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How to Write a Synthesis Essay

Last Updated: February 3, 2023 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Christopher Taylor, PhD . Christopher Taylor is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of English at Austin Community College in Texas. He received his PhD in English Literature and Medieval Studies from the University of Texas at Austin in 2014. There are 13 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 1,110,228 times.

Writing a synthesis essay requires the ability to digest information and present it in an organized fashion. While this skill is developed in high school and college classes, it translates to the business and advertising world as well. Scroll down to Step 1 to begin learning how to write a synthesis essay.

Examining Your Topic

Step 1 Understand the concept of a synthesis essay.

  • Argument synthesis: This type of essay has a strong thesis statement that presents the writer's point of view. It organizes relevant information gathered from research in a logical manner to support the thesis' point of view. Business white papers known as position papers often take this form. This is the type of synthesis essay that students will write during the AP test.
  • Review: Often written as a preliminary essay to an argument synthesis, a review essay is a discussion of what has been written previously on a topic, with a critical analysis of the sources covered. Its unstated thesis is usually that more research needs to be done in that area or that the topic problem has not been adequately addressed. This type of paper is common in social science classes and in medicine.
  • Explanatory/background synthesis: This type of essay helps readers understand a topic by categorizing facts and presenting them to further the reader's understanding. It does not advocate a particular point of view, and if it has a thesis statement, the thesis is a weak one. Some business white papers take this form, although they are more likely to have a point of view, if understated.

Step 2 Choose a topic suitable for a synthesis essay.

  • Example of a broad topic narrowed down into a reasonable synthesis essay topic: Instead of the broad topic of Social Media, you could discuss your view on the effects texting has had on the English language.
  • If you've been assigned a topic as part of a class, make sure you read the prompt carefully and fully understand it.

Step 3 Choose and read your sources carefully.

  • Keep in mind that it's better to do three sources well than to do five sources incompletely.
  • Annotate each source by writing notes in the margins. This allows you to keep track of your train of thought, developing ideas, etc.

Step 4 Develop a thesis...

  • Example: Texting has had a positive impact on the English language as it has helped the millennial generation create their own form of the language.

Step 5 Re-read your source material for items to support your thesis.

  • If you wish to take on a claim by an opponent of your idea, and to poke holes in it, you should also find some ideas or quotes that go against your thesis statement, and plan ways to disprove them. This is called a concession, refutation, or rebuttal, which can strengthen your argument if you do it well.
  • Example : For the thesis statement listed above, excellent sources would include quotes from linguists discussing the new words that have developed through 'text-speak', statistics that show the English language has evolved with almost every generation, and facts that show students still have the ability to write with the use of grammar and spelling (which your opponents would bring up as the main reason texting has had a negative effect on the English language).

Outlining Your Essay

Step 1 Outline the structure of your thesis.

  • The introductory paragraph: 1. An introductory sentence that acts as a hook, capturing the reader's interest. 2. Identification of the issue you will be discussing. 3. Your thesis statement.
  • The body paragraphs: 1. Topic sentence that gives one reason to support your thesis. 2. Your explanation and opinion of the topic sentence. 3. Support from your sources that backs up the claim you just made. 4. Explanation of the significance of the source(s).
  • The conclusion paragraph: 1. State further significance of your topic from the evidence and reasons you discussed in the essay. 2. A profound thought or thoughtful ending for your paper.

Step 2 Use a more creative structure to present your thesis.

  • Example/illustration. This may be a detailed recount, summary, or direct quote from your source material that provides major support for your point of view. You may use more than one example or illustration, if your paper calls for it. You should not, however, make your paper a series of examples at the expense of supporting your thesis.
  • Straw man. With this technique, you present an argument opposed to the argument stated in your thesis, then show the weaknesses and flaws of the counter-argument. This format shows your awareness of the opposition and your readiness to answer it. You present the counter-argument right after your thesis, followed by the evidence to refute it, and end with a positive argument that supports your thesis. [6] X Research source
  • Concession. Essays with concessions are structured similar to those using the straw man technique, but they acknowledge the validity of the counter-argument while showing that the original argument is stronger. This structure is good for presenting papers to readers who hold the opposing viewpoint.
  • Comparison and contrast. This structure compares similarities and contrasts differences between two subjects or sources to show the facets of both. Writing an essay with this structure requires a careful reading of your source material to find both subtle and major points of similarity and difference. This kind of essay can present its arguments source-by-source or by points of similarity or difference.

Step 3 Create an outline appropriate for a background or review synthesis essay.

  • Summary. This structure presents summaries of each of your relevant sources, making a progressively stronger argument for your thesis. It provides specific evidence to support your point of view, but usually omits presenting your own opinions. It's most commonly used for background and review essays.
  • List of reasons. This is a series of sub-points that flow from the main point of your paper as stated in its thesis. Each reason is supported with evidence. As with the summary method, reasons should become progressively more important, with the most important reason last.

Writing Your Essay

Step 1 Write your first draft according to your outline.

  • Your essay should have an introductory paragraph that includes your thesis , a body to present evidence that supports your thesis, and a conclusion that summarizes your point of view.

Step 2 Write in the third person.

  • Lengthy quotes of three lines or more should generally be set off as block quotes to better call attention to them. [9] X Trustworthy Source Purdue Online Writing Lab Trusted resource for writing and citation guidelines Go to source

Finalizing Your Essay

Step 1 Revise your essay.

  • Ask someone else to proofread your paper. The saying “two heads are better than one” still holds true. Ask a friend or colleague what would they add or remove from the paper. Most importantly, does your argument make sense, and is it clearly supported by your sources?

Step 2 Proofread your paper.

  • Read the paper aloud to guarantee that you don't accidentally add in or take out words when reading in your head.
  • If you can, get a friend or classmate to proofread your essay as well.

Step 3  Cite your...

  • Example of citing in an AP synthesis essay: McPherson claims “texting has changed the English language in a positive way--it has given a new generation their own unique way to communicate” (Source E).
  • For college essays, you'll most likely use MLA format. Whichever format you use, be consistent in its use. You may also be asked to use APA or Chicago style.

Step 4 Title your essay.

  • Example title: : English and the iPhone: Exploring the Benefits of 'Text-Speak'

Outline Template

how to write synthesis essay

Community Q&A

Community Answer

Video . By using this service, some information may be shared with YouTube.

  • Just as your title should fit your essay instead of writing your essay to fit the title, your thesis, once chosen, should direct your subsequent research instead of subsequent research altering your thesis � unless you find you've adopted an unsupportable thesis. Thanks Helpful 21 Not Helpful 8

how to write synthesis essay

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Write a Reflection Paper

  • ↑ https://success.uark.edu/get-help/student-resources/synthesis-paper.php
  • ↑ https://www.unr.edu/writing-speaking-center/student-resources/writing-speaking-resources/mapping-a-synthesis-essay
  • ↑ https://www.bgsu.edu/content/dam/BGSU/learning-commons/documents/writing/synthesis/planning-synthesis-essay.pdf
  • ↑ https://writingcenterofprinceton.com/synthesis-essays-a-step-by-step-how-to-guide/
  • ↑ https://jan.ucc.nau.edu/dso6/synthesis.htm
  • ↑ https://owl.excelsior.edu/argument-and-critical-thinking/logical-fallacies/logical-fallacies-straw-man/
  • ↑ https://www.montgomery.k12.ky.us/userfiles/2062/Classes/38481/outline%20for%20synthesis%20essay.pdf?id=480293
  • ↑ https://writingcommons.org/section/rhetoric/rhetorical-stance/point-of-view/third-person-point-of-view/
  • ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/mla_style/mla_formatting_and_style_guide/mla_formatting_quotations.html
  • ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/the_writing_process/proofreading/steps_for_revising.html
  • ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/the_writing_process/proofreading/proofreading_suggestions.html
  • ↑ http://www.edhs.org/ourpages/auto/2010/5/17/41759867/Synthesis%20Essay%20Introduction.pdf
  • ↑ https://writing.umn.edu/sws/assets/pdf/quicktips/titles.pdf

About This Article

Christopher Taylor, PhD

To write a synthesis essay, start by coming up with a thesis statement that you can support using all of the sources you've read for your essay. For example, your thesis statement could be "Texting has had a positive impact on the English language." Once you've got your thesis, go through your sources to find specific quotes, facts, and statistics that back up your claim. Structure your essay so it has an introduction that includes your thesis statement, a body that includes your arguments and evidence, and a conclusion that wraps everything up. For more tips on structuring your synthesis essay, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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how to write synthesis essay

How to Write a Synthesis Essay: Your Guide From Start to Finish

how to write synthesis essay

In the fast-paced landscape of today's information age, the average person contends with an astonishing volume of data, akin to reading around 174 newspapers daily. The sources are diverse, ranging from news articles and social media updates to scientific studies and beyond. This constant deluge of information might create a sense of being overwhelmed—a feeling of drowning in a sea of facts, opinions, and statistics. Yet, amidst this information onslaught, the skill to synthesize and extract meaning is indispensable. As we navigate this era of data saturation, the ability to sift through and comprehend this abundance is not just valuable; it's a fundamental skill for navigating the complexities of our modern world.

