How to Write a Synthesis Essay

How to Write a Synthesis Essay

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  1. What is a Synthesis Essay?
  2. Three types of Synthesis Essays
  3. Techniques to use when developing your Synthesis Essay
  4. How to write a Synthesis Essay: The General Structure
  5. Synthesis Essay Topics
  6. Important Tips for Topic Selection

 The Definition of a Synthesis Essay

A synthesis essay is a form of writing that requires a student to come up with an idea that must be supported by several peer-reviewed sources.

A synthesis essay is usually used in AP language and composition writing.

This type of essay is similar to a research paper except for the fact that a synthesis essay has time and topic restrictions while a research paper does not. In other words, a synthesis essay has a timeframe, a predetermined topic, and predetermined sources.

A synthesis essay must state a claim by presenting a variety of supporting evidence.

It must also have substantial evidence, which includes: facts, observations, statistics, relevant anecdotes, opinions from experts, and so forth.

The ideas in a synthesis essay must be presented in a logical manner.

Also, you must be in a position to convince your readers that you understand the essay assignment and that you can apply your ideas and thoughts and the ideas you’ve gathered from the relevant and reliable sources to build a persuasive argument.

To argue your point, it must have a foundation of already proven points.

A synthesis essay requires two texts or two things put together to create a new idea that could not exist without both of them.

For example

A synthesis essay could be summarized with the equation below:

A + B = C (Synthesis Essay Topic)

Think of a synthesis essay as a recipe for preparing a cake. For you to prepare a cake, you will need wheat flour, oil, sugar, and eggs. If we choose to forget the flour in the preparation process, we will end up with a sugary oily thing that is disgusting.

In the AP writing or composition writing context, take, for example, the documentary Emmanuel’s Gift.

One of the main themes in Emmanuel’s Gift is:

A = Heart matters more than the physical abilities

While in the novel Habibi, one of the main themes is:

B = Love overcomes differences

You can build your synthesis essay from the above by taking the two themes from the documentary and the novel to come up with the idea that never existed, such as:

 C = In an ideal society, what matters most is on the inside, not on the outside.

Another example:

A = “Dolphins go crazy in captivity.”

B = “Zoos are cruel”

C = Mammals are best left to exist outside captivity (this will be the topic for your synthesis essay)

Categories of Synthesis Essays

1. Argumentative Synthesis Essays

An argumentative synthesis essay provides your opinion regarding a particular issue by supporting the issue with reliable evidence. An argumentative synthesis essay could be considered as a debate forum where the author must offer views from both ends of the argument, then give their convincing stand insofar as the debate is concerned. The author has to organize his or her content logically in order to support their thesis. It is important to note that the thesis of an argumentative synthesis essay is debatable. The thesis of an argumentative synthesis makes a proposition in which people could agree or disagree, and any other writers working using the same sources may support or disagree with your proposition.

The sources are solely used to augment or support your own argument. You are not required to summarize the sources; you are only expected to use what the sources say for your own purpose.

Position papers, also known as white business papers, usually take the form of an argumentative synthesis essay. This category of a synthesis essay is also used by students while taking their AP tests.

Argumentative Synthesis Essay Writing Strategy

Step 1: Read the Essay Prompt

Consider what your examiner requires from you and determine your stand or opinion. It is worth noting that after reading the prompt, you could consider possible and relevant or controversial ideas. This should happen even before you start reading the available sources.

Step 2: Create a T-Chart of any other suitable organizational chart

Having in mind that an argumentative synthesis is debatable, you may be prompted to either agree or disagree. It is important that you list your facts/claims/information in a T-chart. Put the sources of your information in parentheses. Some sources may have multiple useful claims or facts.

[table id=2 /]

Step 3: Add essential claims or ideas as you go through the given sources

Remember to mark all the readings and circle key concepts. Look out for the points that you may support or disagree with. Marking the important points makes it easier for you to return and get what you need.

Question the claims made by writers and note any unsupported claims or logical fallacies. Look out for the assumptions made by the writer. Do not take what you see as the truth.

Consider jotting down a few notes every time you finish reading each source. The points are meant to help you understand the essence of the article.

