|Key Features of a Synthesis |
(1) It accurately reports information from the sources using different phrases and sentences; (2) It is organized in such a way that readers can immediately see where the information from the sources overlap;. (3) It makes sense of the sources and helps the reader understand them in greater depth. |The Background Synthesis |
The background synthesis requires that you bring together background information on a topic and organize it by topic rather than by source. Instructors often assign background syntheses at the early stages of the research process, before students have developed a thesis--and they can be helpful to students conducting large research projects even if they are not assigned. In a background synthesis of Internet information that could help prospective students select a college, for example, one paragraph might discuss residential life and synthesize brief descriptions of the kinds of things students might find out about living on campus (cited of course), another might discuss the academic program, again synthesizing information from the web sites of several colleges, while a third might synthesize information about co-curricular activities. The completed paper would be a wonderful introduction to internet college searching. It contains no thesis, but it does have a purpose: to present the information that is out there in a helpful and logical way. In the process of writing his or her background synthesis, the student explored the sources in a new way and become an expert on the topic. Only when one has reached this degree of expertise is one ready to formulate a thesis. Frequently writers of background synthesis papers develop a thesis before they have finished. In the previous example, the student might notice that no two colleges seem to agree on what constitutes "co-curricular," and decide to research this question in more depth, perhaps examining trends in higher education and offering an argument about what this newest trend seems to reveal.
|A Thesis-driven Synthesis |
Sometimes there is very little obvious difference between a background synthesis and a thesis-driven synthesis, especially if the paper answers the question "what information must we know in order to understand this topic, and why?" The answer to that question forms the thesis of the resulting paper, but it may not be a particularly controversial thesis. There may be some debate about what background information is required, or about why, but in most cases the papers will still seem more like a report than an argument. The difference will be most visible in the topic sentences to each paragraph because instead of simply introducing the material for the paragraph that will follow, they will also link back to the thesis and assert that this information is essential because... On the other hand, all research papers are also synthesis papers in that they combine the information you have found in ways that help readers to see that information and the topic in question in a new way. A research paper with a weak thesis (such as: "media images of women help to shape women's sense of how they should look") will organize its findings to show how this is so without having to spend much time discussing other arguments (in this case, other things that also help to shape women's sense of how they should look). A paper with a strong thesis (such as "the media is the single most important factor in shaping women's sense of how they should look") will spend...
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