In a synthesis essay, one performs research on a selected topic and writes an essay that weaves the research sources together to form a coherent unit of thought. Synthesis essays may or may not make a persuasive argument; in either case, their primary goal is to show the writer's ability to read many different research sources and to fit them together to present the reader with a unique body of information.
Students who have to write synthesis essays should begin by selecting a topic and performing in-depth research on it. Students should try to read a few more sources than the instructor requires, because it will allow them to eliminate the sources that do not deal with the topic in a relevant way.
After having read many sources on the subject, the student who is writing a synthesis essay should determine the ways in which the research sources agree and disagree with each other. Most sources will not propound exactly the same argument and will not present exactly the same information, so the student should read each source carefully and determine its relationship to the other sources on a point-by-point basis.
In writing the synthesis essay, the student should determine which three or four major points the paper will make about the subject. The student who is writing an argumentative synthesis essay should decide his or her opinion on those points and should weight the argument in favor of those opinions by offering clear refutations of the sources that disagree. On the other hand, the student who is writing an expository synthesis essay may simply state what are the prominent positions on each point of controversy; he or she does not need to advocate a personal position on those points of controversy.
Students who are writing synthesis essays should edit and revise their work diligently, being sure that the essays contain good transitions and the smooth introduction of research material into original paragraphs. The synthesis essay should not present a pastiche of quotes but instead should present the writer's careful consideration of the research material.