How To Write A Synthesis Essay

A synthesis essay assignment can be a challenging quest for students, regardless of their writing experience. For many years, students are tasked with learning facts, figures, and information and, through written assignments, regurgitate those facts clearly and concisely. For many students, a synthesis essay is one of the first times they are required to define their own, unique points of view and provide several examples of source material to various sources to validate their ideas.


A synthesis essay is a written example of an author’s unique ideas and opinions on a topic, using multiple sources to support their personal opinion or viewpoint. From an instructor’s standpoint, a synthesis essay is an example of a persuasive paper.


Learning how to write a solid persuasive paper, such as a synthesis essay, is an excellent way to develop critical thinking skills, create logical arguments, develop or improve research skills, and present your ideas in a balanced yet influential way. The ability to influence others is a necessary skill in many professions, and a synthesis essay can help you become proficient in persuasive language. While the process of researching and writing a synthesis essay may seem daunting at first, keep reading to learn how it can be broken down into easily manageable steps.


How to Write a Synthesis Essay

There are a variety of steps in creating a compelling and convincing synthesis essay. The best essays are created by following each step of the process to pull together an interesting, readable written creation where your position is easily identified and ultimately supported by the research data.


Step One: Research

The most important aspect of a synthesis essay is research. You should start by collecting data on your subject matter from a variety of sources. These sources should provide you with a variety of perspectives on your essay topic. This allows you to explore various opinions and ideas related to your subject, and ideally, develop your own original concept to explore within the essay.


When compiling research sources, it is always best to include, at a minimum, three separate sources that you can draw from to make your point. Each source should speak to the main topic of the synthesis essay but provide you with a variety of talking points to use when reaching your conclusions.


Step Two: Take a Position

Once you have compiled and examined the research materials collected, it is time to form an opinion. Synthesis essay topics should always be debatable topics that foster more than one reasonable opinion. For example, if the essay topic is selecting the best housepet, you may choose to write your essay on why cats are the best pet choice for a household.


Here are the three steps involved in the process:

  • By choosing a debatable topic, the best housepet, you have selected a topic that can evoke several valid opinions.
  • Next, you have decided on a position, in this case, that cats make the best possible pet choice.
  • Finally, it is time for you to begin to defend, or prove, your point.


Step Three: Develop an Interesting Thesis Statement

Once you have selected a topic for your essay and determined your position, the next step is to create a thesis statement. A thesis statement should clearly define both the paper’s topic and provide the reader with the author’s position on the topic. Typically, thesis statements are used as the essay’s opening sentence or the final sentence in the essay’s first paragraph.


In the essay regarding housepets, a possible thesis statement could be something like: Not only are cats loving and loyal companions, independent and low-maintenance, several studies have shown that cat ownership can actually improve mental health, making them the best possible choice of housepet.


This statement defines both the essay’s topic: the best housepet and identifies your position: cats are the best choice in pets.


Step Four: Create an Outline

With any writing assignment, creating an outline for your essay or article is an important step. Frequently a step that many writers are tempted to skip. However, there are several reasons why creating an outline is a necessary part of the writing process.


Outlines, particularly when writing a synthesis essay, allow you to fine-tune your points and reexamine the source materials. As you create the outline for your paper, you should include references for each paragraph’s source materials. This makes it easier to stay on task, plus provides you with a cheat-sheet of sorts, reminding you which source best supports your position point-by-point.


Having a solid outline will also ensure that the author maintains a logical presentation of your facts and creates a solid path for the reader to ultimately reach the same conclusion. Creating an outline before writing an article will ultimately make the writing process easier, faster, and the ideas within the paper well organized.


Step 5: Write the First Draft

Finally, it is time for the writer to begin presenting their ideas. The first paragraph of the essay, the introductory paragraph, must include the thesis statement. The following paragraphs, which make up the body of the essay, will each provide talking points that support the position outlined within the thesis statement. Finally, the essay should end with a conclusion paragraph that summarizes the information presented within the essay and restates the thesis sentence effectively.


Once completed, you should review the first draft to ensure that each point within the essay was presented logically and factually. Ideas should flow naturally from one paragraph to the next, and each talking point should be addressed adequately.