Step 4: Refer back to your T-chart and select ideas that you can use to support your opinion

Ensure that you have at least three points that can make up three strong paragraphs for your essay.

Step 5: If necessary for the prompt, be prepared to address the opposition

Be ready to prepare a single paragraph that addresses the opposition’s viewpoint. The paragraph should also explain why you still disagree with the opposition.

Step 6: Create an Outline for your Paper

Determine the most appropriate opening strategy for your essay. Also, consider how you intend to close your essay. Logically organize your paragraphs in a manner that each paragraph supports a specific idea, which in itself supports your thesis statement.

Step 7: Write.

Keep in mind that your thesis statement should be at the end of the introductory paragraph, taking a clear and firm position.

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 An Explanatory Synthesis Essay

This type of essay is meant to educate your readers on a specific topic. An explanatory synthesis is also known as a background synthesis. The author is expected to divide a topic into numerous components, making it easy for the reader to understand. This type of essay does not advocate for any viewpoint, and its thesis statement is a weak one. In other words, an explanatory synthesis essay’s objective is not to argue a particular point but to present facts in an understandable and orderly manner.

The author must make it clear from the beginning what they intend to write about.

To make your readers have a clear understanding of a topic, this type of essay requires lots of explaining and support.

The explanations are usually in the body of the essays, which is divided into numerous subtopics organized in a logical manner.

In explaining, personal experiences such as interviews from real participants related to the topic could be quintessential as long as the academic voice and structure is maintained throughout the essay.

Reliable sources must also be incorporated in the body of the essay as they are the greatest tools in presenting any information that you have to your audience.

At this juncture, it is worth noting that your opinion or emotions are not needed in an explanatory synthesis essay. All that is required is a good number of credible or reliable sources.

An explanatory synthesis essay requires at least three credible sources for supporting your topic.

Lastly, do not create controversies to your readers. The sole purpose of your essay is to make your reader understand your topic more, not jumbling their minds further.

2. A Review

A review is a discussion of what has been previously written on a specific topic.

This type of synthesis essay requires a critical analysis of the incorporated sources.

A review is a justification of what a student intends to research on.

It does not need a thesis statement. However, its unstated thesis statement usually indicates that more research ought to be done in that specific area.

Most scholars consider a review as what most students term as a literature review.

A review is usually common in the field of medicine and social sciences.

Techniques for Developing your Synthesis Essay

1. The Comparison and Contrast Technique

This technique enables a student to analyze two reliable sources against each other. You have to look out for the differences as well as the similarities between the sources.

While using this technique, it is crucial that you intensively read your sources. Through intensive reading, you will be able to discover unique points in which the different authors agree or disagree.

2. The Strawman Technique

This technique introduces an argument against your thesis, then later on in the essay, you prove that the argument is not strong enough. This technique is quite useful as it demonstrates to your readers that you are conversant with all sorts of arguments regarding a specific topic.

The strawman technique first brings out the introduction and thesis, the argument, a refutation of the argument, then, at the end, your positive argument.

3. Summary Technique

This technique is not complicated. You are only expected to summarize all your sources. However, this technique is not popular as it does not show your thoughts. It could be considered as it makes your essay relevant.

4. Concession Technique

Just like the strawman, the concession technique presents opposing views; however, it does not demystify the opposition. Instead, it supports the opposition. This method is efficient, especially when you know that your audience supports the opposing view.

Writing your Synthesis Essay: General Structure 

Be sure to come up with the idea that you can argue and defend.

Also, the idea must be related to every single source that you have been provided with.

This idea is commonly referred to as the thesis statement.

A synthesis essay usually utilizes the five-paragraph structure of:

  1. The Introduction
  2. Three-body paragraphs and 
  3. A conclusion

The Introduction

The introduction is an essential segment of the essay as it introduces your readers to the topic of discussion. You have to get it right to get the best grade.

You are expected to introduce your topic of discussion, giving it some background information on what you intend to talk about.

You should also present all the sources that you will use to prove the idea that you have come up with.

Finally, finish the introduction by explaining the main idea, also known as the thesis statement.

The thesis statement represents the focus of your synthesis essay.

