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How to Write a Synthesis Essay

A synthesis essay lets a writer use ideas from two or more sources and combine them to make something new and different. Information from your sources should be presented clearly in your own words. These ideas should be presented so the reader can understand them and see where they are similar. There are two main types of synthesis: background synthesis, which creates an overview of a topic, and thesis synthesis, which develops a new idea from the source material. A background essay may not call for any new ideas, while a thesis essay not only requires new ideas but can also be controversial.

Examine your topics 

Begin by collecting ideas from two or more sources, then use them to develop your own concepts. Find sources that relate to your topics. Look at what other writers have had to say about the subject. Read through this material, and be sure to take notes. Summarize your sources. This will be a useful reference when you explain the concepts and compare the sources to each other. Sources used in the essay should be listed as citations on a separate page, as well as being cited in your text. 

Take some time to think about the material. This is when you can use your own creativity to make something new. If your sources agree, can you create something bigger from the ideas they discuss? If they disagree, can you find a common element to build upon? How do you feel about what your sources had to say? The points where other writers conflict or converge are good places to look for your thesis. 

Develop your ideas 

Your thesis could be a question that hasn't been answered, or an idea your sources have not addressed. It can be something you like, or something that makes you uncomfortable. If your source material leaves you feeling that something is wrong, you've got a great starting point for your thesis. This is the meat of your essay. 

Your essay must have a strong structure to be effective. Use an outline to keep your thoughts organized. Write out your thesis and the supporting ideas. Be sure to name your sources in the essay, and note where they support your thesis. This lets the reader follow your process, and adds credibility to your work. If your ideas conflict with the source material, write about that also. 

Build your structure 

A clear, logical structure will strengthen your essay. Write an informal outline to make sure you cover all your points. You might need to do more research to support your ideas. Remember to cite any new sources you use. Once your outline is roughed out, write a sentence for your thesis and each supporting idea. 

These sentences are the basis for paragraphs that develop your thesis. Build on this framework, using facts and concepts from your sources. The use of supporting material forces you to stay on track. It gives your essay definition. 

Format your work so the thesis appears first, then follow the thesis paragraph with material that supports your idea in a logical fashion. The supporting paragraphs should be presented according to how strongly they support the thesis. This puts the most weight at the beginning of the essay, where it will be most effective. 


With a little research and creativity, synthesizing the ideas of others can lead to something completely original. Present your ideas clearly, and cite any sources you use, even if you disagree with them. Remember, you're the writer. You get the last word.