Step 6: Complete the Final Draft

Finally, it is time to fine-tune the essay, remove any extraneous information that is not relevant to the thesis statement, ensure that each source document is referenced correctly, and correct any grammar or spelling errors. The final draft is also the time to add any necessary additional information that will prove the thesis statement.


Once completed, a successful synthesis essay should be compelling enough to hold the reader’s interest and influential enough to ensure that the reader will draw the same conclusion you, as the author, presented. You should reference all of the sources used to draw your conclusion and present an idea that is uniquely your own.


Finding Appropriate Topics for Synthesis Essays

All the planning, research, paragraph structure, and analysis in the world won’t do any good if the topic at hand is not appropriate for a synthesis essay. The key to creating a compelling argument and essay is picking the right topic. Below are some examples of topics with clear and separate stances that are popular on both sides of the fence. These are great topics for newer writers, young students, or first synthesis essays:

  • The ethical dilemma of testing on animals
  • Sugar tax and cigarette tax
  • Fracking
  • Affirmative action programs used in college admissions


Each topic provides an opportunity for a student or writer to select a stance and then persuade the reader to adopt their perspective. Selecting topics with two well-known positions is the easiest introduction to synthesis essay writing.


Tips For Writing A Persuasive or Expository Essay

A synthesis essay is just one example of persuasive or expository writing. For many, writing persuasively is much more difficult than simply presenting factual ideas objectively, as with an informative essay or report.


Here are some tips to help you create quality persuasive work:

  • Research and more research – When writing a persuasive paper, it is important to research the topic thoroughly, including information that may not support your viewpoint. It is vital to understand all sides of an issue. This ensures that you will not have any blind-spots that can be used to debunk the ideas presented in your article.
  • Always use more than one (or two) sources – A good writer will use many sources when pulling ideas together for their work. These sources can include interviews with experts, visual media, other written works, plus any applicable laws or legislation.
  • Develop a strong introductory paragraph – The first paragraph of any persuasive essay should be compelling enough to hold the reader’s interest, even if the reader supports an opposing point of view. Clearly define the essay’s topic and close the paragraph with a strong statement outlining your opinion.
  • Do not be afraid to present opposition – For more controversial topics or topics where many hold an opinion that oppose the opinion you are defending, rather than ignoring the opposing viewpoint completely, dedicate a paragraph to outlining the opposite viewpoint and refuting it effectively.
  • Maintain a compelling argument – use comparisons, analogies, and hypothetical and real-world examples to present an opinion. This can be much more effective than simply regurgitating facts.
  • Think like a lawyer – Closing paragraphs, like a lawyer’s closing argument, should include a summary of the information presented within the paper and be persuasive enough to convince the reader to adopt the same opinion you are advocating.


Additional Tips for Successful Persuasion

For many, persuasive essays, including synthesis essays, are incredibly challenging. Students and most professional writers are often encouraged to present ideas and information objectively; remain professional, and refrain from offering any personal opinion on the topic at hand. As such, when tasked with creating persuasive essays, it may be hard to figure out how to maintain the basic tenets of essay writing while attempting to influence the reader.


The goal of any persuasive essay or article is to influence or even change the reader’s opinion. Here are the keys to successfully influencing an audience:

  • Know your material
  • Remain confident and authoritative.
  • Know the audience
  • Grab and hold the reader’s attention
  • Repeat and restate


These five simple tips can help even the novice writer create a compelling and professional persuasive paper.


Know Your Material

Ideally, writers or students should select a topic they are passionate about or their specific area of expertise. If that is not possible, as mentioned earlier, solid research is key. Understanding the specific topic from all angles, including opposing viewpoints, is key to persuasive writing.

It is important to select topics that will provide plenty of research materials. Selecting topics that are somewhat controversial or polarizing can make writing a persuasive article much easier, simply due to the sheer volume of material available for review.

You should also be selective when deciding on which resources to quote or reference when crafting your argument. Selecting credible and recognized sources will add validity to your stated position.