How to Write a Synthesis Essay: Short Description

This guide goes beyond merely helping you navigate the sea of information; it empowers you to leverage it for crafting compelling synthesis essays. We'll walk you through crucial steps and tips, revealing the secrets to successful synthesis essay writing. Uncover the format that lends structure and clarity to your work, and master the art of selecting an essay topic that not only engages but also sparks critical thinking. So, let's delve in and discover how to transform fragmented information into coherent and persuasive essays that leave a lasting impression.

What Is a Synthesis Essay: Understanding Its Nature and Purpose

According to our ' write paper for me ' experts, the synthesis essay emerges as a dynamic catalyst in the realm of composition. Beyond the act of assembling disparate facts and opinions, it's a nuanced process of weaving coherence. Envision it as constructing an intricate tapestry from scattered threads.

The purpose of writing a synthesis essay extends far beyond the mere presentation of information; it beckons a deeper intellectual dive. This genre challenges writers to extract commonalities from diverse sources—be they articles, studies, or arguments—and leverage these connections to construct a compelling and persuasive narrative.

In our era of information saturation, this essay form has become an indispensable tool for insightful minds. It not only permits exploration of how diverse ideas interconnect but also serves as a platform for articulating well-considered perspectives on intricate subjects. Whether navigating through the realms of literature, science, history, or contemporary affairs, this kind of essay becomes a showcase of analytical finesse, offering a holistic viewpoint. It transcends the role of a mere knowledge conveyor; instead, it unveils profound insights by adeptly linking diverse pieces of information.

Explanatory vs. Argumentative Synthesis Essays: Key Differences

In the domain of synthesis writing, two primary categories come to the fore: explanatory and argumentative. Grasping the distinction between these is pivotal as it defines the purpose, tone, and approach of your essay.

Explanatory :

An explanatory synthesis essay precisely lives up to its name—it explains. These essays strive to offer an unbiased and well-balanced perspective on a topic by collecting information from various sources and presenting it in a clear, organized manner. The aim here is not to adopt a stance or persuade but rather to inform and clarify. Often serving as comprehensive overviews, they break down intricate concepts, theories, or ideas for a wider audience. These essays heavily lean on factual data and expert opinions to provide a thorough picture, steering clear of personal bias or persuasion.

Argumentative :

Conversely, argumentative synthesis essays are all about persuasion. They engage in the synthesis process with the primary goal of taking a stance on a particular issue or topic. They gather information from various sources not only to present a well-rounded view but also to construct a compelling argument. Argumentative essays aim to convince the reader of a specific viewpoint, leveraging the gathered information as evidence to support their claims. These papers inherently express opinions and employ rhetorical strategies to sway the reader's perspective.

And if you're keen on knowing how to write an informative essay , we've got you covered on that, too!

Synthesis Essay Structure

Knowing how to write a synthesis essay effectively is comparable to constructing a resilient building—it relies on a strong foundation. To guide you through this process, consider the following structured approach:

Introductory Paragraph: 

  • Creating a robust synthesis essay is comparable to constructing a resilient building—it relies on a strong foundation. To guide you through this process, consider the following structured approach:
  • Start with an engaging hook or an intriguing fact to immediately capture your reader's attention. Provide contextual information about your topic and the sources you'll be synthesizing. Present a concise and clear thesis statement outlining your primary argument or viewpoint.
  • If your topic requires it, incorporate background information to help readers understand the context of the sources.

Body Paragraphs:

  • Dedicate each paragraph to a specific sub-topic or source. Begin with a clear topic sentence directly related to your thesis. Introduce the source you're synthesizing and outline its key points.
  • Support your arguments with evidence from the source, employing quotes, paraphrases, or summaries. Analyze and interpret the source, elucidating its connection to your thesis and other sources.
  • Address counterarguments if relevant, ensuring a comprehensive exploration. Transition seamlessly between paragraphs to maintain the fluidity of your essay.
  • This pivotal section serves as the nexus between your sources, revealing intersections, divergences, or complementary aspects.
  • Highlight common themes, patterns, or contradictions among your sources.
  • Leverage your analysis to construct a coherent argument or perspective.
  • If pertinent, acknowledge opposing viewpoints and counter them with well-reasoned arguments.


  • Restate your thesis and succinctly summarize the main points of your essay.
  • Emphasize the significance of your argument, elucidating its broader implications.
  • Conclude with a thought-provoking statement or a compelling call to action.


  • Include a comprehensive list of all sources used in your essay, adhering to the prescribed citation style (e.g., MLA, APA).

Choosing a Synthesis Essay Topic: A Guide to Decision-Making

Selecting essay topics marks just the starting point; the synthesis process demands a critical evaluation and connection of various sources to construct a coherent argument or perspective. Here's a systematic approach to guide you in making an informed choice when choosing synthesis essay topics:

choosing a synthesis essay topic

How to Write a Synthesis Essay: Key Steps and Tips

Much like a compare and contrast essay , the process of writing a synthesis essay demands a systematic approach to effectively integrate information from various sources into a cohesive and compelling argument. Here are essential steps and insights to assist you throughout this journey:

  • Clarify Your Purpose

Define whether you are composing an explanatory or argumentative synthesis essay, as this choice will shape your approach and tone.

  • Source Selection and Analysis

Carefully pick credible and pertinent sources that contribute to your synthesis essay topic. Maintain a balance among different source types, such as academic articles, books, and reputable websites. Critically analyze each source, identifying the main ideas, arguments, and evidence presented.

  • Formulate a Strong Thesis Statement

Develop a clear and concise thesis statement that communicates your central argument or perspective. Your synthesis essay thesis statement should serve as the guiding force for the entire essay.

  • Structure Your Essay

Organize your essay with a well-structured synthesis essay outline, typically featuring an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Each body paragraph should center on a specific aspect of your topic, utilizing evidence from your sources to support your points.

  • Employ Effective Transition Sentences

Use transition sentences to smoothly connect paragraphs and ideas, ensuring a seamless flow in your essay.

  • Synthesize Information

Within the body paragraphs, synthesize information from your sources. Discuss how each source contributes to your thesis and identify common themes or contradictions.

  • Avoid Simple Summarization

Refuse the urge to merely summarize your sources. Instead, engage with them critically and employ them as building blocks for your argument.

  • Address Counterarguments (if applicable)

Recognize opposing viewpoints and counter them with well-reasoned arguments, showcasing a thorough understanding of the topic.

  • Craft a Resolute Conclusion

In your conclusion, restate your thesis and summarize your main points. Emphasize the significance of your argument or insights. Conclude with a thought-provoking closing statement or a compelling call to action.

  • Revise and Proofread

Review your essay for clarity, coherence, and grammar errors. Ensure your citations are accurate and consistent with the chosen citation style (e.g., MLA, APA).

  • Seek Feedback

Consider obtaining feedback from peers, instructors, or writing centers to enhance the overall quality of your essay.

  • Edit for Conciseness

Eliminate unnecessary repetition and ensure your writing is concise and direct, and don't overlook this step while learning how to write a good synthesis essay.

Ready to Transform Your Synthesis Essay from Bland to Grand?

Let's tap into the magic of our expert wordsmiths, who will create an essay that dances with ideas and dazzles with creativity!

Synthesis Essay Format

The structure of your synthesis paper hinges on the specific formatting style prescribed by your instructor. The most frequently employed styles encompass MLA, APA, and Chicago, each catering to distinct academic disciplines. APA takes center stage in Education, Psychology, and Science; MLA is the preferred choice for citations in Humanities, while the Chicago style finds its application in Business, History, and Fine Arts.

synthesis essay format

1. MLA (Modern Language Association):

  • Incorporates in-text citations featuring the author's last name and page number.
  • Concludes with a 'Works Cited' page at the paper's end, listing all sources alphabetically.
  • Prioritizes authorship and publication date.
  • Applied in academic essays, research papers, and literary analyses.

2. APA (American Psychological Association):

  • Utilizes in-text citations containing the author's last name and publication date within parentheses.
  • Includes a 'References' page, presenting all sources in alphabetical order.
  • Highlights the publication date and emphasizes scientific precision.
  • Adopted for research papers, scholarly articles, and empirical studies.

3. Chicago Style:

  • Provides two documentation styles: Notes-Bibliography (commonly used in humanities) and Author-Date (commonly used in social sciences).
  • Notes-Bibliography style incorporates footnotes or endnotes for citations, while the Author-Date style uses in-text citations with a reference list.
  • Suitable for a diverse array of academic writing, including research papers, theses, and historical studies.
  • Allows for flexibility in formatting and citation methods.