To shed more light, the introduction is made up of the following components:

A hook

A hook is supposed to capture the attention of your readers. Examples of hooks to use could be:

  • A definition
  • A little known or striking fact
  • A quotation or paraphrase
  • A statement of opinion that you intend to challenge
  • An amusing anecdote or incident that you intend to challenge
  • A question that will be answered by your thesis or will catch your reader’s attention and lead towards your thesis
  • An explanation of why the topic is worth writing or reading about

Background information

The background information provides your reader with an overview of your topic. It is usually made up of three to six sentences. The sentences should give a brief overview of the issue you want to discuss.

NB/ Do not go into your argument or start defending your claims or thesis. Save this for your supporting paragraphs.

Explain why your topic is controversial or relevant

One sentence should be dedicated to answering or briefly giving an overview of why your topic is controversial or relevant today. This is important as it reassures your readers why they should continue reading your essay.

The thesis Statement

It is the roadmap to your essay. It identifies the topic that you intend to discuss.

The example below is a perfect guide that you could use to understand more how you can prepare your introduction:

Sample Introduction for a Synthesis Essay


I bet you are familiar with the phrase, “Be sure to study for the test!” However, have you ever tried to consider whether standardized tests play any role in your overall success in education or life?

Background Information

Standardized testing took precedence in the year 2002 following the “No Child Left Behind Act” with this act, schools were expected to prove their annual growths. Otherwise, they risked getting shutdown, losing funding, or being taken over by the State. What followed? The performance of students in the United States went down from 18th to 27th in the whole world in the year 2012. The “No Child Left Behind Act” also increased State spending on education and tests by 160% compared to the previous years. Obama’s presidency saw the overhaul of the act by introducing “The Race to the Top” program. The program by Obama saw an increase in the use of test scores.

The relevance of the topic

Standardized testing has been used across the globe as many governments consider it a criterion for determining the good schools versus the bad ones or the bad teachers versus the good ones. The result of standardized tests is the death of many schools and teachers. Many professionals in the education sector, as well as intellects from various fields, consider standardized testing unfair. However, there is little they can do about the current situation when colleges consider it as the minimum entry requirement while high schools require it for graduation.

Thesis Statement

Standardized testing is flawed and detrimental as it plays a significant factor in the funding of a school, it fails to support student’s growth adequately, and it is a wreck to the mentality of students with the looming emphasis and importance that are placed on the test.

The Body Paragraphs

Each paragraph must address a specific and separate theme. The facts that you collect from different sources should be integrated and grouped based on specific themes.

Every paragraph must begin with a topical sentence that somehow addresses the thesis statement.

Don’t forget to include phrases that show the relationships between the different sources.

Synthesis essays are fundamentally informative. It is, therefore, important that you show how the various facts in your essay interact, their similarities and differences.

Be sure to indicate the facts and their sources by use of in-text citations, topic sentences, and transitions.

The body paragraphs could be represented in the following manner:

Topic Sentence

Evidence 1


Evidence 2


Paragraph Summary

The Conclusion

The conclusion is meant to remind your readers about the most important themes that you addressed, and most importantly, how these themes connect with the overall topic.

Be sure to restate your thesis statement in a tone of voice that infers confirmation. This makes your audience naturally inclined to agree with you.

Summarize the connection between every sub-idea with the thesis statement.

To finish, provide an overall concluding statement that presents the overall significance of the thesis statement.

In other words: how do your findings impact the situation? What steps should be taken to ensure positive progress in the field?

Important tip

Go through every sub-idea and make sure that there is an evident and logical link back to the thesis statement.

Proofread your work to ensure that there are no grammar mistakes.

Synthesis Essay Topics

In most cases, students are required to select a topic of their preference from the limited options that they have. Selecting the best topic for your synthesis essay may become a challenge. However, the following tips provide guidelines that students need to adhere to before selecting a perfect topic for their synthesis essay:

Important Tips for Proper Synthesis Essay Topic Selection

  • Ensure that your topic is not general

Synthesis essay is usually not very long, and the shorter an essay is, the more focused their topics should be. Therefore, avoid topics such as drug abuse, global warming, corruption, social media, and so forth as they are too general.