Remain Confident and Authoritative

With any good persuasive essay, there will always be an opposing viewpoint. In many cases, even the most passionate writer can relate to or understand the other side of an issue, even if you’re not in agreement with it. A confident writer will not ignore the opposition; they will simply present an organized and well-researched point and counterpoint approach to debunk popular opposing views.


The writing style also comes into play when attempting to create an authoritative or expert viewpoint. Student writers should refrain from:

  • Casual language, colloquialisms, or slang
  • Maintain a third-person writing style
  • Adding personal anecdotes


This can be a tall order, especially when the topic is one about which the writer is particularly passionate. However, referencing expert research or well-known authors will ultimately carry more weight than personal experience in the vast majority of persuasive essays.


Know the Audience

Perhaps one of the most important things for any writer to remember is who exactly will be reading your essay or paper. Good persuasive writers:

  • Understand their audience
  • Tailor the argument accordingly
  • Address the issues that impact their readers most significantly


It is equally important for writers to understand what motivates opposing viewpoints, as well as their own:

  • What are the issues that create the most fear or discomfort for those that oppose your viewpoint?
  • How can you successfully acknowledge or address these concerns while maintaining your position?


It is vital to understand both personal motivation, as well as what drives the opposing viewpoints. This will help you define specific talking points and determine which topics should be emphasized within the essay or article.


Grab and Hold the Reader’s Attention

When writing any essay, but in particular, a persuasive essay, it is important to grab the reader’s attention quickly and ensure they are invested in the argument. Within the opening paragraph, it is imperative for you to define the issue and convince the reader that the topic is important, regardless of their position. Once the reader is invested, you have the rest of the article or essay to convince the reader to adopt your position.


Article titles are equally as important. When drafting a persuasive article, the title should define the issue and provide insight into your stance. It is easy for anyone to find data, essays, or articles on any subject imaginable in today’s information age. People are less likely to take the time to read an essay or article unless they are invested in the topic at hand. Therefore, it is important to include an interesting, descriptive, and compelling title to increase interest in your project or paper.


Repeat and Restate

When writing a persuasive article, repetition can be an enormous asset. Studies have shown that repetition of a phrase, idea, concept, or position on an issue can help convince readers to accept it as truth. Whether it is using a key phrase or repeating your position on a topic, effective writers will use repetition to their advantage.


Many writers, when creating persuasive essays, will restate their position at the end of each paragraph. By doing so, you are reinforcing your ideas and opinions while making the reader familiar with those opinions. Studies show that the more times individuals are presented with an opinion, the more likely they are to adopt that same opinion as factual. Carefully restating a position or concept can help to build confidence in the ideas presented within the essay.


Effective Synthesis Essay Writing

Basic synthesis essay writing typically focuses on the persuasive style of writing to convince readers to adopt a specific position on an argument using a variety of expert sources. However, a well-written synthesis essay will demonstrate several things:

  • The author’s understanding of major issues surrounding the essay topic
  • The author’s ability to select compelling and expert sources
  • The author’s critical thinking and analytical skills
  • The author’s ability to create an argument


One of the main components of successful synthesis essay writing is creating a unique voice, using a variety of sources, some of which will have opposing viewpoints. When researching any topic, it is easy to focus on the major issues that surround the topic at hand. However, for the vast majority of topics, the major issues have been discussed at length previously, and as such, finding a unique and compelling viewpoint can be challenging.


A well-written synthesis essay will examine both the large and small impacts of the subject matter. The author uses critical thinking and analytical skills to identify a unique perspective based on information provided by a variety of sources. Using their powers of persuasion, an effective writer will create an argument, then define and support their position.


MEAL Process for Synthesis Essay Writing

The MEAL process is a well-known writing strategy that writers can employ when constructing paragraphs within an essay. MEAL is particularly effective when writing persuasive essays. The MEAL acronym stands for:

  • M – Main Idea
  • E – Evidence
  • A – Analysis
  • L – Link or Last Thought


M for Main Idea

All well-written essays support a central theme defined by the thesis statement within the introductory paragraph. This is the main idea of the essay itself. Additionally, each supporting paragraph within the essay should cover one main idea. The written work should be organized using a separate paragraph for each concept supporting the thesis.