Synthesis Essay Example

In this section, we present two synthesis essay examples that exemplify the practical application of the synthesis process. They delve into intriguing topics and serve as practical guides for those looking to master the art of writing this kind of paper.

Synthesis Essay Example MLA

An article published by Jean Twenge clearly warns readers that the rise in the use of smartphones in the modern world is ruining teenagers. Furthermore, the author makes a sensational claim that the rise in social media and smartphone usage are creating a metaphorical earthquake, the likes of which have never been previously witnessed in the world. The author provides pieces of evidence from other studies concerning the issue, as well as personal observations—all of which support Twenge’s claim. According to Twenge, the main theory for claiming that smartphone and social media usage result in destroying a generation is that increased use of these two platforms results in mental depression and other mental problems. This paper will mainly refute the claims of the author by focusing on the issues raised by the author’s work.

Sample Synthesis Paper APA Style

Society has various aspects that signify the difference in lifestyles and behaviors amongst individuals in a community. Language is one of these essential aspects that help to identify individuals in a society. Identification of a common language will generalize a specific group of individuals possessing the same culture, even if they are from different races. In this essay, let’s examine how language defines our identity in society. Let’s also look at how two different authors have given different views about how language defines black schoolchildren in the Oakland School District.

Synthesis Essay Tips

Developing a compelling paper necessitates a reflective approach and strategic methodologies. Here are five crucial tips for writing a synthesis essay:

Thoughtful Source Selection : Opt for varied, reliable sources offering diverse perspectives on your chosen topic. Verify that your sources are recent and pertinent to the subject under consideration.

Skillful Source Integration : Steer clear of merely summarizing your sources; instead, seamlessly integrate them into your essay by analyzing, comparing, and contrasting their ideas. Demonstrate the connections between sources to construct a coherent narrative.

Maintain an Even-Handed Tone : In the process of learning how to write a synthesis essay, uphold a balanced tone in your writing. Despite personal opinions, synthesis essays demand objectivity. Present different viewpoints impartially and without bias.

Prioritize Synthesis, Not Recapitulation : Keep in mind that synthesis essays revolve around linking ideas, not solely summarizing sources. Scrutinize the relationships between sources and offer insights into how they interconnect to build a cohesive argument.

Address Counterarguments Deliberately : Similar to addressing persuasive essays topics , engage with counterarguments in a considerate and deliberate manner. Acknowledge opposing viewpoints and then elucidate why your perspective stands on firmer ground. This showcases a comprehensive understanding of the topic.

What Makes Synthesis Significant?

The importance of synthesis lies in its role in nurturing critical thinking and intellectual development. It provides a means for individuals to link varied ideas, information, and perspectives from multiple sources, fostering a comprehensive understanding of intricate subjects. Synthesis proves crucial in academic, professional, and real-world scenarios, empowering us to make informed decisions, construct compelling arguments, and tackle complex problems. Ultimately, it enables us to synthesize not just information but also our thoughts, fostering deeper comprehension and enriched perspectives. If you're looking for assistance in writing a paper, you can consider the option to order essay from our expert writing service.

How Should You Conclude a Synthesis Essay?

Writing a synthesis essay conclusion effectively is essential for making a lasting impression on your readers. Summarize your final section concisely in one paragraph by succinctly restating the thesis, providing a brief recap of the main supporting points, and underlining the broader significance of the synthesized information. When unsure how to write a conclusion , remember that this paragraph should leave readers with a sense of closure, reinforcing the importance of the central argument and ensuring that the impact of your essay extends beyond its final word.

Concluding Thoughts

When creating a synthesis essay, the crucial aspect involves choosing a range of reliable sources, skillfully integrating them to form a cohesive argument, and upholding objectivity. Utilize clear transitions, carefully consider counterarguments, and prioritize analysis over mere summarization. By employing these strategies, you'll craft essays that inform, persuade, and captivate your audience!

Want an Essay that Sings, Sparkles, and Stuns?

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Sat / act prep online guides and tips, how to write a perfect synthesis essay for the ap language exam.

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Advanced Placement (AP)


If you're planning to take the AP Language (or AP Lang) exam , you might already know that 55% of your overall exam score will be based on three essays. The first of the three essays you'll have to write on the AP Language exam is called the "synthesis essay." If you want to earn full points on this portion of the AP Lang Exam, you need to know what a synthesis essay is and what skills are assessed by the AP Lang synthesis essay.

In this article, we'll explain the different aspects of the AP Lang synthesis essay, including what skills you need to demonstrate in your synthesis essay response in order to achieve a good score. We'll also give you a full breakdown of a real AP Lang Synthesis Essay prompt, provide an analysis of an AP Lang synthesis essay example, and give you four tips for how to write a synthesis essay.

Let's get started by taking a closer look at how the AP Lang synthesis essay works!

Synthesis Essay AP Lang: What It Is and How It Works

The AP Lang synthesis essay is the first of three essays included in the Free Response section of the AP Lang exam.

The AP Lang synthesis essay portion of the Free Response section lasts for one hour total . This hour consists of a recommended 15 minute reading period and a 40 minute writing period. Keep in mind that these time allotments are merely recommendations, and that exam takers can parse out the allotted 60 minutes to complete the synthesis essay however they choose.

Now, here's what the structure of the AP Lang synthesis essay looks like. The exam presents six to seven sources that are organized around a specific topic (like alternative energy or eminent domain, which are both past synthesis exam topics).

Of these six to seven sources, at least two are visual , including at least one quantitative source (like a graph or pie chart, for example). The remaining four to five sources are print text-based, and each one contains approximately 500 words.

In addition to six to seven sources, the AP Lang exam provides a written prompt that consists of three paragraphs. The prompt will briefly explain the essay topic, then present a claim that students will respond to in an essay that synthesizes material from at least three of the sources provided.

Here's an example prompt provided by the College Board:

Directions : The following prompt is based on the accompanying six sources.

This question requires you to integrate a variety of sources into a coherent, well-written essay. Refer to the sources to support your position; avoid mere paraphrase or summary. Your argument should be central; the sources should support this argument .

Remember to attribute both direct and indirect citations.


Television has been influential in United States presidential elections since the 1960's. But just what is this influence, and how has it affected who is elected? Has it made elections fairer and more accessible, or has it moved candidates from pursuing issues to pursuing image?

Read the following sources (including any introductory information) carefully. Then, in an essay that synthesizes at least three of the sources for support, take a position that defends, challenges, or qualifies the claim that television has had a positive impact on presidential elections.

Refer to the sources as Source A, Source B, etc.; titles are included for your convenience.

Source A (Campbell) Source B (Hart and Triece) Source C (Menand) Source D (Chart) Source E (Ranney) Source F (Koppel)

Like we mentioned earlier, this prompt gives you a topic — which it briefly explains — then asks you to take a position. In this case, you'll have to choose a stance on whether television has positively or negatively affected U.S. elections. You're also given six sources to evaluate and use in your response. Now that you have everything you need, now your job is to write an amazing synthesis essay.

But what does "synthesize" mean, exactly? According to the CollegeBoard, when an essay prompt asks you to synthesize, it means that you should "combine different perspectives from sources to form a support of a coherent position" in writing. In other words, a synthesis essay asks you to state your claim on a topic, then highlight the relationships between several sources that support your claim on that topic. Additionally, you'll need to cite specific evidence from your sources to prove your point.

The synthesis essay counts for six of the total points on the AP Lang exam . Students can receive 0-1 points for writing a thesis statement in the essay, 0-4 based on incorporation of evidence and commentary, and 0-1 points based on sophistication of thought and demonstrated complex understanding of the topic.

You'll be evaluated based on how effectively you do the following in your AP Lang synthesis essay:

Write a thesis that responds to the exam prompt with a defensible position

Provide specific evidence that to support all claims in your line of reasoning from at least three of the sources provided, and clearly and consistently explain how the evidence you include supports your line of reasoning

Demonstrate sophistication of thought by either crafting a thoughtful argument, situating the argument in a broader context, explaining the limitations of an argument

Make rhetorical choices that strengthen your argument and/or employ a vivid and persuasive style throughout your essay.

If your synthesis essay meets the criteria above, then there's a good chance you'll score well on this portion of the AP Lang exam!

If you're looking for even more information on scoring, the College Board has posted the AP Lang Free Response grading rubric on its website. ( You can find it here. ) We recommend taking a close look at it since it includes additional details about the synthesis essay scoring.


Don't be intimidated...we're going to teach you how to break down even the hardest AP synthesis essay prompt.

Full Breakdown of a Real AP Lang Synthesis Essay Prompt

In this section, we'll teach you how to analyze and respond to a synthesis essay prompt in five easy steps, including suggested time frames for each step of the process.