  • Your topic needs to be of interest to you

Selecting a topic that interests you makes it easy for you to even conduct the research. In fact, topics that interest you consume less time in research.

  • Select a debatable topic

A perfect synthesis essay will make your reader hesitate or disagree with the options that you offer them. There is no point in examining a synthesis essay if your audience automatically agrees with your text. Topics that make your reader automatically agree with you are never appealing.

  • Ensure that your topic is also negotiable

There is no need to research on a topic whose facts are unchangeable or obvious. Look for topics that have the potential for negotiable improvements or change.

Find below Trendy Synthesis Essay topics:

Global Warming Synthesis Essay Topics

  1. Global Warming is a scam by certain scientists
  2. Effects of global warming on farming
  3. No significant evidence proving that global warming is dangerous
  4. How has climate change affected the lifespan of people within the last 20 years?
  5. Little has been done in fighting the causes of global warming
  6. The threats of global warming are exaggerated
  7. How lifestyle contributes to global warming
  8. How can the United Kingdom/ United States be the leader in solving the global warming issue?
  9. How air pollution is the cause of global warming?
  10. Global warming is a natural cycle, not man-made
  11. Does the use of fossil fuels really result in global warming?
  12. Our efforts to solve the problem of global warming are useless and we shouldn’t take any measure
  13. Has the terrestrial life really been affected by global warming?
  14. Are the mitigation efforts to using renewable energy really efficient in managing global warming?
  15. We should look for more efficient measures to solve the issue of global warming.

Health and Medicine Synthesis Essay Topics

  1. Should doctors be held liable for medical errors?
  2. Is it morally right to test new drugs on animals?
  3. Should child vaccination be made mandatory?
  4. All Americans should have access to medical services for free
  5. Should TV. Commercials on alcohol and fast foods be banned?
  6. Womb transplantation: An alternative to surrogate pregnancy
  7. Should Marijuana be made legal all over the world?
  8. Is it true that exercising worsens your health?
  9. Effects of poverty on the health of newborns
  10. Should doctors be allowed to market some types of medical products?
  11. Given their destructive effects on human health, sugary drinks must be banned in the United States
  12. There should be limits to medical tests on humans
  13. Should abortion be made legal?
  14. How justified is the cost of healthcare in the United States?
  15. Should teens be permitted to access birth control pills?

Social Media Synthesis Essay Topics

  1. Is people’s privacy threatened by the use of Facebook?
  2. Has Facebook made teens anti-social?
  3. How has radicalization been propelled by the use of social media?
  4. How has journalism as a profession been affected by the use of social media?
  5. Ethical considerations that are ignored when setting up a social media account
  6. How has Instagram promoted social stereotyping
  7. Challenges that social media poses to our society
  8. Do online communities change the sense of belonging to teenagers?
  9. How has social media affected the academic performance of students
  10. To what extent should the use of social media be accepted at our places of work?
  11. Dating habits and the use of social media in the 21st century
  12. How has Instagram affected self-representation and black beauty standards if African-American women?
  13. Does YouTube affect the shopping style and patterns of Americans?
  14. How has time spent on the online platforms affected the satisfaction of most youths?
  15. Cyberbullying and the use of Social media

Synthesis Essay Topics on Education

  1. Should higher education be made free?
  2. Should grades exist?
  3. How has racial prejudice affected admission to colleges?
  4. Should college sportsmen and women be paid?
  5. The active role of parents in the educational process of their children
  6. Is online education compatible with the traditional one?
  7. Is higher education really worth its value?
  8. How does class size affect the academic performance of students?
  9. Should teachers be allowed to carry firearms into their classes?
  10. Do exams and tests play a significant role in assessing student’s knowledge?
  11. Does the use of technology improve the educational process?
  12. How does the dress code affect student performance?
  13. How has technology affected the way of learning
  14. Does the size of a class affect the effectiveness of a teacher?
  15. Is homework really necessary for high school students?

