Synthesis Essay Assignment

Synthesis/Response Essay (Harper)

Part one


For this essay you will be collecting sources on a media topic of your choice, analyzing and evaluating these references for topics/issues/themes they have in common, and writing an essay on how each one of the authors of the sources you have chosen approaches this common topic. This is what is meant by "synthesizing." Sound simple? It is! Synthesis, like summary, is primarily objective--no opinion. You are reflecting, as accurately as you can, how each author approaches the common topic you've chosen to focus on. Here's an example:

Let's say you've chosen three articles: one by Rush Limbaugh, the second by Gloria Steinem, and the third Katie Roiphe. The common point you've decided you want to focus on is feminism. All three of these authors come from a completely different angle on feminism and have their own opinions about what this multifaceted term means today. You would want to introduce the topic you'll be addressing and explain that you'll be looking at how three authors view this topic. Obviously, you would go on to do this, and at the end of your synthesis, you would respond--hence, Part Two of the essay.

Part two


Now you get to respond to the information (ideas, topic, authors, etc.) that you have synthesized. Once again, you can take many approaches in the response portion of this essay. Most important, you are taking a position in relation to the sources you have collected. You may respond to one author's argument or all of them; you may respond to the topic in general, using personal experience and/or outside sources which present yet another argument; you may agree/disagree with the logic and premises one or more of the authors used in defending their conclusions...the list goes on. The important thing to remember is that your response must be reasoned, developed (backed-up), logical, coherent, clear in terms of what it is exactly that you're responding to, and focused (no rambling, padding, beating around the bush, touching on an idea but not developing it, trying to cover everything in a short space, etc.).



To synthesize the claims of 3-5 authors/articles based on a common topic, showing how each of the authors relate to the common topic as well as to each other's argument or viewpoint. You will also be responding, using any one of the approaches we have discussed in class.


Your choice. The audience you choose will impact, primarily, only your response because the synthesis portion of the essay is largely objective.


You will research and locate five articles or book chapters on a "Media and 'American' Culture" topic of your choice. At least three of these texts must be arguments, and these three arguments will be the articles you will synthesize and respond to. (You may collect five arguments and use all of them in your paper, but be careful: synthesizing this many articles can get complicated). You should consult at least three different indexes or databases in your search for sources. Make sure to photocopy all your sources!

Key Features:

See handout titled, "Key Features/Grading Guide for Synthesis and Response."



Around 4-6 pages, but this is not set in stone.

Final Draft Format:



--proper MLA documentation (we will discuss this in class)

--name in one of the upper corners of first page

Important Dates:

--Electronic Information Lab Orientation: To be announced

--Sources collected by Thurs., 2-16

--Rough Draft and Workshop on Thurs., 2-23

(Annotated bibliography of your five sources also due on this date).

--Synthesis/Response (or Explanatory) Essay due: Tues., 2-28. You may turn in an Intervention Draft on this date, although it is not mandatory.

--In class writing/debate assignments to be handed in w/ Portfolio: Thurs., 3-2

--Portfolio #1 due: Tues., 3-7

--All summaries should be typed and "cleaned up" for submission.

--Revised summary/response essay

--Revised synthesis/response (or explanatory) essay

--All rough drafts, workshop sheets, homework assignments, freewriting, pre-reading log assignments, annotated articles, postscripts, copies of sources, etc.

Writing Assignment Sheets

Included here are the assignment sheets for most of the major writing tasks assigned by instructors in recent semesters. We include multiple samples for each essay so you can choose from a variety of prompts.

  • Under "Assignments for portfolio 1," you'll find samples for summary, Toulmin analysis, response, summary/response, synthesis/response, and the inquiry/exploratory essay.
  • Under "Assignments for portfolio 2," you'll find annotated bibliography, convincing, and persuading.
  • Under "Assignments for portfolio 3," you'll find mediating/negotiating and analysis assignments.

Several instructors did not assign specific essays during the second half of the term. Rather, they introduced general rhetorical strategies in a series of short activities and then had their students define their own assignments by identifying the rhetorical context within which they wished to write and choosing the most appropriate argumentative strategy for that context.

Just a note of comfort: having taught synthesis/response and the problem-solving essay before, you are already well acquainted with the problems most of your students will face in the COCC300 essays. On the other hand, we would like to push the students beyond 100-level writing. In the exploratory essay (the COCC300 version of synthesis/response) this might mean, as Laura Thomas put it, "getting students to make the individual texts to disappear." That is, rather than asking students to represent discrete arguments in oppositional relation to each other, instead asking students to represent the complexity of the relations among different perspectives. One possible means of achieving this complexity is to ask students to consider the rhetorical context of the essays they are synthesizing and to explain how the apparent differences in perspectives might be related to the different purposes and audiences each author had in mind.

And a self-indulgent note about the persuasive essay, should you choose to assign it. As Aims defines this essay, students are asked to appeal not only to reason (a typical expectation in the academic community) but also to character, style, and emotion (rather atypical in our world). Because all appeals can be so effective in motivating people to action--toward both worthy and unworthy ends--I suggest that the weeks leading up to the persuasion essay offer a likely spot in the syllabus to talk about the ethics of argumentation, should this topic interest you. During the spring 1995 term, for example, I spent one well-received class period on the ethical nature of persuasion. Having read about audience appeals in Aims, the students and I watched a series of video clips from Branagh's Henry V, Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, Eleanor Roosevelt's appeal to the United Nations, and one of Hitler's many vacuous presentations. After each clip, the students considered the appeals the speaker used, why those appeals were effective for his or her audience, and what end the speaker wished to achieve through his or her persuasion. Thus, without positioning myself as a morality cop, the students started thinking about how their own essays fit into larger ethical systems.

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