write a synthesis essay in 6 steps 

Writing a synthesis essay requires combining multiple sources into one unique idea, but that doesn’t mean the whole process needs to be complicated.

We’ve broken the process down into six steps below. 

Step 1: Analyze the source

Like most other types of writing, you need to start your synthesis essay with research. When conducting research, analyze and evaluate your sources thoroughly. 

Here are some questions you can ask about each source to help with your analysis:

  • What are the limitations of the source? Where is it lacking?
  • For example: Is the research up to date? Are there any limitations to the research method chosen? Could the author be biased?
  • Are the arguments presented in the source backed up by facts?
  • Does the piece support or challenge the essay’s prompt or topic?
  • How does this source compare or contrast to others you’ve analyzed?


After you’ve analyzed your sources, you should have a good idea of the stance you will take in your essay.

Also, remember to highlight the important text and take notes as you read. It’ll help you later!

Step 2: Choose an interesting title

Grab your reader’s attention from the get-go with an interesting title. 

Your title should strike a balance between informative and intriguing. Make sure that it’s: 

  • Easy to read
  • Accurate
  • To the point

Step 3: Build an outline

Before you put pen to paper, build an outline for your essay. 

Creating an outline first allows you to sort out your ideas so you can focus on presenting those thoughts later on. It produces an essay that is more organized and less likely to ramble.

Your outline should create the framework for your introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion. 

Here are some tips for building a synthesis essay outline:

  • Brainstorm your ideas on paper before you organize your outline.
  • Choose the argument you will make and the main points you’ll use to support it. 
  • In your introduction, think about how you will introduce the topic. You should also start writing your thesis statement now. Learn how to write a thesis statement here
  • Each body paragraph should discuss a different point that supports your thesis. 
  • Think about how you might reiterate your thesis statement in your conclusion.

Step 4: Craft an introduction

The introduction is where you set the scene for your synthesis essay. It should hook the reader and make them want to know more. 

Throughout your introduction paragraph, present the topic and provide a background of the issue. Discuss the relevance of your topic and stress its importance. 

Then you need to add your thesis statement. It’s the last and most important part of your introduction paragraph. Think of it as the blueprint for your synthesis essay. 

Your thesis statement should briefly articulate your argument, idea, or question. It should also address how you’ll support this perspective. 

Step 5: Develop the main body paragraphs

Most synthesis essays have three body paragraphs

To create a strong body paragraph, you can follow this common formula: 

  • Topic sentence
  • Supporting sentences
  • Closing or transition sentence 

Each body paragraph should discuss different points supporting your thesis. Throughout your body paragraphs, the reader should understand the common theme between your sources and their relevance to the text. 

To make your writing more dynamic, include counterarguments

Start by acknowledging evidence that differs from your argument. Then refute the stance by using sources to demonstrate why your position is more correct. 

Using counterarguments helps make your essay more compelling because it shows the reader that you’ve examined multiple sides of the topic. 

Step 6: Write a conclusion

You’re almost at the finish line.

There’s just one thing left, and it’s pretty important: the conclusion paragraph!

Your synthesis essay’s conclusion paragraph should tie everything together and emphasize the significance of your findings. However, this is often easier said than done.

Start by restating your thesis. Make sure it’s paraphrased to present a new interpretation. 

Then take the key points from each of your body paragraphs and wrap them up to illustrate their significance to your thesis. 

Finally, the last sentence should be a clincher that compels the reader to take a refreshed view of the subject and give them a sense of closure. 

Tips on writing a synthesis essay

Congrats, you now know how to write a synthesis essay!

However, if you want to take your synthesis essay writing to the next level, be sure to follow these 10 tips:

  1. Choose a topic that you’re passionate about.
  2. Choose a specific topic. If it’s too broad, it will be impossible to cover the entire scope adequately. For example, writing a synthesis essay on the impact Instagram has on stereotyping is better than an essay on how social media impacts our lives. 
  3. Conduct as much research as possible.
  4. Use high-quality sources such as peer-reviewed articles or scientific studies.
  5. Perfect your thesis statement before writing your paper. 
  6. Always create an outline before you start writing.
  7. Don’t straddle the fence. Make sure to pick a side that you can substantiate with evidence.
  8. Remember, it’s a synthesis, not a summary. You’re not meant to tell the reader what the source is about. Instead, you need to demonstrate your sources' common themes and ideas.
  9. Take breaks! 
  10. Have a peer (or multiple) proofread your essay. The more feedback, the better!

Examples of synthesis essay topics and prompts

Synthesis essay topics can fall under a wide range of fields and disciplines. So, the prompt possibilities are endless! 

If you need a synthesis essay topic or prompt to write about, check out our list of interesting ones below:

  • How does poverty affect children’s future financial habits?
  • How has artificial intelligence changed employment opportunities in the last 10 years?
  • Is there an income gap between men and women in the United States?
  • How will the rise in inflation in the United States affect global warming in the next 5 years?
  • Is euthanasia ethical?
  • Is the American Dream still relevant today?
  • Is social media making younger generations more consumerist? 
  • Should all drugs be decriminalized?
  • Does exposure to violent content influence violent actions in real life?
  • Do schools still need standardized testing?

Conclusion

Among all the types of essays, few require the level of critical thinking and analysis as the synthesis essay. 

By following this helpful roadmap, you can feel confident in knowing how to write a synthesis essay that seamlessly merges sources to create a powerful new idea, argument, or question.

Make sure you’re always submitting your best work with the help of Copy.ai

Copy.ai is a free AI content generation tool that simplifies the writing process. Use it to create a knockout introduction and conclusion paragraph for your next synthesis essay. 

How to write a synthesis essay is part of an ongoing series of how to write that includes, but is not limited to the following topics:

How to write an argumentative essay

How to write a rhetorical analysis
How to write a thesis statement
How to write a scholarship essay

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