Step 1: Analyze the Prompt

The very first thing to do when the clock starts running is read and analyze the prompt. To demonstrate how to do this, we'll look at the sample AP Lang synthesis essay prompt below. This prompt comes straight from the 2018 AP Lang exam:

Eminent domain is the power governments have to acquire property from private owners for public use. The rationale behind eminent domain is that governments have greater legal authority over lands within their dominion than do private owners. Eminent domain has been instituted in one way or another throughout the world for hundreds of years.

Carefully read the following six sources, including the introductory information for each source. Then synthesize material from at least three of the sources and incorporate it into a coherent, well-developed essay that defends, challenges, or qualifies the notion that eminent domain is productive and beneficial.

Your argument should be the focus of your essay. Use the sources to develop your argument and explain the reasoning for it. Avoid merely summarizing the sources. Indicate clearly which sources you are drawing from, whether through direct quotation, paraphrase, or summary. You may cite the sources as Source A, Source B, etc., or by using the descriptions in parentheses.

On first read, you might be nervous about how to answer this prompt...especially if you don't know what eminent domain is! But if you break the prompt down into chunks, you'll be able to figure out what the prompt is asking you to do in no time flat.

To get a full understanding of what this prompt wants you to do, you need to identify the most important details in this prompt, paragraph by paragraph. Here's what each paragraph is asking you to do:

  • Paragraph 1: The prompt presents and briefly explains the topic that you'll be writing your synthesis essay about. That topic is the concept of eminent domain.
  • Paragraph 2: The prompt presents a specific claim about the concept of eminent domain in this paragraph: Eminent domain is productive and beneficial. This paragraph instructs you to decide whether you want to defend, challenge, or qualify that claim in your synthesis essay , and use material from at least three of the sources provided in order to do so.
  • Paragraph 3: In the last paragraph of the prompt, the exam gives you clear instructions about how to approach writing your synthesis essay . First, make your argument the focus of the essay. Second, use material from at least three of the sources to develop and explain your argument. Third, provide commentary on the material you include, and provide proper citations when you incorporate quotations, paraphrases, or summaries from the sources provided.

So basically, you'll have to agree with, disagree with, or qualify the claim stated in the prompt, then use at least three sources substantiate your answer. Since you probably don't know much about eminent domain, you'll probably decide on your position after you read the provided sources.

To make good use of your time on the exam, you should spend around 2 minutes reading the prompt and making note of what it's asking you to do. That will leave you plenty of time to read the sources provided, which is the next step to writing a synthesis essay.

Step 2: Read the Sources Carefully

After you closely read the prompt and make note of the most important details, you need to read all of the sources provided. It's tempting to skip one or two sources to save time--but we recommend you don't do this. That's because you'll need a thorough understanding of the topic before you can accurately address the prompt!

For the sample exam prompt included above, there are six sources provided. We're not going to include all of the sources in this article, but you can view the six sources from this question on the 2018 AP Lang exam here . The sources include five print-text sources and one visual source, which is a cartoon.

As you read the sources, it's important to read quickly and carefully. Don't rush! Keep your pencil in hand to quickly mark important passages that you might want to use as evidence in your synthesis. While you're reading the sources and marking passages, you want to think about how the information you're reading influences your stance on the issue (in this case, eminent domain).

When you finish reading, take a few seconds to summarize, in a phrase or sentence, whether the source defends, challenges, or qualifies whether eminent domain is beneficial (which is the claim in the prompt) . Though it might not feel like you have time for this, it's important to give yourself these notes about each source so you know how you can use each one as evidence in your essay.

Here's what we mean: say you want to challenge the idea that eminent domain is useful. If you've jotted down notes about each source and what it's saying, it will be easier for you to pull the relevant information into your outline and your essay.

So how much time should you spend reading the provided sources? The AP Lang exam recommends taking 15 minutes to read the sources . If you spend around two of those minutes reading and breaking down the essay prompt, it makes sense to spend the remaining 13 minutes reading and annotating the sources.

If you finish reading and annotating early, you can always move on to drafting your synthesis essay. But make sure you're taking your time and reading carefully! It's better to use a little extra time reading and understanding the sources now so that you don't have to go back and re-read the sources later.


A strong thesis will do a lot of heavy lifting in your essay. (See what we did there?)

Step 3: Write a Strong Thesis Statement

After you've analyzed the prompt and thoroughly read the sources, the next thing you need to do in order to write a good synthesis essay is write a strong thesis statement .

The great news about writing a thesis statement for this synthesis essay is that you have all the tools you need to do it at your fingertips. All you have to do in order to write your thesis statement is decide what your stance is in relationship to the topic provided.

In the example prompt provided earlier, you're essentially given three choices for how to frame your thesis statement: you can either defend, challenge, or qualify a claim that's been provided by the prompt, that eminent domain is productive and beneficial . Here's what that means for each option:

If you choose to defend the claim, your job will be to prove that the claim is correct . In this case, you'll have to show that eminent domain is a good thing.

If you choose to challenge the claim, you'll argue that the claim is incorrect. In other words, you'll argue that eminent domain isn't productive or beneficial.

If you choose to qualify, that means you'll agree with part of the claim, but disagree with another part of the claim. For instance, you may argue that eminent domain can be a productive tool for governments, but it's not beneficial for property owners. Or maybe you argue that eminent domain is useful in certain circumstances, but not in others.

When you decide whether you want your synthesis essay to defend, challenge, or qualify that claim, you need to convey that stance clearly in your thesis statement. You want to avoid simply restating the claim provided in the prompt, summarizing the issue without making a coherent claim, or writing a thesis that doesn't respond to the prompt.

Here's an example of a thesis statement that received full points on the eminent domain synthesis essay:

Although eminent domain can be misused to benefit private interests at the expense of citizens, it is a vital tool of any government that intends to have any influence on the land it governs beyond that of written law.

This thesis statement received full points because it states a defensible position and establishes a line of reasoning on the issue of eminent domain. It states the author's position (that some parts of eminent domain are good, but others are bad), then goes on to explain why the author thinks that (it's good because it allows the government to do its job, but it's bad because the government can misuse its power.)

Because this example thesis statement states a defensible position and establishes a line of reasoning, it can be elaborated upon in the body of the essay through sub-claims, supporting evidence, and commentary. And a solid argument is key to getting a six on your synthesis essay for AP Lang!

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Step 4: Create a Bare-Bones Essay Outline

Once you've got your thesis statement drafted, you have the foundation you need to develop a bare bones outline for your synthesis essay. Developing an outline might seem like it's a waste of your precious time, but if you develop your outline well, it will actually save you time when you start writing your essay.

With that in mind, we recommend spending 5 to 10 minutes outlining your synthesis essay . If you use a bare-bones outline like the one below, labeling each piece of content that you need to include in your essay draft, you should be able to develop out the most important pieces of the synthesis before you even draft the actual essay.

To help you see how this can work on test day, we've created a sample outline for you. You can even memorize this outline to help you out on test day! In the outline below, you'll find places to fill in a thesis statement, body paragraph topic sentences, evidence from the sources provided, and commentary :

  • Present the context surrounding the essay topic in a couple of sentences (this is a good place to use what you learned about the major opinions or controversies about the topic from reading your sources).
  • Write a straightforward, clear, and concise thesis statement that presents your stance on the topic
  • Topic sentence presenting first supporting point or claim
  • Evidence #1
  • Commentary on Evidence #1
  • Evidence #2 (if needed)
  • Commentary on Evidence #2 (if needed)
  • Topic sentence presenting second supporting point or claim
  • Topic sentence presenting three supporting point or claim
  • Sums up the main line of reasoning that you developed and defended throughout the essay
  • Reiterates the thesis statement

Taking the time to develop these crucial pieces of the synthesis in a bare-bones outline will give you a map for your final essay. Once you have a map, writing the essay will be much easier.

Step 5: Draft Your Essay Response

The great thing about taking a few minutes to develop an outline is that you can develop it out into your essay draft. After you take about 5 to 10 minutes to outline your synthesis essay, you can use the remaining 30 to 35 minutes to draft your essay and review it.

Since you'll outline your essay before you start drafting, writing the essay should be pretty straightforward. You'll already know how many paragraphs you're going to write, what the topic of each paragraph will be, and what quotations, paraphrases, or summaries you're going to include in each paragraph from the sources provided. You'll just have to fill in one of the most important parts of your synthesis—your commentary.

Commentaries are your explanation of why your evidence supports the argument you've outlined in your thesis. Your commentary is where you actually make your argument, which is why it's such a critical part of your synthesis essay.

When thinking about what to say in your commentary, remember one thing the AP Lang synthesis essay prompt specifies: don't just summarize the sources. Instead, as you provide commentary on the evidence you incorporate, you need to explain how that evidence supports or undermines your thesis statement . You should include commentary that offers a thoughtful or novel perspective on the evidence from your sources to develop your argument.