The typical format of a MEAL paragraph starts with a declarative sentence that expresses the paragraph’s main idea. Each additional sentence should, in some way, relate back to and support the idea described in the initial declarative sentence.


E for Evidence

The same concept of providing evidence throughout the essay to support the thesis statement also holds true for each individual paragraph. Once the writer defines each paragraph’s topic through the use of a declarative sentence, the next step is to provide supporting evidence within the paragraph.


Evidence can be a variety of things, including:

  • Summaries of other works that support the main idea of the paragraph
  • Paraphrases of other conclusive evidence
  • Direct examples that support the main idea of the paragraph
  • Definitions or direct quotes


A for Analysis

Many writers have a difficult time separating evidence from the analysis. Evidence is any outside source of information that supports the main idea of the writer. For each individual paragraph, once the writer has presented the evidence, the next task is to provide a personal analysis of the data.


Analysis within each paragraph provides the writer with the opportunity to express their own unique idea or personal opinion. When writing a persuasive essay, students should pay close attention to their personal analysis. This step provides the writer with the opportunity to build momentum or support for their personal opinion. Creating well-crafted and well-thought-out analysis is the key to a solid persuasive essay.


L is for Link

The link within the MEAL process for paragraph structures helps to add continuity throughout the essay. Each paragraph within the essay will discuss a different topic, all of which support the thesis. However, moving from paragraph to paragraph and new idea to new idea can be a bit jarring for the reader. Linking words and sentences helps to make the transition between different ideas smooth and logical.


There are several transitional worlds that can be used to start a sentence to lead the reader to the next idea. Examples of transitional words include:

  • Next
  • However
  • Although
  • Despite
  • Additionally
  • Thus


By using a transitional word within the final sentence of a paragraph to introduce or transition the reader from idea to idea, you will create a more polished and readable essay.


L is for Last Thought

Another MEAL concept is the idea of the last thought. For longer papers where many different evidentiary and analytical information will be presented, using the L in MEAL to link each paragraph to the next makes sense. However, for shorter essays and papers, the L in MEAL can be thought of as the writer’s last thought or conclusion.


When using the last thought sentence within a paragraph, the writer simply uses that last sentence to summarize the ideas presented and restate the paragraph’s main idea. This works best for longer paragraphs and final, closing paragraphs. Cues to identify the last thought sentence are words such as:

  • In conclusion
  • As demonstrated
  • Consequently
  • Ultimately


The Benefits of MEAL writing

MEAL writing as a concept is typically taught to younger or newer writers to help them stay on task and ensure that each of their paragraphs serves a purpose and are formatted appropriately. However, MEAL isn’t just for persuasive essays or new writers. The concepts taught within the MEAL style of writing can assist writers in writing and editing all written works designed to inform or educate.


Ensuring that each individual paragraph focuses on one main idea, with supportive evidence and analysis, can greatly improve an essay or story’s overall quality. Additionally, creating smooth transitions between ideas and paragraphs creates a polished and professional style. While not every type of paper is designed to fit the MEAL model, it can be a useful tool for any writer or student, regardless of experience level.


Getting Started

Once the concept of synthesis writing is understood, and a topic has been selected, it is time for you to get started! Remember that the key to a good, solid synthesis essay is research. The vast majority of the essay writing process, particularly when writing a synthesis essay, will be spent on research.

In fact, most experts agree that ⅔ of the total time allotted for the project should be spent on research, with the final ⅓ designated for writing and editing.

Having a complete understanding of the essay topic, including supportive evidence from at least three sources, is key to creating a solid essay. Building an outline that defines the topic of each paragraph will also provide the writer with simple guidance. Finally, using the MEAL writing style described above will help new writers stay on task and ensure that their essay is polished and readable.


Although synthesis essays can seem complex and difficult at first, they are also a great way for you to express your own opinion and ideas on a topic. These essays are a fantastic teaching tool that help you learn to properly research different ideas and concepts and create your own unique voice.


Now that you have a complete outline of the process, it is time to get started!

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