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Using Evidence: Synthesis

Basics of Synthesis

As you incorporate published writing into your own writing, you should aim for synthesis of the material. Read the following pages for more help on synthesis.

Synthesizing means comparing different material and highlighting similarities, differences, and connections. When a writer synthesizes successfully, he or she presents new ideas based on interpretations of other evidence or arguments. Critical reading and critical thinking are key components of successful synthesizing.

Joining the Conversation

In the Writing Center, we use the example of the dinner party to teach students about synthesis.  Say you invite eight friends to your house for dinner. Do they each take turns standing up and giving a short lecture while everyone else listens?  Or does everyone participate in the conversation, which is organized around topics? If your dinner parties are like ours, it is the second choice that will sound familiar. Synthesis is just like that--it is organized by idea, not by text or writer. Just as some dinner guests will have more to say than others, some texts might be cited more frequently or discussed at more length.

Take a look at another example:

Electronic medical records (EMRs) are becoming a standard technology for many urgent care centers, and for good reasons in terms of quality of care as well as patient preference. Jones (2001) gathered evidence that EMRs make care for patients more reliable and thorough. Furthermore, Bond (2012) found that patients prefer the portability of information these systems provide. And some preliminary studies indicated certain at-risk populations may be more likely to seek care if they can access information and communicate with their provider virtually (Baker, 2012; Roberts, 2012). Although the training and implementation costs of these systems are considerable (Roberts, 2012), the benefits clearly justify the investment.

Now we can see two main components of successful synthesis: evidence of the student's own ideas, and a well-organized presentation of evidence.  Notice here that the student's arguments and analysis are emphasized (in the first and last sentences especially), and the evidence and citations work to back up those arguments.  Note also the natural placement of source information--it's not just a list of sources the student has found, but an integrated whole.  These sources are in conversation!

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