One very important thing to remember as you draft out your essay is to cite your sources. The AP Lang exam synthesis essay prompt indicates that you can use generic labels for the sources provided (e.g. "Source 1," "Source 2," "Source 3," etc.). The exam prompt will indicate which label corresponds with which source, so you'll need to make sure you pay attention and cite sources accurately. You can cite your sources in the sentence where you introduce a quote, summary, or paraphrase, or you can use a parenthetical citation. Citing your sources affects your score on the synthesis essay, so remembering to do this is important.


Keep reading for a real-life example of a great AP synthesis essay response!

Real-Life AP Synthesis Essay Example and Analysis

If you're still wondering how to write a synthesis essay, examples of real essays from past AP Lang exams can make things clearer. These real-life student AP synthesis essay responses can be great for helping you understand how to write a synthesis essay that will knock the graders' socks off .

While there are multiple essay examples online, we've chosen one to take a closer look at. We're going to give you a brief analysis of one of these example student synthesis essays from the 2019 AP Lang Exam below!

Example Synthesis Essay AP Lang Response

To get started, let's look at the official prompt for the 2019 synthesis essay:

In response to our society's increasing demand for energy, large-scale wind power has drawn attention from governments and consumers as a potential alternative to traditional materials that fuel our power grids, such as coal, oil, natural gas, water, or even newer sources such as nuclear or solar power. Yet the establishment of large-scale, commercial-grade wind farms is often the subject of controversy for a variety of reasons.

Carefully read the six sources, found on the AP English Language and Composition 2019 Exam (Question 1), including the introductory information for each source. Write an essay that synthesizes material from at least three of the sources and develops your position on the most important factors that an individual or agency should consider when deciding whether to establish a wind farm.

Source A (photo) Source B (Layton) Source C (Seltenrich) Source D (Brown) Source E (Rule) Source F (Molla)

In your response you should do the following:

  • Respond to the prompt with a thesis presents a defensible position.
  • Select and use evidence from at least 3 of the provided sources to support your line of reasoning. Indicate clearly the sources used through direct quotation, paraphrase, or summary. Sources may be cited as Source A, Source B, etc., or by using the description in parentheses.
  • Explain how the evidence supports your line of reasoning.
  • Use appropriate grammar and punctuation in communicating your argument.

Now that you know exactly what the prompt asked students to do on the 2019 AP Lang synthesis essay, here's an AP Lang synthesis essay example, written by a real student on the AP Lang exam in 2019:

[1] The situation has been known for years, and still very little is being done: alternative power is the only way to reliably power the changing world. The draw of power coming from industry and private life is overwhelming current sources of non-renewable power, and with dwindling supplies of fossil fuels, it is merely a matter of time before coal and gas fuel plants are no longer in operation. So one viable alternative is wind power. But as with all things, there are pros and cons. The main factors for power companies to consider when building wind farms are environmental boon, aesthetic, and economic factors.

[2] The environmental benefits of using wind power are well-known and proven. Wind power is, as qualified by Source B, undeniably clean and renewable. From their production requiring very little in the way of dangerous materials to their lack of fuel, besides that which occurs naturally, wind power is by far one of the least environmentally impactful sources of power available. In addition, wind power by way of gearbox and advanced blade materials, has the highest percentage of energy retention. According to Source F, wind power retains 1,164% of the energy put into the system – meaning that it increases the energy converted from fuel (wind) to electricity 10 times! No other method of electricity production is even half that efficient. The efficiency and clean nature of wind power are important to consider, especially because they contribute back to power companies economically.

[3] Economically, wind power is both a boon and a bone to electric companies and other users. For consumers, wind power is very cheap, leading to lower bills than from any other source. Consumers also get an indirect reimbursement by way of taxes (Source D). In one Texan town, McCamey, tax revenue increased 30% from a wind farm being erected in the town. This helps to finance improvements to the town. But, there is no doubt that wind power is also hurting the power companies. Although, as renewable power goes, wind is incredibly cheap, it is still significantly more expensive than fossil fuels. So, while it is helping to cut down on emissions, it costs electric companies more than traditional fossil fuel plants. While the general economic trend is positive, there are some setbacks which must be overcome before wind power can take over as truly more effective than fossil fuels.

[4] Aesthetics may be the greatest setback for power companies. Although there may be significant economic and environmental benefit to wind power, people will always fight to preserve pure, unspoiled land. Unfortunately, not much can be done to improve the visual aesthetics of the turbines. White paint is the most common choice because it "[is] associated with cleanliness." (Source E). But, this can make it stand out like a sore thumb, and make the gargantuan machines seem more out of place. The site can also not be altered because it affects generating capacity. Sound is almost worse of a concern because it interrupts personal productivity by interrupting people's sleep patterns. One thing for power companies to consider is working with turbine manufacturing to make the machines less aesthetically impactful, so as to garner greater public support.

[5] As with most things, wind power has no easy answer. It is the responsibility of the companies building them to weigh the benefits and the consequences. But, by balancing economics, efficiency, and aesthetics, power companies can create a solution which balances human impact with environmental preservation.

And that's an entire AP Lang synthesis essay example, written in response to a real AP Lang exam prompt! It's important to remember AP Lang exam synthesis essay prompts are always similarly structured and worded, and students often respond in around the same number of paragraphs as what you see in the example essay response above.

Next, let's analyze this example essay and talk about what it does effectively, where it could be improved upon, and what score past exam scorers awarded it.

To get started on an analysis of the sample synthesis essay, let's look at the scoring commentary provided by the College Board:

  • For development of thesis, the essay received 1 out of 1 possible points
  • For evidence and commentary, the essay received 4 out of 4 possible points
  • For sophistication of thought, the essay received 0 out of 1 possible points.

This means that the final score for this example essay was a 5 out of 6 possible points . Let's look more closely at the content of the example essay to figure out why it received this score breakdown.

Thesis Development

The thesis statement is one of the three main categories that is taken into consideration when you're awarded points on this portion of the exam. This sample essay received 1 out of 1 total points.

Now, here's why: the thesis statement clearly and concisely conveys a position on the topic presented in the prompt--alternative energy and wind power--and defines the most important factors that power companies should consider when deciding whether to establish a wind farm.

Evidence and Commentary

The second key category taken into consideration when synthesis exams are evaluated is incorporation of evidence and commentary. This sample received 4 out of 4 possible points for this portion of the synthesis essay. At bare minimum, this sample essay meets the requirement mentioned in the prompt that the writer incorporate evidence from at least three of the sources provided.

On top of that, the writer does a good job of connecting the incorporated evidence back to the claim made in the thesis statement through effective commentary. The commentary in this sample essay is effective because it goes beyond just summarizing what the provided sources say. Instead, it explains and analyzes the evidence presented in the selected sources and connects them back to supporting points the writer makes in each body paragraph.

Finally, the writer of the essay also received points for evidence and commentary because the writer developed and supported a consistent line of reasoning throughout the essay . This line of reasoning is summed up in the fourth paragraph in the following sentence: "One thing for power companies to consider is working with turbine manufacturing to make the machines less aesthetically impactful, so as to garner greater public support."

Because the writer did a good job consistently developing their argument and incorporating evidence, they received full marks in this category. So far, so good!

Sophistication of Thought

Now, we know that this essay received a score of 5 out of 6 total points, and the place where the writer lost a point was on the basis of sophistication of thought, for which the writer received 0 out of 1 points. That's because this sample essay makes several generalizations and vague claims where it could have instead made specific claims that support a more balanced argument.

For example, in the following sentence from the 5th paragraph of the sample essay, the writer misses the opportunity to state specific possibilities that power companies should consider for wind energy . Instead, the writer is ambiguous and non-committal, saying, "As with most things, wind power has no easy answer. It is the responsibility of the companies building them to weigh the benefits and consequences."

If the writer of this essay was interested in trying to get that 6th point on the synthesis essay response, they could consider making more specific claims. For instance, they could state the specific benefits and consequences power companies should consider when deciding whether to establish a wind farm. These could include things like environmental impacts, economic impacts, or even population density!

Despite losing one point in the last category, this example synthesis essay is a strong one. It's well-developed, thoughtfully written, and advances an argument on the exam topic using evidence and support throughout.


4 Tips for How to Write a Synthesis Essay

AP Lang is a timed exam, so you have to pick and choose what you want to focus on in the limited time you're given to write the synthesis essay. Keep reading to get our expert advice on what you should focus on during your exam.

Tip 1: Read the Prompt First

It may sound obvious, but when you're pressed for time, it's easy to get flustered. Just remember: when it comes time to write the synthesis essay, read the prompt first !

Why is it so important to read the prompt before you read the sources? Because when you're aware of what kind of question you're trying to answer, you'll be able to read the sources more strategically. The prompt will help give you a sense of what claims, points, facts, or opinions to be looking for as you read the sources.

Reading the sources without having read the prompt first is kind of like trying to drive while wearing a blindfold: you can probably do it, but it's likely not going to end well!

