One of the basic academic writing activities is researching your topic and what others have said about it. Your goal should be to draw thoughts, observations, and claims about your topic from your research. We call this process of drawing from multiple sources “synthesis.” Click on the accordion items below for more information.
Synthesis Emerges from Analysis
Synthesis emerges from analytical activities we discussed on the previous page: comparative analysis and analysis for cause and effect. For example, to communicate where scholars agree and where they disagree, one must analyze their work for similarities and differences. Also crucial for understanding scholarly discourse is understanding how a particular work of scholarship shapes the scholarship of others, causing them to head in new directions.
When to Use Synthesis
Many college assignments require synthesis. A literature review, for example, requires that you make explanatory claims regarding a body of research. These should go beyond summary (mere description) to provide helpful characterizations that aid in understanding. Literature reviews can stand on their own, but often they are a part of a research paper, and research papers are where you will probably use synthesis most often.
The purpose of a research paper is to derive meaning from a body of information collected through research. It is your job, as the writer, to communicate that meaning to your readers. Doing this requires that you develop an informed and educated opinion of what your research suggests about your subject. Communicating this opinion requires synthesis.
In 1655, an embassy of Dutch Jews led by Rabbi Menassah ben Israel traveled to London to meet with the Commonwealth’s new Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell. The informal “Readmission” of Jews—who had been expelled from England by royal edict in 1290—resulting from the Whitehall conference was once hailed as a high point in the history of toleration. Yet in recent years, scholars have increasingly challenged the progressive nature of this event, both in its substance and its motivation (Kaplan 2007; Katznelson 2010; Walsham 2006). “Toleration” in this case, as in many others, did not entail religious freedom or civic equality; Jews in England were granted legal residency and permitted to worship privately, but citizenship, public worship, and the printing of anything that “opposeth the Christian religion” remained off the cards. As for its motivation, Edward Whalley’s twofold argument was representative: the Jews “will bring in much wealth into this Commonwealth: and where wee both pray for theyre conversion and beleeve it shal be, I knowe not why wee shold deny the means” (Marshall 2006, 381–82)
(Bejan, 2015, p. 1103).
The author of the above passage, Teresa Bejan, has synthesized the work of a number of other scholars (Kaplan, Katznelson, Walsham, and Marshall) to situate her argument. Note how not all of these scholars are directly quoted, but they are cited because their work forms the basis of Bejan's work.