Technology Synthesis Essay Topics

  1. How has machine learning affected productivity at work?
  2. Has technology made people more independent or lazier?
  3. The threats of drones towards personal privacy
  4. Should the developed nations be concerned about the accessibility of the internet to the rest of the world?
  5. Does modern technology contribute to the widening of the gap between the rich and the poor?
  6. Is it true that solving one human problem by use of technology results to another problem?
  7. How has artificial intelligence changed the way of doing things at the workplace within the last five years?
  8. Is technology the opposite of nature?
  9. Is it true that video games contribute to real-life terrorism and extremism?
  10. Modern technology in transport and its effect on cities
  11. Does artificial production result in overproduction?
  12. Has technology changed people?
  13. How has the atomic bomb affected human practices?
  14. Has technology made people smarter or dumber?
  15. Should the US government invest in the development of new weaponry?

The American Dream, Immigration, and Culture Synthesis Essay Topics

  1. Does the American dream still work?
  2. The US government should/should not limit immigration
  3. What makes a person color blind?
  4. Is the American dream worth pursuing?
  5. Should schools increase teachers’ diversity?
  6. How can culturally diversified societies in the US promote understanding and equality?
  7. Is the American dream achievable?
  8. How do mainstream body standards affect the behavior of minority girls and boys?
  9. How has culture promoted gender inequality in our societies?
  10. How do we control the culture of online shaming?
  11. Is the American dream still alive?
  12. Is it Absurd to Believe the American dream?
  13. Should people judge others on how they achieve the American dream?
  14. Does the influx of immigrants’ limit employment opportunities to the United States citizens?
  15. What are the effects of immigration on the economy of the United States?

Ethics Synthesis Essay Topics

  1. Should convicts have the right to vote?
  2. Is it ethically appropriate to have plastic surgery?
  3. Should assisted suicides be allowed for terminally ill patients?
  4. Does the accumulation of wealth and property make people happy really?
  5. Talent versus Hard work: which one is most important for success?
  6. Would you speak out if you saw your friend abusing an animal?
  7. Are breeding genetically engineered animals ethical?
  8. Should soccer coaches be paid more than professors?
  9. How does complaining affect your sense of happiness?
  10. Nature versus nurture: which is most important
  11. How has global warming affected the world’s flora and fauna?
  12. Would you tell if you saw a popular friend cheating on a test?
  13. Should church and politics be separated?
  14. Is it appropriate to adopt a child from a different ethnicity?
  15. Does your vote make a difference? Do we need to vote?
  1. Reading eBooks versus reading paper books

Law and Justice System in the United States Synthesis Essay Topics

  1. How should the government resolve the issue of prison overcrowding?
  2. Why do men receive capital punishment more often than women?
  3. Are the laws protecting domestic violence victims enough?
  4. Is the jury selection process fair?
  5. Can police brutality be curbed?
  6. Are the poor more likely to end up in jail than the rich?
  7. Should prostitution be legalized?
  8. Is the due process really necessary to an obvious criminal?
  9. Is date rape real or a setup?
  10. What are the best measures for crime prevention?
  11. Should offenders be punished or rehabilitated?
  12. Are rapists punished enough according to the current judicial system?
  13. Why should African-Americans be overrepresented in the Judicial system?
  14. Should the United States Constitution be interpreted literally or should it be treated as a living document?
  15. Is it sexual harassment or is it that some women are just provocative?
  1. Is there an overlap between murder and homicide?

Art and Literature Synthesis Essay Topics

  1. What’s the role of arts in our daily lives?
  2. Are Television commercials art?
  3. Does fiction distract people from reality or does it promote progress?
  4. Is photography art?
  5. Which musical training can make you more successful?
  6. Has the television captured the diversity of America yet?
  7. Does reality TV promote stereotypes?
  8. Which is better: Reading an audiobook or a paper book?
  9. Is there a line between fiction and the truth?
  10. Is graffiti artwork?
  11. How classical music influences concentration and attentiveness in learning
  12. Should game vendors sell violent video games to minors?
  13. Will musical training make you more successful?
  14. Should the electronic libraries completely replace the traditional brick and mortar libraries?
  15. Is the TV becoming obsolete or it is stronger than ever?
  16. Are modern video games works of art?
  1. Are video games a sport?
  2. Is television too white?

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