Tip 2: Make Notes While You Read

During the 15-minute reading period at the beginning of the synthesis essay, you'll be reading through the sources as quickly as you can. After all, you're probably anxious to start writing!

While it's definitely important to make good use of your time, it's also important to read closely enough that you understand your sources. Careful reading will allow you to identify parts of the sources that will help you support your thesis statement in your essay, too.

As you read the sources, consider marking helpful passages with a star or check mark in the margins of the exam so you know which parts of the text to quickly re-read as you form your synthesis essay. You might also consider summing up the key points or position of each source in a sentence or a few words when you finish reading each source during the reading period. Doing so will help you know where each source stands on the topic given and help you pick the three (or more!) that will bolster your synthesis argument.

Tip 3: Start With the Thesis Statement

If you don't start your synthesis essay with a strong thesis statement, it's going to be tough to write an effective synthesis essay. As soon as you finish reading and annotating the provided sources, the thing you want to do next is write a strong thesis statement.

According to the CollegeBoard grading guidelines for the AP Lang synthesis essay, a strong thesis statement will respond to the prompt— not restate or rephrase the prompt. A good thesis will take a clear, defensible position on the topic presented in the prompt and the sources.

In other words, to write a solid thesis statement to guide the rest of your synthesis essay, you need to think about your position on the topic at hand and then make a claim about the topic based on your position. This position will either be defending, challenging, or qualifying the claim made in the essay's prompt.

The defensible position that you establish in your thesis statement will guide your argument in the rest of the essay, so it's important to do this first. Once you have a strong thesis statement, you can begin outlining your essay.

Tip 4: Focus on Your Commentary

Writing thoughtful, original commentary that explains your argument and your sources is important. In fact, doing this well will earn you four points (out of a total of six)!

AP Lang provides six to seven sources for you on the exam, and you'll be expected to incorporate quotations, paraphrases, or summaries from at least three of those sources into your synthesis essay and interpret that evidence for the reader.

While incorporating evidence is very important, in order to get the extra point for "sophistication of thought" on the synthesis essay, it's important to spend more time thinking about your commentary on the evidence you choose to incorporate. The commentary is your chance to show original thinking, strong rhetorical skills, and clearly explain how the evidence you've included supports the stance you laid out in your thesis statement.

To earn the 6th possible point on the synthesis essay, make sure your commentary demonstrates a nuanced understanding of the source material, explains this nuanced understanding, and places the evidence incorporated from the sources in conversation with each other. To do this, make sure you're avoiding vague language. Be specific when you can, and always tie your commentary back to your thesis!


What's Next?

There's a lot more to the AP Language exam than just the synthesis essay. Be sure to check out our expert guide to the entire exam , then learn more about the tricky multiple choice section .

Is the AP Lang exam hard...or is it easy? See how it stacks up to other AP tests on our list of the hardest AP exams .

Did you know there are technically two English AP exams? You can learn more about the second English AP test, the AP Literature exam, in this article . And if you're confused about whether you should take the AP Lang or AP Lit test , we can help you make that decision, too.

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

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Ashley Sufflé Robinson has a Ph.D. in 19th Century English Literature. As a content writer for PrepScholar, Ashley is passionate about giving college-bound students the in-depth information they need to get into the school of their dreams.

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Synthesis Essays: A Step-by-Step How-To Guide

A synthesis essay is generally a short essay which brings two or more sources (or perspectives) into conversation with each other.

The word “synthesis” confuses every student a little bit. Fortunately, this step-by-step how-to guide will see you through to success!

Here’s a step-by-step how-to guide, with examples, that will help you write yours.

Before drafting your essay:

After reading the sources and before writing your essay, ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the debate or issue that concerns all of the writers? In other words, what is the question they are trying to answer?
  • On what points do they agree?
  • On what points do they disagree?
  • If they were having a verbal discussion, how would writer number one respond to the arguments of writer number two?

In a way, writing a synthesis essay is similar to composing a summary. But a synthesis essay requires you to read more than one source and to identify the way the writers’ ideas and points of view are related.

Sometimes several sources will reach the same conclusion even though each source approaches the subject from a different point of view.

Other times, sources will discuss the same aspects of the problem/issue/debate but will reach different conclusions.

And sometimes, sources will simply repeat ideas you have read in other sources; however, this is unlikely in a high school or AP situation.

To better organize your thoughts about what you’ve read, do this:

  • Identify each writer’s thesis/claim/main idea
  • List the writers supporting ideas (think topic sentences or substantiating ideas)
  • List the types of support used by the writers that seem important. For example, if the writer uses a lot of statistics to support a claim, note this. If a writer uses historical facts, note this.

There’s one more thing to do before writing: You need to articulate for yourself the relationships and connections among these ideas.

Sometimes the relationships are easy to find. For example, after reading several articles about censorship in newspapers, you may notice that most of the writers refer to or in some way use the First Amendment to help support their arguments and help persuade readers. In this case, you would want to describe the different ways the writers use the First Amendment in their arguments. To do this, ask yourself, “How does this writer exploit the value of the First Amendment/use the First Amendment to help persuade or manipulate the readers into thinking that she is right?

Sometimes articulating the relationships between ideas is not as easy. If you have trouble articulating clear relationships among the shared ideas you have noted, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do the ideas of one writer support the ideas of another? If so, how?
  • Do the writers who reach the same conclusion use the same ideas in their writing? If not, is there a different persuasive value to the ideas used by one writer than by the other?
  • Do the writers who disagree discuss similar points or did they approach the subject from a completely different angle and therefore use different points and different kinds of evidence to support their arguments?
  • Review your list of ideas. Are any of the ideas you have listed actually the same idea, just written in different words?

how to write synthesis essay

Mapping a synthesis essay

When asked to write a synthesis essay, many students question the word “synthesis.” What does it mean to synthesize? Well, the dictionary tells us that synthesis is the combination of ideas to form a theory; the thesaurus provides synonyms such as fusion, blend, and creation. So ultimately, you are creating a combination of what your sources are conversing about (subject X) and how you have rearranged what is being said to create a new direction for that subject. This quick outline should get you well on your way to synthesizing.

Read your sources carefully and annotate as you go.

  • Read through once for a general understanding of the source.
  • Use a highlighter to call your attention to specific passages that you feel are key to this issue.
  • Make summary notes as you go, so you remember why you highlighted those passages.

Analyze the data you are getting.

  • Ask yourself what the author’s claim is–make note of it.
  • When the author brings in evidence, what is it? How does this evidence support the claim?
  • Note any common beliefs or assumptions embedded in the author’s use of evidence and claims.

What are sources “saying” to each other?

  • When you can summarize what each source is saying, then you can take a step back and ask yourself: Is there a pattern; how are these sources communicating/responding to each other?
  • Example: If The New York Times is speaking on gun control, they may say “X.” Later, Fox News may also be talking about gun control, but they are saying “Y.” Both are discussing gun control as the “conversation,” just in different ways and at different times.
  • Example: So, when you arrange the above example’s conversation, you can see that these sources are talking about “X” and “Y,” in terms of gun control, but no one seems to be specifying about “Z”. “Z” will be the gap in the conversation (you can suggest it as a new research area, new point to consider, etc.).

Figure out what your particular stand is on this issue.

  • After seeing where others stand, where do you stand?
  • If you agree or disagree, why?
  • If you agree, but not quite, what could be done differently? How could you make a position that might be a bit different than what other authors are saying?

Take a moment to consider how others in the conversation might respond to your position.

  • Why would article X’s author argue with you?
  • How would this author argue with you?
  • If the author would agree with you, same thing –how and why?

After this imaginary conversation with your sources, you should be getting an idea about your thesis and where it fits into the “conversation” that your sources are having.

  • Research about topic A is currently indicating…
  • Maybe a lot of people are saying X about topic A, but you have found research that is actually indicating Y as the real problem of topic A, so you say that new research needs to be done…

Work on incorporating those “conversations” you just had into your essay.

  • Although many researchers are indicating “X,” in discussions involving topic A, many of those research methods are faulty in that…
  • When researchers in the field of topic A argue with researchers studying topic B, I am seeing that these two fields are actually linked in that…
  • Aside from topic A, some researchers are finding a trend that (topic B) is actually more…
  • In consideration of both topics A & B, I am led to believe that there is a vital resource that hasn’t been considered…

When incorporating conversations as you write, argue your thesis claim.

  • Many who deal with topic A take a position similar to mine in that…; however, I would argue that new research needs to be done in the field of topic B.
  • Although some who argue about topic A would oppose my position on developing new research in this field, here is why I still uphold its legitimacy…
  • Only a few researchers offer a slightly different perspective from topic A, and one perspective that I would call attention to is...
  • When sources A and B were doing the specific types of studies on subject X, there were two different research methods: method 1 and method 2. Of these methods, there are the following common themes… (and) the usual points of disagreements are… which justifies the need for new research in…

The successful synthesis essay will show readers how you have reasoned about the topic at hand by taking into account the sources critically and creating a work that draws conversations with the sources into your own thinking.

