What is Synthesis in Writing?

Written by Haley Boyce

synthesis in writing

Synthesis is the process of combining ideas. Defined in a way that’s applicable to academic and creative writing, synthesis is what happens when you gather information from several different sources and apply it to your response to the prompt.

What are the steps to writing a synthesis essay?

Writing a synthesis essay is not for the faint of heart. Getting started can be the hardest part. Before you can write the essay, you’ve got to understand what exactly you’re being asked to do when being told to synthesize.

The following steps will show you exactly how to write a synthesis essay…

1. Understanding the prompt

A writing prompt can be as simple as one sentence or as nuanced as several paragraphs long. In either case, the best way to understand what the prompt is asking of you is to make a simple Do/What chart by finding the verbs followed by what they’d like you to do with them. Like this:

Does social media make people less social? Analyze documents A, B, and C then write an essay with evidence from the text to support your claim. 

Do: Analyze

What: documents A, B, and C

Do: Write

What: synthesis essay

Do: Support

What: Claim with textual evidence

2. Read (and re-read) the sources

Always! It cannot be said enough – always (!) read the prompt before you read the text. This saves you time by narrowing your focus so that while you’re reading, you’re looking for the answer to the prompt. It’s best to read the text at least twice for mastery. The first read is to familiarize with the text, then the second read is where you start annotating the text by highlighting quotes that prove the point you are trying to make (otherwise known as your claim), write notes in the margins of ideas you’d like to include in your essay, and so forth. The more you read and understand a story, the more confident your voice will be, and thus the more convincing your paper will come across. 

Because you’re writing a synthesis essay, you will be reading text from multiple sources.

As you read, work to make connections between each text, seeking ways to explain how they each support your argument. 

3. Write a thesis statement

A thesis statement is an essay’s central nervous system.

Located in the introduction paragraph of your essay, the thesis lets the reader know your stance on the given topic. 

Do yourself a favor – erase I statements from your academic writing. You know the ones: I believe, I think, I feel . . . Be done with them. Why? They sound weak. Your writing will strengthen a million times over by making your claim a blunt statement rather than one that’s more about your personal beliefs on the topic. A reader is more likely to believe something when it is told to you as truth than if an idea were presented to them as an opinion. Don’t give your reader the chance to disagree with you.

4. Create an outline

At this point you will have a basic idea of what you’d like to say, knowing the argument you plan to make and the reasons your point is valid. No matter how experienced a writer is, it can be easy to go off script in a tangent, so it’s a good idea to outline your essay before you dive into the first draft. 

There’s a basic expectation of certain information per body paragraph (topic sentence, evidence, paraphrase/explain, analyze, conclude). There is also a baseline expectation of how an essay should be formatted in an academic setting. That should include the following:

Try beginning with a wider scope of the topic and then sentence by sentence narrowing in on the point you are making in the essay. Conclude the introduction paragraph with a thesis statement. 

Hot tip: Use that opening sentence to yank your reader by the collar and pull them into your mindset. Make them care by somehow making the topic relevant to them.

Make that first sentence global enough to matter to everyone, but poignant enough to make your thought process stand apart from other essays in the stack. Avoid opening sentences that feel elementary. This means deleting hooks like “Have you ever . . . ?” or any other question.

Body Paragraphs: Somewhere, somehow a general rule was created that included a minimum of three body paragraphs. But the truth is, you guys, an essay isn’t an essay because of how many body paragraphs it has. An essay is an essay because it’s a piece of writing focused on a particular topic. So, if you need three body paragraphs to synthesize, cool. If you need eight, that’s fine too. The goal here is to prove your point using your understanding of various resources (synthesizing). Do that with as many paragraphs as it takes. When outlining, decide which points you’re going to hone in on and roughly how many paragraphs you will need to make it happen. This can change as you write the first draft but having a rough idea will prove incredibly helpful. 

Conclusion: This is usually some call to action. Use this opportunity to remind your reader of the point you’re making, then take it a step further by reminding them why it should matter to them. 

At all costs, avoid introducing new information in your concluding paragraph. Remember you’re finishing things up here, so introducing new quotes or making new points will only confuse your reader and throw your entire essay off of its carefully set path. (But again, this is why we create outlines before writing, and why the backspace key is a little more worn out than the rest).

5. Draft your essay

This is it! You’ve done all of the prep work, and now it’s time to string those thoughts together until they make sense. 

Glossary of Terms

glossaryThere’s a good chance that in an effort to understand what on earth your professor is asking you to write you will have to pause to figure out the meaning of certain words in the prompt. Fear not, my friend. The heavy lifting has been done for you on this one so you can focus on the bigger picture.


  • Analyze: To carefully consider the connection or meaning
  • Argue: To focus on a point, providing evidence to support your claim
  • Counterargument: To acknowledge the opposing viewpoint
  • Concede: To admit that something is true (this does not necessarily shift your argument away from the point you are trying to make)
  • Proof: Quotes, data, or other elements of a text that you can reference as one of the reasons your argument is valid
  • Evidence: See “proof”
  • Evaluate: Weigh the options, look at all angles of an argument or position and determine what it means in relation to the prompt
  • Interpret: Figure out what something means and why or how it matters or is connected to your argument
  • Summarize: Briefly describe the main details that are most important to the text

How Do You Write Sentences in a Synthesis Essay?

writing at classroom deskWriting a synthesis essay can definitely take its toll on the brain. By the time you reach the point of writing a first draft, you’ve read, re-read, annotated, and outlined until your brain feels numb from the strain of intensity. When this occurs (and it will at some point – happens to the best of us), it’s nice to have a list of sentence frames to support you through the struggle of getting your thoughts onto the page. Here are a few to get you started:

Scroll to Top