Preparing for the AP Exam? Read our guide to synthesis essays to learn what you need to know to write a winning, high-scoring essay for this written exam.
A synthesis essay takes information from several sources to create a new idea or thesis. It uses available data and evidence to synthesize a new thought or hypothesis, then uses the essay to back up this original thought with the collected evidence.
Students will study a topic from many sources when writing a synthesis essay. They will then craft their hypothesis using that information. Rather than summarizing the information and restating an existing idea, the writer will create a new idea from their point of view, then use the main points from the source material to back up those ideas. Synthesis essays typically follow the five-paragraph essay structure to flush out the ideas and provide the necessary evidence.
Learning how to write a synthesis essay is essential because this type of essay is often used on college entrance exams. If you are taking the AP exam, you must write a synthesis essay as one of the three essays you submit. Since those essays are 55% of your overall score, they are essential to do well. Looking for essay prompts? Check out these essays about beliefs!
- Guide to Synthesis Essays
- Types of Synthesis Essays
- Synthesis Essay Structure
- Step-by-Step Guide to Writing a Synthesis Essay
- The Synthesis Essay on the AP Exam
- Tips and Tricks for Writing Your Essay
- Synthesis Essay Examples
Guide to Synthesis Essays
If you write a synthesis essay, you must clearly understand these essays, how to write them well, and how to structure them appropriately. The overall writing process is similar to other types of essays. These essays follow a particular structure and typically use in-text citations to reference the resources used. Keep in mind that you will want to have multiple sources for your arguments and points.
Types of Synthesis Essays
There are two basic types of synthesis essays you can write. Both will have a unique thought as their thesis statement, but how you approach the essay’s body will vary. The two main types of synthesis essays are:
Explanatory Synthesis Essay
Explanatory essays aim to explain your point of view on the topic. You will not try to persuade the reader to come to your choice but will use objective reasoning to look at two sides of an idea. It requires a variety of sources to get multiple points of view before concluding one particular stance. You might also be wondering, can essay titles be questions.
Argumentative Synthesis Essay
When writing an argumentative synthesis essay, your goal is to bring the reader to the point of agreeing with your point of view. You will use an argumentative essay structure to draw the reader to the conclusion you want in a step-by-step manner, using each of your points to show why your stance on that specific topic is preferred.
Synthesis Essay Structure
Regardless of why you’re writing a synthesis essay, it will follow a basic synthesis essay outline structure. This is as follows:
- Introduction: In the essay introduction, you will start with a court of hooks that interests the reader in your writing. You will then introduce your main points and your sources. You will write a strong thesis statement and your primary argument at the end of your introductory paragraph. This should be at most two sentences. You can add some background information to this introductory paragraph showing why your topic is essential.
- Body Paragraphs: Next comes the body paragraphs, three paragraphs in a five-paragraph essay. If you are writing a full research paper, you may need more than three body paragraphs. Each body paragraph will start with a topic sentence, followed by proof from your resources. Remember to summarize what your resources say so you are not guilty of plagiarism, and always use proper citations when required.
- Conclusion: The final paragraph of a synthesis paper or essay is the conclusion. It will restate your arguments and main points, then paraphrase your thesis statement. This is often a shorter paragraph, but it concludes the entire piece.
- Bibliography: Finally, you will finish your essay with a bibliography or works cited page. Depending on the project’s requirements, this should follow the APA Style Guide, the Chicago Manual of Style, or the MLA Style Guide.
Synthesis Essay Template
Another way to consider writing a synthesis essay is to use a template. This template can help:
- Paragraph 1: Start with a hook, summarize your main points, and end with your thesis statement.
- Paragraph 2: The topic sentence introduces your first point, and the remaining sentences provide proof. It ends with a transition that flows naturally to the next point.
- Paragraph 3: Following the same structure, the topic sentence introduces the second point and is proven with the remaining sentences. A transition moves the reader to the next paragraph.
- Paragraph 4: This is the final body paragraph and follows the same structure as the first two but with point three.
- Paragraph 5: This paragraph starts with a topic sentence summarizing the thesis. Then it summarizes the three main points before concluding with one more exciting statement.
Step-by-Step Guide to Writing a Synthesis Essay
Step 1: Choose the Right Topic
First, choose your topic. Since you’ll be spending a lot of time researching the topic, choose something you’re interested in but don’t know much about. Also, choose something with an opportunity for arguments and counterarguments and sufficient resources. You will want at least three to build your supporting arguments from multiple sources.
Step 2: Research
Now you are ready to research. Try to enter the research process without a preconceived idea of your thesis statement. Use your library and online sources to find many ideas on your topic. Keep careful notes, using notecards if possible, and connect each idea in your research to the proper topic.
You can label your topics with letters, then at the bottom of the notecard, write “Source A” or “Source B.” This will help you avoid plagiarism as you write by giving you the tools to make proper in-text citations. While researching, you need to think about your potential thesis statement. Research with questions in mind, such as:
- Where do these sources agree or disagree?
- What are some counterarguments to the arguments presented by this source?
- Do I agree or disagree with this source? Why?
These questions will help guide you toward a thesis statement that will work. Remember, your goal with synthesis writing is to synthesize a new argument or point of view from the existing research, so try to determine what new take you could bring to your writing.
Step 3: Outline Your Essay
Outlining should be a simple step if you are writing an essay, but getting your main thoughts on paper is crucial. Each paragraph should receive a Roman numeral on your essay, with sub-points being the supporting evidence that will go into your paragraphs.