Contributor: Derrian Goebel

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Lerne mit deinen Freunden und bleibe auf dem richtigen Kurs mit deinen persönlichen Lernstatistiken

Nie wieder prokastinieren mit unseren Lernerinnerungen.

The same goes when you're writing an essay. Even if you have great ideas, a reader won't believe them unless you can say where you got them from. That's where the synthesis essay comes in! A synthesis essay makes (or synthesizes) a claim based on outside sources . We use synthesis essays to build strong arguments for our ideas .

Synthesis Essay Definition

In writing, synthesis means gathering information from different sources and using it to support a Central Idea or Thesis .

In other words, if you give a Thesis Statement , but you don't provide any Evidence to back it up, it won't be very convincing. You have to synthesize a strong Argument using info from outside sources.

The key steps in synthesizing an Argument include:

Forming a strong thesis.

Finding relevant Evidence to back up your thesis.

Explaining the connections between the evidence and your thesis.

Citing your sources to show exactly where you got your information from.

A good synthesis essay covers all of these elements to create a strong argument.

What is a Synthesis Essay?

The synthesis essay part of language and composition exams involves answering a prompt using information from a few sources, usually in a five-paragraph format. To get the full six points on the synthesis essay, you need to give:

A thesis Statement that shows a defensible position.

Evidence from at least three of the given sources.

Commentary that explains how the evidence supports the thesis.

Sophistication in your understanding of the prompt, the sources, and your own argument.

Synthesis Essay Topics

The prompt on the first page of the synthesis essay section lays out the topic that your essay should focus on. Past synthesis Essay Prompts have dealt with the following topics:

Teaching handwriting in schools

Relevance of libraries in the Internet age

Wind power and renewable energy

Eminent domain (governments buying land for public use)

English as the dominant language in business

Honor codes in schools

Value of college education

These topics all involve debates. The prompt presents two opinions on the topic, and your job is to pick a stance on it. Every supporting paragraph in your essay will back up that stance on the topic.

Defending, Challenging, and Qualifying

Once you've looked over the prompt and you begin forming your thesis, you need to decide what angle to take with your argument. The prompt will tell you to defend, challenge, or qualify the claim of the topic with your argument.

Defending the Claim

Defending the claim means that you agree with the claim in the prompt. If you're defending the claim, you will want to get evidence from sources that also defend the claim.

Challenging the Claim

Challenging the claim means that you disagree with the claim in the prompt. If you're challenging the claim, you will want to get evidence that goes against the claim or could even prove it wrong.

Qualifying the Claim

Qualifying the claim means that you agree with parts of it but disagree with others . For this middle-of-the-road approach, you will want to get evidence from both sides of The Argument . Use your supporting paragraphs to weigh out the pros and cons of the claim.

Qualifying the claim doesn't mean you can avoid making a clear statement on it! Even when you explore the pros and cons, you need to explain how those pros and cons inform your final decision.

Synthesis Essay Outline

This is the general outline of a synthesis essay. While you're reading through your sources for evidence, think of where the info would fit into the outline.

I. Introduction

A. Hook: Include an interesting, attention-grabbing sentence.

B. Introduce the topic: Summarize the topic the prompt gave.

C. Thesis statement: Write your stance on the topic you're about to defend.

II. Body Paragraph (x3)

A. Topic sentence: State what the paragraph and evidence is about.

B. Source/evidence: Summarize , Paraphrase , or quote the source.

C. Analysis: Explain why the evidence supports your thesis.

III. Conclusion

A. Transition: Show that you're wrapping up the essay.

B. Summary : Go back over your main points and Restate your thesis.

C. Close: Close off by saying how your conclusions apply beyond the essay.

Synthesis Essay Example

Below is a sample synthesis essay (including prompt, sources, and outline) that shows the key elements that it comprises.

Example Synthesis Essay Prompt

Growing issues of excess waste in our oceans and climate change have sparked debates about sustainability in packaging. Some argue that glass packaging is the most sustainable option because it is easily reused and recycled. Others argue that recyclable plastics are a more sustainable solution because they are lightweight and require less energy to produce.

Read through the provided sources completely. Then, synthesize an argument using information from at least three of the sources, and present your argument in a complete and structured essay. Your essay should defend, challenge, or qualify the claim that glass packaging is a more sustainable solution than plastic.

Use the sources to provide evidence for your argument and explain your stance on the claim. Incorporate the evidence by directly quoting, paraphrasing, or summarizing the sources. Remember to specifically credit each source you take information from.

The claim in the Second Paragraph of the prompt is the central question: is glass packaging a more sustainable solution than plastic? The thesis statement is an answer to the central question .

Synthesis Essay Plastic Waste Essay StudySmarter

Example Synthesis Essay Sources

In the sources given for the synthesis essay, you'll probably be provided with more information than you really need. In the synthesis essay, it's best to work with three sources out of the ones you're given. This means you have to be able to sort through the sources and find the ones that work best with your thesis.

The prompt says that there are six sources to work from. The list below outlines the types of sources that may be available. The writer's job is to choose sources that are relevant to the thesis.

Articles written by experts can provide scientific evidence to support the thesis: This kind of source is especially helpful for writing about scientific topics like this one.

Editorial articles express opinions on the topic: These sources don't provide scientific evidence, but they can give writers good points to work from. Writers can use them to show how the claim can be challenged or defended.

Graphs provide numbers and visuals to help us understand data: These are also useful sources because the numbers are objective. That means they're fact-based instead of coming from someone else's Opinion .

Excerpts from literature: These are sometimes included in synthesis Essay Prompts . This kind of source can't give evidence on scientific topics; however, a literature excerpt can be effective when writers use it to add some dramatic flair, like in the hook portion of the introduction!

Imagine one of the sources (Source A) is a newspaper article. The writer can use the part of it below in their Body Paragraph :

The manufacturing of plastics is endangering our environment and our lives. Plastic production involves crude oil and natural gas. Crude oil must be extracted from beneath the earth's crust by drilling large holes through bedrock in the ocean. Harvesting natural gas involves a similar process called fracking, which also involves breaking the earth's crust. Fracking and oil drilling both cause pollution in our oceans.

There's a common saying about writing an essay: " Tell them what you're going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them." Your introduction is the first part of this.

In the introduction, set up The Argument you're about to give and clearly state your thesis at the end.

On my last trip to the beach, I looked out at the ocean and saw nothing but waste. Bottles, boxes, and bags crowded the water and washed up on the shore. As a society, we must find more sustainable packaging solutions to prevent this pile of garbage from growing even larger. The sustainability of glass and plastic, in particular, is hotly debated. Due to problematic factors in plastic production and recycling, glass packaging is a more sustainable option and should be employed by manufacturers.

The last sentence is the thesis statement. It answers the main question from the prompt and clearly shows that the writer is defending the claim that glass packaging is a more sustainable solution than plastic.

The introduction to an essay can sometimes be the hardest part of an essay to write. It helps to save writing the introduction for the end and writing the body of the synthesis essay first instead. This can help writers formulate clear ideas and then go back and summarize them in their introduction.

The body is the main part of the synthesis essay. The body usually consists of three supporting paragraphs. This is where you'll add the info you picked from your sources and show how it supports your thesis.

Here is a short example of one of the three body paragraphs.

It is not only plastic waste that endangers our oceans but also plastic production. Crude oil and gas are necessary to produce plastic, both of which cause significant damage to the earth's crust and pollute the oceans (Source A). Glass production, on the other hand, does not require these methods. A transition to glass packaging over plastic would decrease the need for these environmentally damaging practices.

The first sentence introduces the paragraph. The second gives the information in the source. The last two sentences explain how that information backs up the thesis and analyzes the source. Each body paragraph will handle different evidence, but this general format will help the writer use each source to support the thesis.

The conclusion is the last part of that saying: "tell them what you told them."

In the conclusion, you'll summarize everything you just wrote in the body section. State your thesis again – this time, it will have all of the information from the body to back it up!

In conclusion, the evidence from these sources supports the use of glass packaging over plastic . The sheer amount of plastic waste in the ocean, as well as the harmful practices of fracking and oil drilling in plastic production, disadvantage the use of plastic packaging. A societal shift from plastic to glass packaging could help us to repair the damage to our environment and create a better future for the earth.

More explanations in this Study Set will go over these elements in more detail.

Synthesis Essay, Cheerleaders, StudySmarter

Using the Sources

When writing your synthesis essay, you should make sure that every source you decide to use supports the thesis and is cited correctly.

Supporting the Thesis

A successful synthesis essay clearly connects evidence with the thesis and smoothly Transitions between topics.

