Synthesis Paper

Synthesis, or synthesizing, is a mode of writing that groups various sources together in a way that makes the relationships between the sources clear. Usually, these sources revolve around the same subject.

When to Use Synthesis

The mode of synthesis is used in any cohesive writing that engages multiple outside sources. Essays employing synthesis include documented arguments, research papers, literature reviews, explanatory/informative syntheses, argumentative syntheses, and so on.

What is a synthesis essay?

The synthesis essay can be broken into two categories: explanatory/informative syntheses and argumentative syntheses. While both syntheses use multiple sources in order to discuss a subject from many angles, an explanatory synthesis has the goal to understand a perspective or a rational about the subject and an argumentative synthesis has the goal to make a claim about the subject.

  • Explanatory syntheses are researched, informative, well-rounded/broad, and have an objective/impartial tone.
    • Write an explanatory synthesis essay when the goal of the writing task is to impart unbiased information, not make a critique or argue a claim.
  • Argumentative syntheses are also researched, informative, well-rounded/broad, but make a clear argument/claim. 
    • Write an argumentative synthesis essay when the goal of the writing task is to make a claim, not merely inform.


Goals of a Synthesis Essay

  • To share information from multiple sources in order to write thoroughly and accurately on a subject.
  • To use reputable (peer-reviewed or scholarly) sources to ensure the accuracy of the content of the synthesis.

Synthesis Essay Tips

When using multiple sources, it may be hard to maintain your own authorial voice in your paper.

Tip: Maintain the focus of the essay on your subject and not your sources by paraphrasing ideas about your subject, gleaned from your sources. The sources only need to be your researched support––a footnote or in-text citation––and not the star of the sentence/paragraph. Rather, the subject and its ideas are the star.

When using multiple sources, it’s important to use signal phrases and citations to make it clear who said what, where the information came from, and avoid plagiarism.

Tip: Use trusted sites and style handbooks as a guide for all of your citations.

Other Resources

For help with citations, the Writing Studio offers MLA, APA 7, and Chicago Style guides and the OWL of Purdue website offers many style guides, as well.

For help with paraphrasing and signal phrasing, check out the Writing Studio’s Student Resource: Paraphrase.

Additional help with syntheses can be found at the OWL of Purdue’s Synthesizing Sources, the University of Arizona’s Global Campus’s Synthesis, and The Writing Center of Princeton’s Synthesis Essays: A Step-by-Step How-To Guide.


Lunsford, Andrea A. The St. Martin’s Handbook. 8th ed., Bedford/St. Martins, 2015.

Synthesizing Sources. The Writing Lab and OWL at Purdue and Purdue U, 2021, 

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Compiled By

Madeline Vardell

Writing Studio Consultant