Step 4: Write Your Thesis Statement
Even though it is part of your introduction, you will write your thesis statement before writing the introductory paragraph. This happens before any other writing takes place because it will define the rest of your essay. Remember not to restate your writing prompt or synthesis essay topic in the thesis statement. It must show your argument or position.
In other words, a strong thesis statement will have your opinion built in, taking a clear position on the topic or the prompt you were given to write on. It needs to be something you can defend and argue using your resources, so you will write it only after you’ve done your research. Many writers will also present their three main points in the thesis statement.
Step 5: Write Your Body Paragraphs
Many writers find it easiest to write the body paragraphs before their introduction. If you are in this group, write your three body paragraphs next. The topic sentence should be the main point, and then you will use the remaining sentences to support that point and conclude it with some sort of transition. Keep each paragraph focused on one main idea that supports your thesis statement.
In a synthesis essay, your points for your body paragraphs should be points discussed by two or more sources. Your thesis needs research that backs it, so avoid points only in one source or from your mind. It would be best if you wrote objectively with this style of essay.
Step 6: Write Your Introduction
Now you’re ready to write the introduction. Remember to start with some hook, then summarize your main points. The hook needs to be thoughtful and entice the reader to read the essay, but it should not be a restatement of your thesis statement. You will conclude with the thesis statement, so your hook needs something else. A good example of a hook is a startling statistic or a statement defining the problem you will address in the essay that follows.
Step 7: Write the Conclusion
Your conclusion should wrap up and restate your ideas. It starts with a summary of your thesis statement, followed by restating your supporting ideas. You will end with one more impression of the main idea.
Step 8: Proofread Your Essay
Never send your essay to the teacher or publish it without proofreading it carefully. If your essay is particularly important, such as using it to apply for scholarships or as part of your college application, consider having someone else proofread it. A few spelling or grammar errors can hurt the overall impression of your essay, even if you have careful arguments and the right structure.
The Synthesis Essay on the AP Exam
Since the synthesis essay is part of the AP exam, it is important to look closely at how this is structured. If you take this exam, you will be given six to seven sources on a topic. You will then get 15 minutes to read those sources and 40 minutes to write three essays on an established subject. One of those essays will be a synthesis essay.
In the exam, you will be given a writing prompt. The prompt will not tell you a position to take. It will instead give you a question or problem that the provided sources address and ask you to defend, challenge, or qualify a particular claim about that topic. You will read the sources, decide about your thesis, and then write an essay that synthesizes the sources to support your thesis.
The College Board has a specific idea in mind when it asks writers to synthesize their resources. It wants the writer to combine the perspectives of different sources into one position, which is their thesis statement. This essay section of the AP exam aims to show that the writer can read and reflect on the source material and draw conclusions from it. The essay is worth six points on the AP language exam. These points are awarded as follows:
- Up to 1 point for writing a thesis statement.
- Up to 4 points for evidence and commentary to synthesize the sources.
- Up to 1 point for thought and syntax throughout the essay.
Tips and Tricks for Writing Your Essay
Read the Requirements Carefully
Most synthesis essays provide some writing prompt or instructions. Read these carefully. If you don’t understand the assignment, you won’t score well. Ensure you discuss the correct topic and use the recommended sources. Do not lose points simply for not following the instructions.
Read Sources with Thought
Even on the AP exam, when you have limited time, you need to consider your various sources. You have to critically reflect on what the sources say to synthesize their ideas into a new essay topic. Take notes, if you can, and tie those notes into the source material.
Choose a Position
Synthesis essays require you to take a position in your thesis statement, so decide what that position will be. Once you choose it, stick to it. However, that doesn’t mean you should ignore counterarguments. To strengthen your essay, find a way to include counterarguments and defend yourself against them.
Create a Detailed Outline
Outlining is essential even if all you are writing is a five-paragraph essay. It keeps your thoughts organized so you can write well. Add sub-thoughts under your main points to keep you on track and allow you to write thorough paragraphs.
Print It Out
Before submitting, print your essay and proofread the printed copy. Sometimes you will find more errors with printed paper than with the essay on the computer screen. Read it out loud while proofreading to help you catch as many errors as possible. Printing it will also allow you to check the formatting to ensure it matches the project’s requirements.
Synthesis Essay Examples
If you’re looking for synthesis essay topics to use in your next piece, check out our examples below.
Example 1: Homeschooling Synthesis Essay
In this synthesis essay on the topic of homeschooling, the writer uses a hook to introduce the topic that utilizes pop culture to guide the reader. They then introduce the question and one counterargument and wrap the introduction up with a thesis statement summarizing their main points. Each body paragraph outlines one argument against homeschooling, then provides a counterargument about why that’s no longer an issue. The conclusion reiterates the main points and summarizes that homeschooling “can be a positive experience for children.”
Example 2: Dress Codes Synthesis Essay
This example of a synthesis essay takes on the topic of dress codes and how they can unfairly target females. It has a strong thesis statement explaining the writer’s position (“These standards to conform students and promote learning become sexist”) and provides three reasons for being sexist. The body paragraphs further develop those three main reasons, and the conclusion adds some background information and summarizes the writer’s thoughts.
Example 3: Social Media Synthesis Essay
The final example of a synthesis essay takes on the topic of social media and how it makes people feel lonely. It utilizes transitions well, starting each body paragraph with some transitions, and it has in-text citations to the resources. The essay concludes with a strong argument against social media for teens due to the research presented. Looking for more? Check out our guide with essays about biology!