Here’s an example of tying a source into your writing in an ineffective way:

Plastic waste in the oceans is a major environmental concern. Source B states that millions of tons of plastic enter the oceans every year. Glass packaging is more sustainable than plastic.

The writer has given information from a source and the thesis, but they're not connected. Readers can't see how they relate to each other, so it's hard to see the point.

A better way to tie these together would be something like this:

Plastic waste in the oceans is a major environmental concern. Source B states that millions of tons of plastic enter the oceans every year. This shows that plastic production is not a sustainable solution.

The final sentence brings the point together with the source. and shows how the information from Article A supports the thesis.

Some phrases from these three common cohesive patterns can help draw these connections and make your writing flow more smoothly. Here are some examples of phrases that can help draw connections:

Cause and effect: Show how one statement caused the other, e.g.:

This shows that…

This suggests…

Because of this…

Given this information…

In the same way…

Compare and Contrast : Show how one statement is different from the other, e.g.:

By Comparison ...


In Contrast ...

On the other hand...

Problem and solution: Show how one statement solves the problem of the other, e.g.:

In order to...

As a result...

As a solution to...

To resolve this...

Citing the Sources

Last but not least, you need to accurately cite your sources. Citing your sources shows where you got the information from . Citing sources is also important because it credits the original writer. In the exam, the citation can be in the sentence or in parentheses at the end of it.

You can include the source information in your essay in three ways: Paraphrase , direct quotation , and Summary .

Paraphrasing means giving the information in your own words. Writers can use paraphrasing to tie a source to their thesis.

Source B states that millions of tons of plastic enter the oceans every year.

Direct Quotation

Direct quotation means repeating the source and placing it in quotation marks. If you use the exact same words as the source in your essay, you have to put them in quotation marks. That way, you're not accidentally using someone else's work as your own.

"Each year, the oceans are filled with millions of tons of added plastic" (Source B).

A summary is an overview of the information given in a source.

In this article, Smith discusses the potential consequences of increasing plastic waste in the ocean, stating that millions of tons of plastic enter the ocean every year (Source B) .

It's important to show the reader where you got your information from. You need to summarize, paraphrase, or directly quote the material and cite the source. This shows that you've done your research and helps you avoid taking credit for someone else's work.

Synthesis Essay - Key Takeaways

  • Synthesis means gathering information from different sources and using it to support a Central Idea or thesis.
  • The thesis is the core of the synthesis essay. All the information you add to your essay will support the thesis.
  • A synthesis essay has an introduction, body, and conclusion. You can structure them using the saying, "tell them what you're going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them."
  • Choose sources for your synthesis essay that will best support your thesis.
  • Use connecting phrases to show cause and effect, compare and contrast, or show a problem and solution to demonstrate how your source applies to your thesis.
  • Make sure to cite your sources so that you don't accidentally plagiarize someone else's work.

Frequently Asked Questions about Synthesis Essay

--> what is a synthesis essay.

A synthesis essay is an essay that involves gathering information from multiple sources and using it to support a central idea, or thesis. The synthesis essay is the first of three essays in the AP English Language and Composition Exam.

--> What is an example of a synthesis essay?

A synthesis essay is a short-form essay on the AP Language and Composition Exam that supports a thesis statement using information from multiple sources.

--> How to write a synthesis essay?

Form a thesis based on the main question in the prompt. Find relevant information in sources that can provide evidence for your thesis. Work the information into your body paragraphs, and make sure to show where you got the information from. Finish the essay with a conclusion.

--> What is the structure of a synthesis essay?

A synthesis essay has an introduction, where you state your thesis, a body, where you provide at least three sources of evidence for your thesis, and a conclusion, where you restate your thesis and draw conclusions from your evidence.

--> How do you write an introduction for a synthesis essay?

The introduction of a synthesis essay should address the prompt. Explain to the reader what the body of the essay is going to discuss, and state the thesis that the body is going to support. In other words, "tell them what you're going to tell them."

Final Synthesis Essay Quiz

Synthesis essay quiz - teste dein wissen.

What is the function of a synthesis essay?

Show answer

A synthesis essay is used to build strong arguments  by giving evidence from outside sources.

Show question

What are the three major sections of a synthesis essay?

Introduction, body, and conclusion

Where should you first state the thesis in your synthesis essay?

State your thesis first at the end of the introduction.

Which of these types of sources are best for giving scientific evidence?

Articles from experts

What is missing from this quote in a body paragraph?

"Hundreds of species have gone extinct because of deforestation."

The citation is missing! The source (either something like "Source A" or the name of the author) needs to go at the end of the sentence in parentheses. 

"Hundreds of species have gone extinct because of deforestation" (Source A).

What is the definition of synthesis in writing?

In writing, synthesis means  gathering information from different sources and using it to support a  central idea , or thesis .

How many sources should you take information from in your AP synthesis essay?

Take information from at least 3 sources to make a good argument and earn full points.

What kind of stance says that you agree with some parts of a claim, but disagree with others?

Defending the claim

Where would a literature excerpt be most effective as a source in a synthesis essay?

In the hook at the beginning of the introduction

How should you end each body paragraph of your synthesis essay?

End the body paragraph by explaining how the evidence from your source supports your thesis.

What kind of stance says that you agree with the claim in the synthesis essay prompt?

Why is it important to cite your sources in a synthesis essay? Choose the BEST answer.

It proves your evidence is credible and that you are not stealing intellectual property.

Which of the three common cohesive patterns do these phrases represent?

This shows that … 

This suggests …

Because of this …

Given this information …

In the same way …

Cause and effect

What kind of stance says that you disagree with the claim in the synthesis essay prompt?

In order to ...

As a result ...

As a solution to ...

To resolve this ...

Compare and contrast

What is an intended audience? 

An intended audience is the person or group of people a writer has in mind as potential readers for their work.

Identifying the intended audience can help with: 

Establishing purpose

What is the tone of an essay?

The tone is a writer's attitude toward their subject and intended audience. Think of tone as the "voice" of an essay.

When writing, use ONLY  ______, ______, or _____ the intended audience is familiar with.


The 3 types of intended audiences are:

What are some examples of an individual audience?

What are some examples of a group audience?

American teachers

True or False: When writing for a General Public audience, it is safe to assume they are familiar with the subject.

What is the first step in identifying the intended audience?

The first step in identifying the intended audience is establishing the purpose of the essay.

Where can one look for clues to identify the intended audience?

One can look to the essay prompt  for clues to identify the Intended Audience.

If the essay prompt gives no clues, what can be done to identify the intended audience?

If the essay prompt gives no clues, imagine who would be interested in the subject matter to determine the Intended Audience.

What specifics are important to consider when identifying an intended audience?

True or False: 

It is important to be as specific as possible when identifying the Intended Audience.

True: The specifics help with the writing.

When writing for a group audience, what should one consider?

When writing for a group audience, one should consider what this group of people is likely to know about and respond to in the essay.

What is the purpose of an essay?

The purpose of an essay is the effect the writer wants to have on the reader.

Why is it important to identify the intended audience?

It is important to identify the intended audience so one can achieve their purpose for writing.

True or False: The intended audience can be real or imaginary.

What is exigency?

Exigency is what a situation requires. In rhetoric, exigency is what is required to address an issue, problem, or situation. 

What is the key difference between rhetorical exigency and non-rhetorical exigency?

Rhetorical Exigency can be addressed with rhetoric. Non-rhetorical exigency cannot.

Is exigency the same as emergency?

No. Emergency is focused on a dangerous situation. Exigency is focused on the needs that arise from a problem or situation.

Exigency stems from the Latin word for _____.

What does exigency influence in the writing process?

What can identifying exigencies help writers do?

Decide what to write about

A student writes a letter to their school principal because they believe the principal needs to fix a problem. Is this an example of exigency?

Yes, this is an example of exigency! The need to fix the problem is an example of exigency. As well, the student's belief that the principal needs to fix the problem is an example of exigency.

A writer can identify exigencies in their writing by thinking about what?

Their motivations

Whose needs should one think of when writing an essay?

Their own needs

Can an essay prompt give clues to identify exigencies for writing?

Yes! The essay prompt can explain at least one thing the writer needs to do.

What questions can a writer ask themselves to identify exigencies and decide on the subject of an essay?

What does the essay prompt ask me to do? 

What questions can a writer ask themselves to identify exigencies and determine the audience for an essay?

Who does not know enough about this subject?

What questions can a writer ask themselves to identify exigencies and find the purpose of their essay?

What do I need my audience to know about this subject?

True or False: A writer can ask themselves questions to identify exigencies before they start writing AND while they write.

True! Identifying exigencies can be helpful at any stage of the writing process.

A person breaks their leg and needs urgent medical attention. What is this an example of?

What is source material?

Source material is the collection of objects a writer uses to gather information and ideas. Sources can be written, spoken, audio, or visual materials. 

What are some examples of written source material?

What are some examples of spoken source material?

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